Adaptive: Work climate and culture are not the same

I get calls from companies these days who are struggling with the amount of discontinuous change caused by technologies, new business models coupled with unprecedented pressures to upgrade the skills of people just to keep up let alone excel.

In addition the way organizations have to connect to other organizations around the world, even for temporary purposes simply to maintain daily delivery, have blown apart the whole notion of nice, solid steady value streams.

collabThe implications of all this constant, rapid change are profound and far reaching for the management of staff, the work design, measurement systems, people development and reward systems. Simply put, the old management models and thinking are obsolete.

Adaptive Management has now come of age with its fixation on the customer while enabling staff to continuously innovate and change the business. It’s an on-demand, continuous change system but unfortunately some businesses settle for far less by using Lean and Agile just to improve a few processes. That’s fine, but there’s so much more potential.

Some years ago, an adaptive organizational transformation typically took about four years. But my organizational transformation process is now down to eighteen months because we use a diagnostic based on behaviour and something called ‘the work-climate’. It has significant implications for how we design, build and operate organizations.

What is this behaviour-focused diagnostic looking at?  Well, we start with the work climate. Social scientists have been looking at work climates for many years and have demonstrated the effects of attitudes on certain work outcomes.

It was a revelation to me that we could actually understand the impact of the operating strategy, the structures, the managing practices and how we make decisions by examining the perceptions, feelings and behaviours of staff at every level of the organisation. The data provided a deep insight into the disconnects and misalignment of management thinking and pointed to alternative better approaches.

An adaptive trusting climate drives collaboration. Everybody thinks you can put people into a room, have them band together to solve a problem and that’s collaboration.  It’s not.  Collaboration is all about reciprocity.  Do you trust me and can I trust you?  If so, we’ll get along and be able to collaborate as long as we are connected to the real needs of customers.

An adaptive work climate needs to focus on ‘engaging’- how we understand the deep needs of customers, Learning- how we collaborate end to end to meet customer needs, ‘Leading’- how we devolve decision making to the point of interaction with the customer and lastly ‘improving’ – do staff have the authority and the methods to change how work is delivered to customers to meet their needs.

Is there good leadership? A challenging environment?, Enough freedom and decision making?  Do we share intelligence within our team? Within our function?  When do we see our senior management?  All of this gives rise to the work climate.

Work climate is entirely different to culture.  A culture takes a long time to establish, but once ingrained, proves very difficult to shift. The twist is that all cultures start off as a work climate that have sustained for a long periods of time.

Work climates can change very rapidly. There could be a good climate in an organization but when a new manager enters the mix with a strict focus on the numbers restricting freedom and locks everything down the climate changes rapidly but has the culture of the organization changed?  Probably not.

But if that manager keeps going like that for a sufficient length of time, it becomes ‘the way we work around here’.  So the toughest challenge for Adaptive transformations is changing the climate long enough so it becomes the culture.

It could be a toxic climate or a really productive climate but the secret to creating and maintaining an adaptive climate is management trustworthiness – can staff trust you?

Building trust between managers and staff is the path to real Adaptive organizations. Trust allows freedom, choice and the power to do what matters for customers through the willing contribution of staff and managers alike.

Stop trying to change cultures and start trying to change climates.

Leader vs. manager

Differences between managers and leaders crucial

Reading a resume can be fascinating. When I peruse a manager’s resume, it tells a story of what they’ve done. Intriguingly, a change-maker’s resume tells of what they can create.

A leader’s resume tells of what they can create and how they can achieve that through people.

Leader vs. manager

The manager’s resume looks back while the      leader’s always looks forward to creating            possibilities. It is this ability to create where others fail that makes a leader.

It’s not always easy to be the leader. Some will look  at a prospective plan and mutter disapproval   noting that a similar one had failed in the past.         Leaders brush aside those concerns conceding         that there were issues with the execution in the  past but none that preclude a new attempt. As  well, leaders learn from past failures, looking at  them as test runs for future efforts.

Leadership is the art of possibility in the face of reality. Having the ability to see the reality, the courage to talk about the reality, and the straightforwardness to point out the hard reality that the activities we’re doing are moving us away from our core purpose as a business, takes courage, tenacity and honesty.

Let’s not let the past dictate the future. Let’s create a new future, a new possibility that tells us how we need to act now, not act tomorrow. Acting now, from this moment.

This is not about blind commitment. Rather, it’s an eyes wide open commitment to facts, continual learning and tackling new challenges. This is about having a clear vision of the purpose and steps you will take. About being open to the possibility of changing the route you will take. These are the change maker’s leadership skills, the ones you would list on your resume: about how you can create possibilities.

