Posts Tagged adaptation

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.

Posted in: Topics and Issues — People

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123 — Evolution and Company Culture

 

Company cultures do not develop with the familiar analyze-plan-direct process used for operational issues. Cultures develop with an evolutionary process, .i.e. in response to the environment, to opportunities — never against resistance. You might induce a work culture to evolve, but you cannot direct a work culture to evolve by command from above.

Leaders can induce a work culture to evolve by changing the cultural “force-field”. They can do this easily and simply, by changing how they lead. When leaders, show openness, trust, and participation in their actions, they change the work environment, and the culture adapts (evolves) to it. An evolved or developed work culture is good for people and excellent for business success. Here are the principles of evolution.

What Is Evolution?

In its broadest sense evolution is change over time. In its more technical “Darwinian” usage, biological evolution occurs when a genetic change spreads to large populations of a species, because it helps the species survive. In everyday usage we say “evolution” occurs in organisms, galaxies, languages, cultures, people and politics.

Evolution Requires Adapting to the Environment

Billions of years ago when Earth’s temperature dropped and the right chemicals were present, life emerged. Life was a remarkable response to a changed environment. Organisms became increasingly complex, in response to complex environments, eventually occupying every conceivable ecological niche.

Organisms survive when they are well adapted. If the environment changes and the organism does not change, it will die. Dinosaurs expired when a large meteor hit the Earth, dramatically changing the climate. You don’t want this to happen to your company. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared.”

Human Evolution

“Human evolution” has three common meanings.

    • Biological evolution that took us from early primates to modern man. Notable additions were the large brain, the upright gait, and the opposable thumb.
    • Personal development of the individual from childhood to adulthood, from relative simplicity to psychological complexity.
    • Social evolution with our highly developed communication and social skills. Outstanding among these are language and culture.

 

Company Evolution

A company culture evolves if it develops in a direction that is good for people, and good for business. The process mirrors biological evolution, where genetic changes survive because they are advantageous to the species. Similarly, desirable corporate changes are those that ensure the health and long-term survival of the company.

When an evolved culture allows people to bring more of themselves to the task, the company will be more productive, profitable, and competitive. In evolutionary terms, this means the company will be stronger, more vital, more robust. When changes occur in the marketplace, the more evolved company will be more responsive and adaptable. It will thrive, while less developed, less adaptable companies fail.

A Well Developed Company Culture

Culture and personality are very similar. A well-developed company culture would be similar to a mature adult. It might be: open, secure, confident, responsible, empathetic, tolerant, self-aware, caring, engaged and engaging, trusting and trustable, productive, complex, self-directed, with actions based on a good and clear set of values.

A poorly developed company culture would be similar to a poorly developed person. For example it might be described as: impulsive, exploitive, aggressive, manipulative, blaming, fearful, controlling, dependent, retaliatory and having conceptual simplicity e.g. sees things in black and white terms instead of shades of gray, or, blames a person instead of looking at the situation.

Evolution Is Not a Motivational Session

While seminars and motivational events may be part of a company’s culture, such events will not change a work culture. There is no quick fix. Evolution is a long-term process of change, where desired characteristics are retained, undesirable ones allowed to regress, and undeveloped ones encouraged.

Ironically, attempts to change the culture by directives or motivational events may actually move the culture backwards. Such top-down actions reinforce the strong authoritarian qualities typical of most underdeveloped work cultures.

Evolution Is Unpredictable

At the start of the universe, who could have imagined life, people, or cultures? Evolution is certainly unpredictable, a real surprise. There are infinite ways:

      • The world could have evolved.
      • The day might turn out.
      • To be a mature person.
      • To become a well-developed company culture.

 

To illustrate unpredictability, let’s say managers decide to open decisions to the participation of people affected. What happens is often surprising, e.g.

A group of engineers at a chemical plant made a presentation to a work crew about a new supply system they were planning to install in the crew’s area. When they opened the meeting to questions one of the long-term employees casually mentioned that a similar system was currently accessible close by (though apparently missing from the plant’s ‘as-built’ engineering drawings). Surprised at the new information, the engineers cancelled their proposed project — at considerable saving.

Cultures Evolve Because People Want Them to Evolve

People want to be more productive, more involved, recognized, communicate better, and have stronger working relationships. So there is a natural pressure for the company to move in that direction. That’s why when leaders show that they want the culture to evolve, people quickly join them. You might say that leadership’s challenge is to get out of the way and let natural selection work.

cc 123 — © Barry Phegan, Ph.D.

Posted in: About Company Culture — Structure

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