Nurturing adaptability – a strategic response


Without wishing to state the bleeding obvious, we are in uncharted, unknown territory. As I shared with over 100 coaches from around the world over the last two weeks, there is no going back to ‘the way things were.’

We have and are witnessing a whole systems change. Entire systems that are all entwined and not separate in reality, although they may be inside our heads, have changed.

List them off for a moment – health care, aged care, education, transport, arts and entertainment, technology, food supply, retail, economics, politics …. everything has changed. And as these different elements of the whole system continue to adapt in response to each other, the future will become even more unpredictable.

But how do we navigate our way forward now? We need to challenge our previous assumptions about how things really work.

When I started in corporate strategic planning, we developed 15-year plans, but can you imagine doing that today? Even planning several months ahead is difficult.

I believe that a strategic response must include nurturing organisational cultures that are innately adaptable. We don’t know what will happen – so develop an organism that can respond quickly and almost effortlessly.

And there is it. The new metaphor for our organisations – an organism. A living system. Look at the similarity between the words. This metaphor has been around for awhile but now is the time to take it really seriously and stop playing at the edges of it.

The levels of stress and burnout need to be addressed. It is dangerous to assume that once Coronavirus passes, a new more stable landscape will emerge. Scientists are clear that there are more shocks from climate change and ecological crisis on the way.

Those leaders who ignore these looming shocks (as we all ignored warnings of a pandemic) will pay the price with stress and burnout as they employ the command and control structures of the past. These habitual ways of doing things limit the natural creativity of people, the source of real innovation, within organisations. Ultimately, this strategy of operating our organisations as we have in the past, can not produce the flurry of experimentation required to be vibrant into the future.

The metaphor of an organisation as a machine has built-in a great deal of unnatural stability and rigidity.

Living systems (or complex adaptive systems) are always flowing with energy. They are not rigid in their structures and underlying thinking – they are inherently adaptable.

Your organisation or team may have adapted once to Working From Home – but can it do it again and again?

Repeated adaptation is what adaptability is. What would an adaptable organisation look like, be like and what is the pathway to it?

Download the first two chapters of my new book to learn more about the pathway to an adaptable culture.