Embedding Adaptive Change

Sections of this topic

    Every year thousands of change initiatives are undertaken globally in the form of reorganization, structural and procedural change, new product and service launches, and the setting of strategy, goals, and objectives. Yet, according to Harvard Business Review, and the experience of many of us, 70% of all change initiatives fail. The financial cost of failed change to organizations, the economy, and society is enormous. The human cost – measured by employee lack of trust, disengagement, apathy, turnover, sick days, depression, and burnout – is even higher. Why is change so hard to successfully implement?

    Change has a dynamic and logic all its own – the more you try to control it, mandate the timeline, or predict the outcomes the sooner you become part of the 70% failure rate. Success lies in implementing a new model of change, rather than repeating the same model better and faster, that embeds Adaptive Change into the organizational culture; creating resilience and agility in a world that is increasingly volatile and unpredictable.

    As we traverse the second half of 2012, a year that has significant change elements geopolitically, spiritually, and perhaps even cosmically, it makes sense to review change from a fresh perspective. This perspective is not “new”, like most innovation its components have been around for years, what is new is their combination and the insight they produce. I have written before about Adaptive Change (see previous posts), but as Kevin Kelly points out: change changes change. I am constantly learning more about the dynamics of change. The next few blogs are recent learnings…just in time for an adaptive year.

    Overarching Drivers of Adaptive Change

    I have been thinking more about the forces of Adaptive Change lately and how they drive our ability to embed the process of change during implementation. This is critical now more than ever, as pace of change in business is accelerating.

    Organizational Purpose binds together Performance, Leadership, Culture and Values, aligning present and future goals.

    Adaptive Forces, arising from the External Environment, Internal Response, and Organizational Knowledge and Learning, generate the energy that drives Adaptive Change to the cycle’s conclusion, a higher level of organizational performance and increased coherence with the external business environment.

    Together these two generate the content and context of the six components of Adaptive Change that each organization works with during the process of achieving higher performance.

    Six Components of Adaptive Change

    Performance – Change is an Experience: Calling change a process to be managed ignores the emotional and psychological aspects of each individual’s experience of change. Adaptive Change provides individuals and groups with language and metaphor to bring them into conversation about change and to collectively manage their experience during the process. In this way, behavioral change drives improved performance.

    Leaders – Enroll and Enable Others: The mandate from the top is directional – aligning change to the organization’s purpose. The positive energy of Adaptive Change comes from the functional sponsors’ creation of a collective vision that can be implemented across the organization. Individuals voluntarily emerge to create a group of “possibility seeking” change agents. In this way change changes change and the organization adapts based on the interplay of Organizational Purpose and Adaptive Forces.

    Culture & Values – Embed the Process of Innovation: Adaptive Change is a long-term value proposition that impacts the organization’s function and structure. When the forces of change are no longer an Us-Them dilemma for people to resist, then product, process, and business innovation are unleashed. Additionally, when Adaptive Change becomes a cultural norm, it emerges when and where it is needed – naturally – creating a sustainable competitive advantage.

    External Environment – Generation of Organizational Strain: Adaptive Change is a systemic evolution that occurs when organizations encounter destabilizing events in the environment causing the whole system to move away from the Status Quo. Discontinuities initiate the change cycle, however, unpredicted and uncontrollable VUCA elements arise quickly to shape both the experience of change and the transactional events that resolve it.

    Internal Response – Engineering the Experience: Adaptive Change produces transformational opportunities that require leaders to “engineer the experience” in order to realize the full potential of the moment. Managing the internal response provides Vision (Where), Understanding (Why), Clarity (What), and Agility (How) – VUCA Prime. This work presents leaders with their own personal Adaptive Change journey as they learn to lead in a collaborative culture.

    Knowledge and Learning – Convene the Adaptive Center: The process of Adaptive Change is the same as the process of organizational learning. It involves a repeating knowledge management cycle: generation of a vision and concepts for change, management of the human experience, making sense of the transactional journey (doing the work), and solving for contradictions and dilemmas.

    Next we need a process for implementation, one that embeds Adaptive Change into the culture and daily activities of all employees. Until then, what is your experience of change? When has it worked? Why? When have you struggled? Can you identify one of the six components that was instrumental in your challenge with change? Let us know so we can all learn together about how to make change adaptive.