After a spring of visiting with many executives in different industries, one thing has become abundantly clear, the speed of transformation has picked up significantly since the beginning of the year. What was expected to take five to seven years is now trying to be done in two to three years. And what in the past took three years is now trying to be done in twelve to eighteen months. In fact, no sooner has something been completed then senior leaders are rethinking the whole thing once more. Whether it is structural change, systems redesign or the entire business model, more and more leaders and managers are wanting to implement change faster than ever.
The impact of this action is the dramatic rise of two things. The first is accelerated convergence where all the change initiatives are trying to get done at the same time with the same level of urgency. The staff involved in implementing all of this change is totally overwhelmed and stretched to their limits.
Now pause for a moment and realize that the word “change” at times like this has become quite tricky because we are using it frequently but not defining it clearly. In reality, the word “change” has two different meanings now in the world of leadership. One definition relates to doing things better. The other definition relates to doing things differently. The key for all involved is to define which definition are we referencing when we talk about change. Nine times out of ten, a consultant is brought in to solve this problem when in reality, all that needs to happen is that people in leadership positions need to clarify what they are meaning.
Second, the more we transform our organizations to meet the ever changing needs of our customers and clients the more problems will surface. Whether the changes are slow or fast, the best leaders know that defining our problems are as important as solving them. The first step to successful problem solving starts with understanding the differences between technical problems and adaptive problems.
In simple terms, a technical problem has a solution that already exists. The problem is clearly defined and the role of the problem solver is to implement a known solution. Using existing skills, resources and process, the right person with the right tool is deployed to fix the problem.
On the other hand, an adaptive problem requires new thinking and new solutions lest the organization enter a period of significant decline. Here, the defining of the problem may require learning and call into question fundamental assumptions and beliefs. Those involved may have to make major changes to solve the problem, and this will require all new ways of thinking.
Because I am seeing the rapid rise of adaptive problems due to accelerated organizational transformations, I am going to spend most of the summer writing about this subject, and sharing it here in my weekly blog. I will be drawing heavily on the research presented in the following book: Heifetz, Ronald, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky. The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009.
When I first read this book, I struggled mightily with it. It was dense, academic level reading which required me to completely understand one chapter before preceding to the next. Often, I had to reread a chapter two to three times before I was ready to go to the next chapter. Still, the quality of the research and concepts were exceptional. It was just complicated reading. When I got done, I was delighted, and thought I might not have to do that all over again. However, since 2009, I have often turned back to this book so that I could better figure out what was going on within a certain situation. I also realized that while it was complicated and in-depth, there were very practical and helpful tools and concepts within the book that I now reference on a weekly basis.
While I wish all of you could stop what you are doing and run out and devote two plus weeks to reading this book, I am realistic enough to know that most of you are just too busy and worn out to have the time or energy to do this. Therefore, I will be spending most of the summer into the early fall sharing key concepts with you so you have a greater understanding as you move forward through all of the change and transformation that is taking place in your world.
So, for starts, I challenge you this week to spend more time diagnosing your problems before you attempt to solve them. It will make a world of difference over time.
P.S. For those of you who would like to read a good, new book this summer, I recommend the following: Lencioni, Patrick. The Ideal Team Player: How to Recognize And Cultivate The Three Essential Virtues, Jossey-Bass, 2016.
As Lencioni notes: “I think the problem is that we’ve failed to define what being a team player requires.” His new model focus on three virtues of an ideal team player, namely humble, hungry, and smart. He notes that humble team players “lack excessive ego or concerns about status. They are quick to point out the contributions of others and slow to seek attention for their own.” He defines hungry as “a manageable and sustainable commitment to doing a job well and going above and beyond when it is truly required.” Finally, he explains that smart people are people smart, namely they “have good judgement and intuition around the subtleties of group dynamics and the impact of their words and actions.”
For those of you who have read The Five Dsyfunctions of A Team, you will find this new book focuses “on an individual team member and the virtues that make him or her more likely to overcome that dysfunctional that derail teams.” As the author continues, “… the ideal team player is all about the makeup of individual team members, while the five dysfunctional are the dynamics of teams getting things done.”
Furthermore the author notes “There are four primary applications of the ideal team player model within an organization: (1) hiring, (2) assessing current employees, (3) developing employees who are lacking in one or more of the virtues, and (4) embedding the model into the organization’s culture.”
For any of you who are working on teamwork this summer or coming fall, or one or all the above four areas, this is a good book and worth the time to read it. As Patrick Lencioni notes in the introduction to the book, “Leaders who can identify, hire, and cultivate employees who are humble, hungry, and smart will have a serious advantage over those who can not.” Given current challenges in the areas of recruitment and retention, we all could use an advantage. Here is a good place to start.
Happy summer reading!