Turning Titanic To Startup: From Lumbering To Agile

“It’s a cliché to say that the world is more uncertain than ever before, but few people realize the extent of the increase in uncertainty over the past thirty years. More important, they don’t understand that greater uncertainty has created the need to change the way most organizations are managed.” -Jeff Dyar and Nathan Furr via The Innovators Method: Bringing Lean Start-up Into Your Organization

The cycle of change is no longer a slow, deliberate and sluggish wheel slowly rolling us into the future. It is revved up and erratic, spinning at a frenzied relentlessness pace. Thrusting change forward in an often chaotic and turbulent manner. This is neither a positive nor negative, as it just is. The positive or negative rests in our ability to comprehend and recognize how these forces are affecting our people, our organizations and our society.

And the anxiety these change forces levy upon us should be less about being left behind in its wake, as in becoming more and more irrelevant as its momentum pushes us forward.

Sometimes what we have to understand is that the more we try to provide assurances and ensure certainty in the midst of this change storm, the deeper we push our organizations into the rut of irrelevance we are trying so desperately to avoid. Too many organizations try to be an anchor in this storm by employing command and control processes and hierarchical structures.  Processes and structures that end up being the anchor that slowly drags them down into the abyss of irrelevance. Instead, today’s organizations need to cut loose from many of these anchors and begin to learn to ride this storm forward into the future.

Past and even current leadership strategies have a clear focus on linear paths and processes, not understanding that this linear leadership mindset severely limits not only the creative and innovative forces in an organization, but the means and practices that lead to more rapid and agile functioning at all levels of the organization.

As we move forward, we have to recognize that in times of great change and uncertainty, many of our tried and true leadership strategies are often no longer effective or even viable.

Today’s effective organizations will need to be more agile-minded and pivot-enabled. The days of plan, plan, plan, then launch, followed by monitor, monitor, monitor and push, push, push for fidelity are becoming a distant memory as a viable strategy to deal with the frenetic pace of change we face in today’s world. This command and control hierarchical structure only tends to invite pushback and disengagement in modern organizations. It does little to build up the capacity of the organization through autonomy and intrinsic motivation.

We live in a much more demanding world. A world where the preferences of the user and the provider must be taken into account on a much deeper level. Which requires better understanding (empathy) of those we serve and the experience (design thinking) that we aim to provide through the service. This requires new and broader conversations at all levels of the organization, as well as requiring new understandings and strategies from leaders and leadership that cascade down across the entirety of the organizational landscape. Inability to engage in this manner will lead to disengagement beyond what already exists in the majority of our organizations (over 70% according to Gallup), as well as the inability to provide services that are in the best interest and needs of those we serve.

There is no certainty in this work. It requires deeper conversations and more experimentation, feedback, and iterations, and even then, we may not hit the mark. But unwillingness to engage in this heavy lifting will leave us even farther off the mark and eventually lead us farther and farther into irrelevance.

Believing that you can provide certainty in any environment in this day and age…is both misguided and futile.

Which is why experimentation, risk-taking, exploring, discovery learning, feedback, open channels of communication will be vital to the success of today’s modern organizations. It requires one foot in the present and one foot forward, anticipating next steps into the future. It requires ‘around the corner’ thinking from leaders and a willingness to engage new learning and ideas from all levels of the organization, which is often impeded by severity of our hierarchical organizational structures. We can’t read the future, we can’t always be right on what is going to happen next, or even know what changes will and can pull the rug out from under us next. But we can work to engage the thinking and ideas that may possibly put us out in front of the plethora of unknowns and uncertainty accompanying these change forces we face.

Just realize that there will be no straight shot forward. It will require shifts and tweaks and shuffles. It will often be one step forward and two steps back, or one step forward and two steps to the left. It will require fast and slow, patient and urgent. There will be detours and rabbit holes. It is just a part of the process forward. The goal is not to get frustrated and stagnated by them, but to learn and move forward from them.

Leadership in times of unknowns, ambiguity and uncertainty requires more time with people.  More time creating connections and relationships, as opposed to more time strategizing and planning. The learning and way forward often morphs itself out of these conversations and connections. It is through this organic process that deeper understandings and learnings arise.  It is where collaborative flows lead to a stronger ecosystem that feeds the organization forward through an open and ongoing pipeline of renewal.

It is how and where we begin to reengage the disengaged.

And it will require a more responsive and empathetic form of leadership. One that is more aware of the needs, the preferences and the changes that are stirring at all levels of an organization.

It doesn’t matter how fast you are to the finish line, if you’re continually providing answers to the wrong questions.


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