Implementing lean

In your interviews for new positions, you talk about what the situation was, what the reality was, what the difficulties were, what the mind-sets and mental models of the organizations were, and the politics. You’ll detail for those people sitting across from you how through conversations with your contemporaries, by getting into their world and co-creating a way out. That by gaining commitment from yourself and others to forge that way out, you did so in a deft, flexible and adaptive manner, not a dogmatic way.

These are the stories of the change maker. These are the stories of the leader.


Choosing purpose and working on it very different

Choosing your core purpose and working on it are two different things.

Having gone through the process of finding your purpose, the next step is to develop a strategy for working on it.

By doing so, you’re also exposing yourself to opportunities to learn other things in case you’ve chosen the wrong purpose. It may also reinforce the purpose you’ve selected. Your chosen purpose will tell you when you’re off course so you can restore things back to their proper place.

world-map-person-with-open-arms_MkJbHNu_But having a purpose is not enough. We need to measure our progress towards purpose.

The CORE profile shows you where you’re spending your time. Thats one measure of focus. Its also one measure of adaptability when we look at the opportunities that life presents when exploring them.

Do you know what you’re trying to achieve?

The measurement of purposefulness means do you measure the means to meet your purpose? How do i measure the means to achieve my purpose?

The measurement of means are good indicators of whether you’ll achieve something. These are indicators that you’re on track, on the right course.

It is not the objective. Measure the means not the ouput, and you’ll receive the output.

So where are you spending your time? Are you achieving your purpose or somebody else’s purpose.?

What does it feel like working on your purpose? Is it satisfying or extremely frustrating?

You have to create a purposeful climate for yourself. Understand that everything is aligned to get you the balance that you need to achieve your purpose.

Its not a sprint: it’s a marathon. But very often people run a marathon like it is a sprint and they get burned out and frustrated and injured far too early.

Create around you the conditions necessary for you to achieve your purpose in terms of what you read, how you relax, where you spend your vacations.


You have a number of roles in your life to create your purpose. You may need to have many sub-purposes but be sure that they all align to meet your main purpose.

Identifying the purpose, measuring the means to your purpose, focusing your effort and time on the purpose and being open to change while you do it, creates a purposeful climate around you.

Then you will achieve purposeful outcomes.

New forms of adaptive organisational workforces: Faster adaptability is the new core competency in the new economy

The following is a transcription from my recent presentation at 15th International Conference on Technology, Policy and Innovation.

The programme was titled: New forms of adaptive organisational workforces: Faster adaptability is the new core competency in the new economy

Above you will find the corresponding slides. Below I’ve also posted the audio.

If you are interested in having me speak at your conference take a quick look at my topics and let’s talk.

Parry presenting 12My background is in improving organizations, designing organizations.  But my background fundamentally is in engineering, tech, IT and he school of Lean as well.  So I have a deep-rooted history working within lean.

I’m running my own business called Lloyd Parry which consults businesses on how to make them much more adaptable to the environment that they’re working in.  And we do that by investing in the people, but also advising HR on the best reward and recognition systems, the best way to manage processes and even who should be designing the organization.

The work that we’re doing is saying it certainly should not be managers that do the designing of the organization.

But what problem are we trying to solve? I get lots of calls from companies these days about the amount of discontinuous change with technologies, the skills people have, and the way organizations have to connect to other organizations, even for temporary purposes. The whole notion of a nice solid value stream is long gone.

What are the implications of this for management, staff, and the work design?  They’re massive.  And I’m getting calls from companies unable to keep up with the pace of change.

Around 2002 I was working with a high-tech outsourcing company, and getting some breakthrough with some of the Lean things that I was doing.  My work came to the attention of a man doing some work for the London School of Economics.

He went on to do research in work psychology at Aston Business School in Birmingham. He’s currently at Warrick University these days. What he found when he was doing this work for the London School of Economics was that by taking some of the philosophies and approach to people embedded and implicit in Lean and Agile these days, you do get better performance.  But unfortunately Lean isn’t known as much for creating an adaptive organization as much as creating better processes: Leaner processes and a huge fixation on waste.

Lean is really about fixation on the customer and value and empowering staff to continuously focus on that.  It’s an on-demand, continuous system but very often businesses settle for far less by just improving a few processes.  That’s great, but there’s so much more potential.

I wanted to know why I was getting more out of my staff than other people who had gone Lean.  And these guys gave me the clue.  What it did was identify the specific work I was doing that was making a difference and the work that wasn’t making any impact at all.

