From static to dynamic
To thrive in a fast paced, constantly changing, environment, we need to shift one, fundamental assumption: Change is not a phase, it is continuous and will never stop. The only way to manage continuous change is to be better at changing, and to keep at it.
This is the paradigm shift: from static to dynamic. Stability does not arise from keep things the same, it now arises from being dynamic, from the ability to constantly evolve and adapt to meet the environment.
This need to see that stability is a state of dynamic balance, rather than a fixed point, applies at every level: to our inner world, to our relationships with those around us and to whole systems or organizations.
Change is not chaos
Many of us fear change. Perhaps most of us. There is a comfort that comes from knowing what we are doing. We fear the disruption that arises when we are suddenly unable to perform the tasks that used to be so easy. The disruption gets in the way. We see change as chaos.
In an a rapidly changing environment, a static perspective might feel safe, but that comfort is a lie. It’s simply a mask. It hides the reality. The chaos behind the mask is growing, we’re not aware of it and definitely not dealing with it. In a dynamic context, like one where an organization is suddenly dealing with a remote workforce in a recession, trying to limit change will inevitably result in chaos. Too many unmanaged variables, too much dissonance, and an inability to handle the edge cases will eventually add up.
Adopting a dynamic perspective, by accepting that change is continuous and that evolving should be part of our day-to-day, does not create chaos. The continuous integration of refinements provides a much more stable environment than the manufactured consistency of a static mindset.
From “command and control” to feedback
Creating an organization at home with continuous change requires one fundamental operational change: Switching from command and control to feedback.
In a static environment organizations operate primarily on command and control. Power resides in a few people at the centre and the majority of the work is achieved by managing (controlling) the energy of the workforce.
In a fully dynamic organization, the primary operating process is feedback. Power is distributed throughout the system, and individuals coordinate their efforts through feedback.
There are very few, if any, organizations that operate purely outside of command and control. It may not be a desirable objective anyway, but it’s not the destination that counts — it’s the journey.
The path to creating an organization capable of continuous change, involves learning how to use feedback to identify what changes need to take place, making a small change and then getting more feedback.
That’s it. That is the thing that you need to aspire to achieving. Simply being able to constantly take another step, and then seeing if it took you in the right direction.
Establishing a self-managing, dynamic organization, in practice
- Accept that there is never going to be an end, being able to change means continuously changing.
- Learn how to give and take feedback. Educate everyone in how to really do it. Feedback is not just disguised criticism and judgement. To really do feedback, you need to welcome emotions to the workplace.
- Establish the foundation processes and practices that enable teams to reflect on their work, and provide feedback to each other. Start with retrospectives.
- Change your leadership practices:
* Learn to distribute authority (not just responsibility) by establishing dynamic job roles.
* Evolve (and share) leadership to focus on providing vision, ethics and problem definitions — not prescribing solutions.
- Keep looking for where to change next. Take small steps. Keep changing.
The feedback loop
Start anywhere and follow it everywhere. Just keep going. The changes you make, should you keep at it, will eventually take you to a place you cannot imagine before you start. The form and function of the organizations that will emerge on the other side are going to be very different to those that we have seen in the past.
But they will be faster. They will be able to cope with massively complex problems. They will innovate at a pace that a static organization cannot comprehend.
Organizations as we know them will be replaced.
This is not easy. But it’s also not as hard as it might seem. You just need to accept that it’s a continuous process and that there is no way you can predict what you will become. There will be some challenges along the way, some aspects will be easier than others. The benefits in productivity, engagement, innovation, wellbeing and all those other buzzwords will come fairly quickly if you do the work.
We can help. The-Organization.com works to support those on this journey. We’re exploring the path. We can share what we’ve learned on the way. We provide tools, training and consulting to develop dynamic businesses.