Monday, April 19, 2010

Building an Adaptive Organization - part #2

THEME: Spring 2010 From Vision to Action Roundtable Report

FOCUS: Building an Adaptive Organization - part #2

Monday morning: April 19, 2010

Dear friends,

Last week, I wrote about the importance of doing a better job of diagnosing our problems before creating a solution to them. In particular, I explained how technical problems start with a high level of disequilibrium which goes down over time. Thus, when an executive is facing a technical problem, he or she will often work to define the problem and the right solution, protect the organization from external threats, orient people to current roles, restore order, and maintain organizational norms.

I also pointed out that adaptive problems move in the opposite manner. Adaptive problems often start with a low level of disequilibrium. They do not always impact immediately the cash generating part of the business like a technical problem. Leaders typically respond to an adaptive problem by doing the following: identify the adaptive challenge, frame key questions and issues, identify external threats, redefine roles, resist orienting people to new roles too quickly for fear of reducing adaptive behavior, expose conflict or let it emerge so the solution is not influence by issues being left unresolved, and often challenge norms or let them be challenged given adaptive change requires people to rethink how they are working.

One critical element that Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky point out in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009, is that leaders dealing with adaptive problems need to be observing events and patterns around them constantly and collecting this data as part of the processing. This observation made me remember the work of Noel M. Tichy and Warren Bennis in their article called “Making Judgment Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership”, Harvard Business Review, October 2007. Here, these two authors note that the first step in decision-making is what they call the “Preparation Phase.” They point out that leaders need to do a better job of sensing and identifying what is going on with in and around the company. From this information, they need to frame up the problem and name it. Once this is done, they then can mobilize others to work on it and make sure the appropriate resources are available. The key is constant environmental scanning so one can better understand what is happening and look for patterns within the events.

For example, we know today that there are 38.6 million people born between 1925 - 1945. They are often called the Traditionalists generation. Next are the Baby Boomers, born 1946 - 1964, and there are 78.3 million of them. The following generation is called Gen Xers, born 1965 - 1979, and there are 62 million of them. Finally, there are the Millennials, born 1980 - 2001, and there are 92 million of them. As we all know there are vast difference between each of these generations.

As I scan the environment, here are a couple of things I note. First, Gen Xers, who are new to mid-level management, have no experience in delegating. For them, it is easier to do it alone than include others. They also often lack the capacity to coach mostly because they never experienced it except in high school sports and because no one ever taught them. Finally, everything in the book, The One Minute Manager, is new material for them.

On the hand, Trophy Kids or Millennials are loyal to those they work with, not the faceless organizations that pay their salaries. They love positive feedback because it builds confidence and makes them feel secure. Millennials often have a complete disregard for positional leadership, and will react to positional leaders as if they are parents to be argued with when a decision has been made. Finally, most Trophy Kids or Millennials are being coached by people who have no coaching experience and are not very good at giving feedback. By the way, I still believe that the following book is the best one for understanding Millennials: Alsop, Ron. The Trophy Kids Grow Up: How the millennial generation is shaking up the workplace, Jossey-Bass, 2008.

This week, scan your environment more closely and share your observations with your team. This will be the first step in preparing them for handling adaptive problems and challenges.

Have a great week,


Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change

Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257

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