437 — Manage Uncertainty and Change with Adaptability

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Charles Darwin discovered a key principle of evolution — survival of the fittest.  Massive dinosaurs dominated Earth for 20 million years, but following a sudden environmental change it was the insignificant, tiny, agile mammals that adapted and survived. Darwin recognized that in the long run fittest meant most adaptable.

With today’s increasing uncertain business environment — in markets, technology and regulation — organizing your company around yesterday’s predictability, brings unacceptable risk. We no longer have a stable environment — where the appropriate response is a hierarchic structure, policy manuals, and detailed procedures for each contingency. In a changing, uncertain, unpredictable environment, employees who are hampered by old-style structures and policies can’t respond quickly or properly. That’s the path to extinction.

Engage Employees with the Marketplace

The key to quickly adapting to the changing marketplace is being highly engaged with that marketplace. You can’t predict where the changes will come from but you will minimize your risk if every employee is fully committed and engaged, rapidly responding to change by feeding information into the organization, information they constantly receive through their engagement.

That kind of organizational adaptability takes strong relationships and trust. But how can you hold an employee’s trust when you can’t even promise they’ll be here tomorrow? “I want committed employees, but I can’t commit to them.” This looks like a dilemma. The challenge is to build a company culture, where employees are committed, open and trusting, but at the same time understand and accept that there are no employment guarantees.

It Takes Honesty, Openness and Trust

Employees know the realities of business. Adults appreciate straight talk. Unfortunately many managers think they should always put on a good front and that that sometimes means concealing negative information that may significantly affect employees, such as a severe financial downturn. But in an open and trusting workplace, where people at all levels are committed to each other, managers can talk as straightforwardly to employees about the financial health of the company, or unstable markets, or employment as they can about anything else.

Employees should be able to trust management to be open and honest, no matter what the topic. In such a workplace employees will accept the facts as facts because they know that no matter what happens, managers will do their best for everybody. That’s the new contract. It’s powerful and it works.

Does that sound hard to achieve? You might need help getting there, but the result is an adaptive, market-responsive company, guaranteeing survival. Darwin would approve, maybe even smile.

cc 437 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

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