An organizational transformation in Lean typically took about four years with benefits during that entire time.  But now my organization transformation process is down to eighteen months because we use now a diagnostic based on behavior.  And that’s what I want to talk about today because it has implications for how we design, build and operate organizations going forward. This isn’t just for IT organizations: we’ve done this for police forces and notably, local government.

What is this behaviour-focused diagnostic looking at?  Well, we start with  something that we call the work climate. Social scientists have been looking at work climates for many years and have demonstrated the effects of attitudes on certain work outcomes.  So it was a revelation to me that we could actually look at the impact of the operating strategy, the structures, the managing practices, how we make decisions.  The perceptions and feelings of people feed through all of this so it’s a good place for us to get some information and then try and decipher the specific attitudes, how they were brought about and how we can change them.

So what is a climate? If you have an organization where there’s high levels of trust between staff, between departments, you get  collaboration.  Collaboration only comes from a mutual respect and the trust.  Everybody thinks you can put people into a room, get them solving a problem together and that’s collaboration.  It’s not.  It’s all about reciprocity.  Do you trust me and I trust you?  If so, we’ll get along and get good collaboration.

A climate can be made up of these things.  Is there good leadership?  Is it a challenging environment?  Is there enough freedom and decision making?  Do we share intelligence within our team, within our function?  When do we see our senior management?  All of this gives rise to the work climate.  And we can check that.

The good thing about the survey is that we can check it at more than just the work group level. There’s the weather on the ground but there’s weather at different levels.  So we can stratify the readings to find out what the weather is like at the top of the organization.  Sometimes the leaders are in the bright sunshine and everything’s great, but when you go down to the staff, there’s lots of rain and lots of stuff is coming down.  So we can find out where the disconnect is in the hierarchy as well.

This gave us a very great insight.  The thing is, I’m talking about a work climate and this is entirely different than a culture.  A culture is difficult, takes a long time to establish, but once ingrained, proves very difficult to shift. The twist is that all cultures start off as a work climate that has sustained for a period of time.

Work climates can change very rapidly.  There could be a good climate in an organization but when a new manager enters the mix with a strict focus on the numbers  there’s no freedom: everythings locked up.  The climate has changed but has the culture of the organization changed?  Probably not.

But if that manager keeps going like that for a sufficient length of time, it becomes ‘the way we work around here’.  So the toughest challenge for Lean and Agile transformations is changing the climate long enough so it becomes the culture.

It could be a hot climate or a really nice climate.  The biggest thing at the epicenter of this is trustworthiness.  Building trust between managers and staff fundamentally help Lean and Agile organizations, but it is absolutely a priority for adaptive organizations as we will see.  If there’s no trust, you will not get adaptive organizations or certainly not ones with any longevity.

So, in our ten years of work, we had all of these dimensions and our problem was that, yes: we could see the links, but how do we present this to a manager or a CEO or a CIO in a way that they can easily comprehend? We found we had 160 dimensions that we had to break down into four that most managers could wrap their heads around.

We have to examine how we engage with our customers and the outside world.  How do we gather that knowledge, institutionalize it, then bring it into the organization?  How do we learn from it and share it right across the end-to-end business and not just keep it in one little function?  How do we share this information we’ve got from the outside with our senior management?  What mechanisms do we have for that?  These are the things that we are looking for.

Once we’ve shared that information we need to make some decisions about it.  Who is making the leadership decisions?  In Lean and Adaptive organizations such decision making is way, way down in the organization.  Gone are the days where you have to move decisions up to the top.  We all know that.  Yet we continue making organizations where decisions flow down from the top.  But Lean fundamentally changes who makes those decisions. There are new controls that come in place and they’re mostly social controls as we will see.

Then we move from having made the right decisions to questions about ‘how are we going to improve’ and ‘what are going to improve’?  And that is the life cycle of an adaptive organization. So when we run the survey, we are looking for how those four dimensions are carried out in an organization.

What we anticipated in our early survey was that there was going to be a mass production model and a Lean adaptive model.  We were wrong.  There were two very stable ones in between as I’ll explain.

All companies are adaptive to a certain extent.  They have to be.  But today you have to have new forms of adaptability where we’re not talking about continuous improvement any longer.  We have to have continuous change.  Why?  Because as soon as I’ve installed something it’s not about optimizing it, because I’ve got to change it again.  So it’s install, get it stable, then it’s destruct and then reconstruct something else.

So how do we get continuous change?

