By Lisa McCarthy
In a time when the rate of change has become exponential for the first time in history this quote by Jack Welch could hit a sore point. You know what he says to be true, but there’s a limit to how much faster you can move, and how much more you can fit in or do – isn’t there?
What’s the answer when you feel like you’re already running as fast as you can – and you’re still only barely managing to keep up (if that)? How do you actually get ahead of the curve? How do you win when you’re caught in a whirlwind of exponential change – a world of rapidly changing technologies, changing consumer demands, increased consumer power, hyper competition, tumultuous economic conditions, and so much more?
For most organisations the answer to this question tends to be to trim, cut and be lean; focus on process improvement; invest more and more in change management; and introduce and buy new technologies. All of these responses have a place, but too often they’re used unconsciously and reactively as a first port of call.
Layering new processes and technologies on top of rigid structures, cultures, and ways of thinking and behaving is like a faultline that at some stage must let go. The more rigid the ground and structures in an earthquake, the greater the damage. It’s the same in business. Standing strong when all around you is shifting and moving requires a flexible but solid foundation. Only a rigid branch breaks in the wind.
At oAi we believe the answer can be found by looking inward before we look outward. Organisations don’t change, adapt, or create value – people do. It’s at this “people” level that the solutions for winning in a super-fast and turbulent world lie. Where “creating value” is the responsibility of everyone in the organisation every day, remarkable things happen.
With everyone in the organisation contributing to improvement and innovation, maximising their own unique talents and resources on a daily basis – the organisation can move at a spectacular speed, and enjoy the benefits of the only true source of unique and sustainable competitive advantage.
In an environment which facilitates these objectives:
- employees are engaged,
- innovation occurs naturally, and
- organisations, teams & communities are flexible and adaptable.
In this state an organisation can roll with the punches, surf the waves, and create a magnetic effect that draws opportunities, customers and top talent to it.
The question is – “how” can this be achieved?
Introducing The Optimal Agility Methodology
Creating and growing an organisation built to succeed in a super-fast world relies on many layers which are connected, with a dynamic and perpetual interplay. These layers are captured in the Optimal Agility methodology, which we refer to as the “6 points of optimisation”. Each layer is only as strong as the foundation provided by the layer which precedes it, so the sequence is important.
Working on a single or couple of points of optimisation will yield positive results, but the combination of all six is where it’s real power for long lasting success lies.
You, your people and your situation are unique – and there is no one size fits all solution. With this in mind – the Optimal Agility Methodology is intended as a heuristic, not a bible. You may already have some of the points mastered. The methodology is flexible, just like the philosophy it espouses, and it can be applied in a multitude of contexts including a single project, a team, a department, an organisation, and even an entire community.
Here we explain each of the 6 points briefly with the intention that you get a feel for the philosophy and components behind the methodology. There are stories, case studies and tools for each of the 6 points, and these will follow in later posts.
1. Alignment Optimisation:
What you as an organisation, team or individual believe, and how you think and feel creates alignment, or misalignment, it will either attract or repel. For years there’s been a vast amount of talk and hype about vision, mission, values and culture – but sadly it’s often just rhetoric. True alignment equals emotion – and e-motion is synonymous with “energy in motion”.
If you think you have great alignment in your organisation, I ask you – how and when did you last stress test it? To what extent are your people energised by their work, and the sense of meaning and fulfilment it provides them with? How does what you stand for and believe drive the behaviours and actions of your people? To what extent does it result in discretionary effort, loyalty and some risk taking? Will they stick with you through thick and thin, will they actively seek every opportunity to make a positive difference, and grow and learn so they can do their very best to help the organisation thrive?
Getting alignment right, more often than not eliminates the majority of fire-fighting that so often demands the focus, attention and resources of an organisation – when it could otherwise be focusing on more valuable priorities and activities. Alignment and purpose automatically erodes resistance and rigidity, breeds courage to overcome fear, and harnesses and channels the energy of the organisation to achieve forward momentum.
2. Leadership Optimisation
Organisational alignment provides a platform for inspired and inspiring leadership, with the ultimate goal of everyone in the organisation being a leader.
The role of the leader is primarily to create more leaders; to attract and select the best people for the team and tasks; question and challenge; create, generate, and share vision and possibilities; and provide opportunities for their associates to stretch themselves and become their own leaders. They are responsible for creating the environment that inspires and empowers people to identify, step into and contribute their greatest potential, solve problems for themselves, and remove roadblocks to progress. They focus on today, with an eye on the horizon – often able to anticipate what’s coming, and preparing for it before it happens.
The very best leaders are self-aware knowing their own characteristics, strengths, talents and state, and how to work them. Often they bring out the best in their people by seeing their potential when their people may not even see it in themselves.
In a super-fast and turbulent world a dynamic approach to leadership (as opposed to management) reigns supreme. It helps to protect an organisation from becoming stagnant, irrelevant, or out of date – ensuring that the best leader for the situation or task emerges at the right time.
If we were to ask your people how well they feel their leaders know them, what they’re capable of, how their work contributes to their sense of fulfilment, what they want, and to what extent they’re provided with opportunities to contribute, learn and grow – how would they respond? How likely is it that if they were asked to name the leaders in their organisation, that they’d name themselves?
3. People Optimisation
The passion and initiative of Optimised Leadership and Alignment ensure the most favourable conditions for the next point of optimisation: People Optimisation. People optimisation is all about how you attract, recruit, utilise, retain and develop your people.
