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I was reading an article by Glenn Llopis, published by Forbes entitled 6 leadership failures that put your company at risk. In his first paragraph he writes about leadership not recognizing or capitalizing on the need for change in a rapidly evolving marketplace.

You can read the article here forbes.com

For fifteen years I have been interested in organisational development and specifically in the way in which an organisation adapts to meet it’s evolving future.

There are lots of examples of management thinking in this space, a favourite of mine being Porter's five forces. Michael Porter described how competing forces in a market suggest and dictate the strategy of an organisation. In the 1980’s Porter described, how the power of suppliers, customers, competitors, new entrants and imitators combine to produce specific strategic requirements in order for any organisation to survive, succeed and prosper.

Generally speaking the past ten years, with the growth of technology and the internet has resulted in more acute, unpredictable and rapid pressure from all of these areas.

With exceptions the cost of starting up has reduced, simple web searches enable the customer to explore alternatives, compare value across a range of factors and suppliers through aggregation have become either more consolidated and powerful or have in many cases just disappeared leaving a dominant survivor.

All of this combines to create an organizational environment in which change is not optional, it is essential in order to survive, succeed and prosper.

It is this organizational challenge that has always interested me, whether as a consultant, a practitioner delivering change or as a trainer, speaker or author. How does an organization adapt, how does it change culture, direction, behaviours to meet challenges and strategic aims? The answer to this question is further complicated by the fact that this process will not happen once, or twice a year in a formal way but it will be required regularly, unpredictably and quickly.

I have worked with large organizations where I have observed significant strain as they try to adapt. You might be familiar with the analogy of an oil tanker, all 1000 feet of it trying to slow, stop and change direction. It’s a nice image to describe large established organizations that have relied on defined behaviours and competencies. If you can picture this then imagine what happens when the oil tanker is required to change direction regularly? Consider the cost in resources (fuel) the cost in delays and the cost in motivation as staff are asked repeatedly to stop and redirect.

I have worked with small organizations too where you can imagine a great deal of entrepreneurialism exists. These are start-up to small organizations that have grown rapidly and they have done so through their ability to respond to evolving customer requirements but there comes a time in a growing organization where the benefits of flexibility and entrepreneurialism start to be outweighed by the benefits of consistency and predictability in the eyes of customers and prospects. These small organizations are like speedboats, perfectly adapted for rapid manoeuvring but ill-equipped for storms, high seas and long journeys.

The answer as always is not straight forward:

In an excellent article on delegated leadership, Dana Ardi argues that greater collaboration is essential http://www.fastcompany.com

IN a 2008 white paper PWC propose that agility and authenticity are among the factors http://www.pwc.com

I could go on but I want to add some insight that I gained working with a French Pharma company.

This was a company that’s been successful for a long time with Legacy products and legacy processes but that had recognized the future required a different set of behaviours and competencies.

This was an organization that for 10 years had embraced change and project management but was looking to go further and embed change and project management competencies into the core curriculum for the line

Management population.

Of all the work we did together, one concept was foremost and stuck. To be agile and collaborative across a large organization requires small companies within a large company. Somehow the large, established, inflexible but robust organization had to find a way to spawn entrepreneurial, agile and flexible organizations, capable of collaborating, exploring opportunities and challenges quickly and providing decision data to the leadership team.

In practice, I am reminded of the work of Kodak in developing the fun camera. This was a huge diverse organization that created a small team with its own CEO and gave them the autonomy to develop a product that would ultimately define Kodak before it’s steady demise.

What is required is a combination, the best of both worlds, the stability and durability to meet far objectives with the flexibility and agility to respond to near challenges and opportunities. Kodak managed this with the fun camera, Apple seems to manage it with the iPhone and the iPad, there are other examples.

Creating a company within a company requires delegation of authority to those people best able to use it, within agreed boundaries while accepting that the mission might not succeed. It’s a tall order but one on the mind of every CEO, how to be adaptable and agile while be predictable and sustainable.

The challenge for the small company is the converse, how to build an oil tanker while retaining the speedboats. Here’s my advice based upon a love of the sea. I once saw a mega-yacht moored outside Cowes, on the Isle of Wight. This thing was enormous, I think that it might have been an ocean-going tug at some point. It was built for any weather that the sea could throw at it, it was also stunning in white and blue, festooned with lights and decks. As we were serenely sailing past I saw the side of the boat first move and the start to open. What the opening revealed was an inner dock and from this dock emerged a speedboat, not a tiny speedboat but one equally the size of the forty-foot yacht that I was on. The speedboat powered up and sped off in the direction of Cowes leaving an impressive wake and some impressed sailors.

If you are building a seagoing company then you might want to consider somewhere to store your speedboats, if you already have one, consider making space for an inner dock.

 

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