Let me lead you into this very gently.  I just picked out a couple of things to illustrate the different ways different organizations approach these aspects.  Engaging.  Does the job design allow staff to engage with customers or not?  Is everything locked up, and you have to ask permission? The levels of trust and control can vary quite a bit.

If that is engaging, what do we mean by learning?  Basically, you know, front line staff share information about what’s going on in the real world with senior managers.  Just think about that.  In small organizations they do that.  Small software development companies, they do that.  But once you’re over a certain size, the top guys stare from the top.  They’re not connected to the operation and they’re not connected to the information that’s coming in about their customers.  Do they routinely collaborate and problem solve with senior and mid managers?  Very rarely.

Is the management focus to simply get the biggest bang for the buck, or is it on problem solving, creativity, facilitate and collaboration? Those are two different perspectives and your reward and recognition systems will also support that.  A promotion is given if staff do one more than the other.  If you reach your targets in employee utilization, cost reduction and work intensification, you get promoted.  Such a culture is sustained through the measurement system.

Do we look at end-to-end effectiveness or just functional efficiency? Do they even know where the rest of the business goes?  Adaptive organizations need people to be able to look at everything.

I’ve detailed four organizational archetypes. There is the mass production organization, which I’ve characterized as a bus in that its all batch and queue.  Then you have a more modern form of that which is mass customization much like the previous model but with some options.

Then I move up into mass specializations, networks of teams, high specialists that we’re integrating and it’s a bit like a very good department store.  You have to go around the different departments. Those people know everything, but you have to do the integration right up the mass adaptation which I couldn’t find a name for. So I called it customer value enterprise.

This is what we found out from the research. There are different characteristics for all of these.  The offerings these companies offer are very different.  I’ll just illustrate from the bottom to the top.  Low variety in manufacturing.  Generally some options, compared to individualized, bespoke, unique, flexible offerings. What’s the customer experience like?  Well, we’ve got high co-creation of the solution design.  Here, it’s transactional and processed.

Who improves things? Here, it is the people who are doing the work, that are doing improvement.  There’s no separation.  And you can see the management focus.  But, the thing that drives this is the question of ‘on what basis do I want to compete’?  Economies of scale, low margins?  A trusted advisor, an expert, going for integrations? For knowledge work, and if you’re in software development, you need to be up there. If the world is changing rapidly, then you need to be up there.  If it’s not, and it’s going to be stable, even in an unstable world that your business is quite stable, then this is fine.

So you have a choice going forward about which operating model you need to take. Here is the result of a large, global IT organization of about 2,000 people.  We took engaging, learning, leading and improving.  And from the survey we found out it was a predominantly mass production model.

So what we found from this organization a major well-known software company, is that that was how they designed the work and that was the perception of their people. Yet they have good engagement stuff with their customers but they were only in a reactive mode.

Eighteen months later we had a complete shift from all 2,000 people and their perception of what it’s like to work there. Being able to surface problems without fear and further, actively seeking problems.  And when the reports were green for a long enough time, we turned them all red to raise the standard. That was normal.

When the outside environment changed and their customer needs were changed, the staff would change the staff measurement system. They would tell the HR Department , “That’s what you should be measuring us on now.  That’s what you should be rewarding us for.”  Very different.  So it was the customer with the staff that was driving the change in the organization.

I’m working with a number of large organizations.  This company, Amadeus, provides lots of software applications and platforms for most of the European and Middle East airlines.  They’re having to change their ways from the technical silos to everything working end-to-end.  To that end, they’ve actually changed their whole operating model to do that.  So they have end-to-end business, they measure end-to-end.  The rewards are on collaboration. The senior managers do not make the day-to-day operating decisions anymore.

It is not even the middle managers leading.  It is the first line management.  Middle management are talking about making sure that they’re not overburdened, but the basic improvement and the change is day-to-day built in at the front line level.


Moderator:  Any questions?

Female:  You showed us the software company that you worked with before and after.  But also in your speech you spoke about how moving from work environment to culture takes time.  Have you actually measured how long it took?

Stephen:  That’s a thousand dollar question.  Culture takes time.  I probably need to go back in five years, but what we’ve done is fundamentally change the reward and recognition system.  We’ve found those are the things that sustain whatever models are in place.  What staff value here has changed.  So the trick is, is to make sure that the governance structures that reinforce that old work view are dismantled as quickly as possible and get something else in.

But only time will tell.  If a new manager, a command and control manager comes in there and says, “All of this is out,” well, he’s got a big job to undo it.  But it’s still possible.  But I don’t think the staff would let them go back.