In a global context of exponential change, the organisational imperative becomes one of intentionally building the capacity to change and evolve. Adaptability is critical to survival; this was an accepted evolutionary insight long before it was understood within the realms of business.

PepsiCo CEO, Indra Nooyi has said that “Every morning you have got to wake up with a healthy fear that the world is changing, and a conviction that, to win, you have to change faster and be more agile than anyone else”. The ability to ‘live with change and uncertainty’ has been identified as one of the essential elements in developing adaptive intelligence. Developing this capacity is both an individual as well as an institutional challenge.

According to a recent Leadership Institute (London Business School) survey, 80% of change within any organization is driven by senior management. This finding suggests that change from the bottom-up is a rarity. It is also perhaps reflective of the ‘types of organisations’ we have built rather than the ‘people filling to lower echelons’ of these organisations. This finding suggests that senior management has an overwhelming burden to ensure that the organization is ‘future-fit’ and if, for any reason, they don’t feel they can fulfill this responsibility, then there is a very clear and present danger.

Given the chance, change can emanate from anywhere. Smart leaders know this and so don’t rely on only those ‘at the top’ to be the primary change-agents. When you can get everyone looking for ways to make things better – ways to create a better tomorrow – and then find ways to harvest these ideas – you have the structure in which spontaneity can flourish. Professor Dan Cable writes that “Organisations work best when there are hundreds or even thousands of people that are looking every day for ways to make a better tomorrow”. Given this, an important facet of leadership becomes the ability to create a sense of and commitment to what Cable terms the ‘purpose of change’.

When it comes to this topic, here would be five important questions to be asking within your organization/team:

  • Who within our organization drives the change?
  • How can we get more of our people committed to the purpose of change?
  • What might we need to change (within our structures, decision rights, information flow and motivators) to make this possible?
  • Where does resistance to change within our organization usually come from? For how long has this been the case and what do we need to do about it?
  • What will happen if we don’t increase our internal ability to adapt/change

Essentially, being adaptive and change-fluid is a cultural matter rather than a strategic imperative. Having a flexible strategy is important but strategy alone will never be sufficient to keep pace with the external change most industries and organisations are facing.

Leaders have to ensure that the ability to change is part of the DNA and the more people who understand this and can act on it, the better!

This blog post originally appeared over The Future of Work Academy.

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