Josef Ackermann, CEO of Deutsche Bank said recently; “We should resign ourselves to the fact that the ‘new normality’ is characterised by volatility and uncertainty”(1). He made this statement while discussing the impact the Eurozone crisis was having on the global economies and its similarity to the relatively recent 2008 banking crisis.
These two events were of course extreme examples of the turbulence emanating from frequent and often unpredictable change that has become a feature, of both the private and public sector landscapes, across the entire globe. Even though Ackermann is not alone in this observation, and way back in 1999 turbulence was predicted to be the major challenge to firms in this century, few private or public sector organisations are anywhere near ready to meet it (2). As the boss of Germany’s biggest bank was indicating, unless organisations do look to meet this challenge, they will find great difficulty creating success and wealth in this new norm.
The vast majority of organisations continue to manage change, as they always have, through periodic change initiatives. To these, managing change is seen to be an intervention, something that is done to an organisation to make the change happen. In the relative stable times of the last century, when change was considered a periodic phenomenon, managing it with timely interventions seemed fine. Now change is both frequent and unpredictable such methods are too slow, unreliable and disruptive. Yet, the solution is not a more effective and efficient change initiative, but a completely different perspective on how organisations relate to change, uncertainty and turbulence.
Organisations which have survived and succeeded over many years have learnt to adapt. When change is frequent and uncertain, like now, this need to adapt is almost continuous. The large number of organisations attempting to manage many change interventions simultaneously is an example of this continuous need to adapt. To adapt continuously requires evolution capabilities built into the architecture of an organisation, rather than relying on periodic intervention. The organisation needs to be evolutive.
An evolutive organisation requires three capabilities embedded in its operating architecture; organisation agility, the capability to execute swiftly as a single unit, and efficient and appropriate working practices. Crucial is an underlying culture of proactive working which encompasses change and sees it positively as a source of variety and opportunity. This is a whole lot different from the conventional view of an organisation as one which naturally responds slowly and resists change; a place where change is seen to be a threat and stressful.
There have been significant developments to enable organisation agility, of which outsourcing, remote working and enhancements in telecommunication are just a few examples. Even so, too many CEO’s are frustrated by the sluggish nature of their organisation. The lack of capability to execute strategy swiftly is one cause of this sluggishness. Another is the inability to rid the organisation of old working practices and adopt new ones in a timely manner. Initiatives such as ‘Six Sigma’ and ‘Lean’ help ensure working practices are appropriate and efficient. However, in times of constant change, unless there is a continuous means to keep them that way, an organisation’s agility will quickly slow down, like the aging PC, through obsolete and redundant working practices, applications and methods.
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