Adaptability solutions finessed by different ‘mixes’

Working in the change sector, I’ve come to brace myself whenever someone I hear someone has come up with THE BEST ORGANISATIONAL CHANGE MODEL – yes, all in capital letters.

After a cursory look I generally see a simplistic solution that is easy to sell, and completely unworkable when it comes to implementation or long term success.

Adaptability is not a simple field with one-size-fits-all solutions. It’s an old saying, but one worth repeating every time someone offers a simple bromide to fix what ails you – when something sounds too good to be true, it really is.

There are no prepackaged change solutions that work because no two organizations are alike. But the allure of a simple solution to a complex problem is nearly irresistible to many.

But you don’t start with  the  simple stuff and then get complex. The very first step is to to understand where the levers for change exist within a very complex environment.

I go back to my analogy of blending instruments in a recording mix.

How do you find and isolate which instrument is creating the noise within your mix? What is the person hearing that is making them play the way they are and making them perform out of step with the rest of the players?

Of course it could be incompetence. But let’s assume all the players are highly skilled professionals. In that case the reason for the problem isn’t the player, but rather the information that player is working from.

The problem is upstream and so is the solution.

In business it’s easy to drown out the problems by pushing them down in the mix while turning up the volume of something that seems to be working well.  But that doesn’t mean the problem is gone – we just don’t hear about it.

And it continues to bang away in the background.

Adaptability: the view from the mixing board

As a musician I understand what happens when the individual elements of a recording sound perfect, only to fall apart when played together.

It’s always a matter of balance: less bass, more guitar, keyboard strong but not predominant, drums present but not overbearing.

All musicians can be playing their hearts out but in the end, what makes it a coherent and successful piece of music is the mix.

Working in the change field, I’ve come to see workplaces in much the same way. The instruments are the various departments and the manager is in charge of getting them to create a third thing: a successful product.

But unlike a studio recording, you can’t simply find the perfect mix in isolation and lock it down. What you need to do is think of how your pieces come together in an organic way like a live performance. There has to be room for improvisation and every player must be ready to adapt to how an audience (your customers) are reacting.

But like any great band the individuals have to be ready to pick up the slack and help everyone around them so the performance, produce or service results in a “wow” from those on the receiving end.

Aside from the mix, we have to look at how each instrument, each department, is working. In music, it’s the graphic equalizer that makes sure  individual instruments sound good regardless of their placement in the mix.

And it’s the same with business. If the departments aren’t finely tuned, they can destroy your mix quickly. HR are one of those knobs, your Measurement System is another. You have to get the right balance between them so you are producing what your customers want.

And this is the same across all industries, just as it is across all genres of music. Each line of business or department needs its own EQ and the organization as a whole needs to have its master EQ – the goal of what it’s trying to achieve.

Finding the right mix for your organisation requires understanding your operations, goals customers and the marketplace that you work in. And it’s just not something you are going to get from an out of the box change program.

Lloyd Parry are ‘sound engineers’ for organisations going through adaptive change. We can tell immediately if its one instrument (department) that’s out of tune or if the balance between all the instruments (departments) is not working to create a good sound (product).

We are in a unique position to listen to the whole mix and, most importantly, teach organisations how to develop their own perfect mixes.

Adaptability provides more control in an organisation than less

Discussions with upper management about adaptability are often an awkward dance.

Senior management often fears a loss of control in an adaptive workplace. That’s understandable given their training. But it’s also very wrongheaded..

The reality is that adaptability and related control mechanisms provide more control than than you’re likely to find in a traditional organisation.

In adaptive organisations, we need to have much more experimentation. And rapid experimentation across a business is only possible if you’ve got workplace discipline.

When staff identify something needed in the outside world, they say, “You know what, there’s an opportunity we can rearrange a couple of our products and services and create something different.” And they create a scenario and work it between themselves and other teams.

Through this process they discover things that may or may not be useful. But out of this same process comes a whole range of potential new products and services and ways of delivering service that would enhance the customer experience while driving efficiencies through the business. And that’s happening constantly.

This kind of experimentation becomes second nature in an adaptive environment. Like the skin of a chameleon, it changes to match its environment naturally. A chameleon doesn’t decide when it has to change colours, it just does it instantly.

Crucially, this a collaborative effort that goes on constantly. And the collaboration reveals what is going on in the marketplace from those closest to the customer.  This leads to  conversations about solving the customer’s problem and solving how we organize ourselves within the organisation to respond to it.

Constantly raising and anticipating customer needs, which traditionally would have been projects for a PMO type organization, means solutions are sourced much lower down in an experimental mode.

With technology changing at a breakneck pace, this has to be the new workplace reality. Adapt or die seems an extreme mantra but it’s actually more true than melodrama.