James Flynn coined the term “human capitalisation rate” which is a measure of the degree to which an organisation or community capitalises on the potential of it’s people. The norm is between 35% and 54%, with the very best organisations and communities achieving about a 75% capitalisation rate. Imagine what could be achieved if you could tap into the currently squandered potential in your organisation.
Your people have a unique set of interests, passions, skills, talents, expertise, knowledge, connections, characteristics, and strengths. People optimisation requires the creation of an environment where people are willing and able to unleash their full potential, feeling safe and supported in letting go of old and limiting beliefs, and ways of doing things.
If you want an organisation that just keeps getting better, smarter, and can weather whatever the whirlwind of the day – what are you doing to ensure you’re employing, growing and retaining people of all ages and diversity, who are dedicated to learning relearning and unlearning, collaborating and connecting, sharing knowledge, trying new things and taking a few calculated risks, expressing themselves, challenging the status quo, and being adaptable and resilient? Credentials are now less important than ever in a world where obsolescence occurs in an instant, and just in time learning is largely unavoidable.
4. Structure Optimisation
Hierarchies and job structures in their traditional sense are a rigid solution in a dynamic world and often result in people becoming reactive, stagnant, blinkered, losing their ability and desire to learn and adapt; and organisations constantly needing to restructure.
Optimised structures provide the structure for people to apply their full potential, and facilitate the attainment of simultaneous benefits of efficiency and economies of scale; innovation and agility, and achieving cross functional knowledge flow. What’s needed are flexible structures that can stretch, contract and morph without breaking, and facilitate fast high quality decision making that incorporates the collective wisdom of the entire organisation.
There is no one structure fits all, but there are dynamic and flexible structures that have been proven to work. Alternative organisational structures include web, lattice and network structures, hybrid structures, and for the more daring – holacracy. These structures often result in people moving in and out of roles, teams, and projects on a frequent basis.
Some of the benefits of these alternative structures include providing on the job experience for leadership and cross functional development which grow business and leadership capability; and facilitating innovation, creativity, expression, learning, knowledge flow, increased intelligence and collaboration. They also facilitate quickly scaling up and scaling down, outsourcing, downshifting, distributed and remote working – and moving in and out of products and markets without the same trauma and costs of traditional restructuring. The costs of restructuring take many forms – financial, lost opportunity and talent, and disengagement and disillusion among remaining staff. Dynamic and flexible structures can remove the need to ever “restructure” again.
5. Value Optimisation
Value optimisation is about how new value is created and problems are solved in your organisation with what you already know, and have at your disposal. What we have at our disposal may include inventory, energy, production capacity, equipment, premises, team, knowledge, skills, technology, connections and networks, customers, market access, partners, distribution channels, systems, processes, finance… and the list goes on. Value optimisation is about balancing improvement and innovation – knowing when doing better or more, is more appropriate than doing new or different, and vice versa.
This approach results in some miraculous and unpredictable results such as increased resourcefulness and innovation resulting in new products, markets and business models – and increased return on assets. Another advantage is that the need for additional finances and resources may wane, sustainability improves, and the time taken to capitalise on the value created is reduced. However, it doesn’t just happen. Your people will need a little hand holding as well as the information, tools and skills to innovate and create value.
Innovation and creativity is a numbers game, and the most successful and adaptable organisations are the ones with an innovation system which is easy for everyone in the organisation to participate in, and where they can test new ideas and concepts cheaply and quickly.
A few quick questions to ask yourself include – What challenges or problems that you want to solve in your organisation have been presented to all of your people so they have the opportunity to pose suggestions, or create possibilities and new solutions? How easy and fast is it for a member of your team to win support and resource for an idea they want to explore? How do you ensure that in the face of demands for short term profits and lean operations that there’s still room for, and incentive to experiment?
6. Advantage Optimisation
Advantage optimisation is about seizing and creating an external opportunity as a means to either protect your market advantage, grow it, or create a new advantage. It may involve the acquisition, importation, or implementation of new technologies, big data, software, premises, businesses, people, or assets of any kind.
This is the 6th point of optimisation because without the mindset, alignment, leadership, people, structures and full utilisation of existing assets and resources where possible – this expenditure is more likely to represent an unnecessary expense and complication than an investment, and recovering costs could be a slow process.
The rule of thumb is to look inward for solutions first. If you don’t have what you already need to protect or create advantage – then importation of something or someone new is a natural progression.
Winning in a super-fast and turbulent world requires that organisations be built to be agile, resourceful and innovative.
To get ahead of the curve, change and innovation can’t be treated as anomalies to be managed by a few people on an ad hoc basis. When we unleash the full potential of our people, when improvement and innovation are the responsibility of everyone, every day – and we’re resourceful in how we use what we already have – we’re well placed to take the winds of change and use them to push us ever faster and further, with less effort – in the direction we want to go.
When we accept that change IS the status quo, and that it is best harnessed and channelled, as opposed to resisted, controlled or managed – we are empowered to use it to our advantage.
About the Author: Lisa McCarthy (M.Comm) is the creator of the Optimal Agility methodology. She is the driving force behind the vision and strategy for oAi, providing leadership and direction for partners and teams across the network. Through her speaking, coaching, corporate training & private consulting services, CEOs, executives and teams quickly discover new possibilities and opportunities, and develop the desired adaptations in their culture and organisations that counteract the rapid market and environmental shifts that besiege them.
Her areas of expertise and interest include business agility, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, innovation, effectuation, management innovation, personal development, human potential, blue economy, leadership and coaching. Email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit http://www.optimalagility.com.