Leadership in Change and Uncertainty
Successful leadership requires navigating your organization through periods of change and uncertainty. Learn how to do this well, and you can adapt and thrive in any environment.
Bob Electro was the CEO of Electro Brothers Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of electronic components. After many successful years, the strategies and tactics that once worked well were failing. Bob’s trusted leadership team averaged 20 years of industry experience, yet their attempts at implementing new strategies were ineffective. Electro Brothers couldn’t adjust to the changes in customer demand and competition.
Over the past two years, revenue dropped 36% with no foreseeable solutions to their dilemma. Bob swallowed his pride and hired an organizational expert, RoughSeas Navigation. RoughSeas helped the leadership team create a flexible, adaptive culture to succeed in the change and uncertainty that they faced. This wasn’t a quick fix, but, within 18 months, revenue climbed 39%. Now the leadership team was more optimistic about the future than they’d been in years.
How to Succeed in Change and Uncertainty
Three traits are needed to succeed in change and uncertainty:
- Flexibility - the willingness to change or compromise
- Adaptability - the ability to successfully adjust to change
- Learnability - the ability to quickly acquire new knowledge and skills
When you combine these characteristics, you become a Flexible, Adaptive, Learning Organization—a FALO. A FALO is a business with a strong culture that provides a competitive edge in our unstable world. Look no further than the example of Electro Brothers Inc. to see the difference a shift towards a flexible, adaptive and learning work culture can make between growing a business and losing a business.
The FALO Formula
The FALO equation is: Flexibility + Learnability = Adaptability. This is like E=mc² for business.
Here’s a closer look:
- What happens when you have high flexibility but low learnability? Organizations and people like this are lost and directionless. Being flexible is important, but there needs to be a reason behind the need for flexibility. Flexibility needs to be purposeful instead of just agreeable.
- What happens when you have high learnability and low flexibility? People and organizations like this have knowledge and skills but aren’t open to ideas and solutions that differ from their current ones. They’re rigid, much like Bob Electro was. No amount of skill can make up for a business strategy that isn’t working, and an unwillingness to change a strategy severely limits the competitive edge that highly skilled and knowledgeable workers and managers can create for a business.
You need a high-enough level of both traits to effectively adapt to change. How do you achieve a high level of flexibility and learnability? The answer is simple. Focus on changing the organization’s culture before changing the strategy.
Changing Business Culture for Adaptability
Culture is the habitual manner of behaving that’s considered acceptable in your organization. Since culture is a habit, it takes time, effort, and continuous reinforcement to be make lasting changes. Many leaders give up too soon. You need to be patient and persistent to create a new culture.
Changing a strategy is quick and easy in comparison. It allows you to feel like you’ve taken smart and decisive action to meet your objectives. But strategy needs to be executed properly to be effective. This requires a culture that supports the strategy. Have you ever asked people to do things differently to meet new strategic initiatives? Did you get any pushback? Did anyone keep doing things the old way due to their work habits?
Changing your culture requires personal adaptability from leaders. They need to set the example by moving out of their comfort zones into new ways of thinking and behaving. It’s imperative to set the example with your own actions first. If you tell your people to do things you’re not doing, your efforts will fail! This is the truth of organizational culture. Peter Drucker, the well-known management consultant said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” In truth, it eats strategy for lunch and dinner too!
In the 1990s, Louis Gerstner led IBM to one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in US history. Most experts said that IBM was crazy to hire Gerstner since he had no computer industry experience and thus lacked the necessary strategic knowledge. What did Gerstner do? He focused on changing the culture at IBM before addressing the strategy. In 2002, he shared two lessons with MBA students at Harvard Business School:
- “You don’t win with strategy,” and
- “Culture is everything.”
Implementing the FALO Formula
Put flexibility + learnability = adaptability into action!
To increase Flexibility:
- • Build a business culture that conditions everyone to consider multiple options and challenge beliefs and assumptions when making decisions. This fosters creativity and collaboration that helps fuel innovative solutions.
- Build a business culture where you look for new opportunities in undesirable changes rather than getting stuck in resistance and complaining. It’s like the old saying goes, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” When presented with an unfavourable change, identifying opportunities to turn a change that nobody wants into a change that has a positive impact on the business demonstrates to others how flexibility can turn a bad situation into a good one.
- Build a culture where you stop insisting that you’re right just because you believe you are. This is a rigid mentality, plain and simple. Until you can let it go, flexibility will be out of reach.
To increase Learnability:
- Build a culture where people practice openness and authenticity. We all have weaknesses and don’t have all the answers. You can’t learn if you already “know.” Being encouraging people to be honest with themselves and you and not punishing ignorance opens the door to learning.
- Build a culture where everyone participates in training and development programs. Grow knowledge and skills that are relevant to the opportunities and challenges facing your organization so they are better prepared to overcome them.
- Build a culture where leaders and teams openly discuss mistakes as well as concerns, and complaints raised by clients and employees. Don’t make excuses to avoid unpleasant realities. These open discussions are the best way to identify learning opportunities that can have an immediate impact on job performance.
- Build a culture of doing. Put what’s been learned in training and development and experiences into action. Information without action is just entertainment.
An Adaptable Culture Leads to Growth
When you put the above principles into action you grow and develop as leaders and people. This drives a culture of growth and development with your employees. When your people develop, they help your organization adapt to change and uncertainty. They also stop requiring the constant direction, monitoring, and babysitting that draw your energy away from making your desired contribution.
Imagine what could happen if you adopt this approach in your organization!
About the author: Brad Wolff specializes in leadership development to increase productivity, profitability and engagement. 25 years in recruiting and retention taught him how leaders’ actions impact results with their people. Brad’s passion is making the science of human potential simple and practical to achieve greater success with less stress and more satisfaction. He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. For more information please visit: www.PeopleMaximizers.com or email him at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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