Agility Anathema: A Culture of Optionalism

WE ARE WHAT WE TOLERATE … is a core truism that tends to shape the culture (or at least the climate) as well as shape the spectrum of accepted behavior for societies as well as our organizations!  There are many iterations on this basic tenet including some strong quotes from the leadership guru, John C. Maxwell, or one of the motivation gurus, Tony Robbins among others.  The wisdom in this adage applies fully to each of us as individuals as well as leaders of teams, functions, units or the entire enterprise.  It is equally as applicable and relevant as we think about the dynamics in our families and other social relationships.  Collectively, it rolls up into the kind of customs, mores and codes of conduct that define us in all our communities, cities, regions and countries.

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One of the biggest issues we see in so many organizations -  is the need to dismantle the ubiquitous “culture of optionalism” that is a dangerous cancer growing and getting out of control!  In our work around the world with organizations of every description and industry, we are often having this discussion in our workshops on how overcome this hurdle as we strive to build greater organizational focus, speed and adaptability to compete successfully in this faster, more turbulent VUCA world.

Invariably, as we work with leadership teams to help them build clarity in their strategy maps and plot the pathways to Shape the Future, we find that “strategizing" becomes the “easier” part of the equation.  The really tough stuff comes as the leaders go back into their teams with the conditioned programming of an existing agenda and entrenched inertia of “the way we do things around here”.  To be an Agile Leader in this world, it takes great skill and commitment to marshall the energy and fortitude to lead REAL transformation and offset the tendencies that promote this insidious culture of optionalism.

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So, what are some of the symptoms and signs of this “optionalism” cultural virus?  Do you recognize any of these organizational behaviors:

  • Few people willing to step up to make decisions, own outcomes or initiate action without prodding
  • Decisions and agreements that are made in meetings rarely get implemented on time … without any corresponding consequence
  • Senior leaders tend not to communicate information actively down through their teams … resulting in many down the line folks operating blind … unaware of strategy or group priorities
  • Rogue managers who do not own or share the core values are allowed to continue … sometimes even recognized or rewarded
  • Functional agendas and priorities “trump" the group or enterprise priorities … without consequences or accountability
  • Team members are regularly confused and uncertain … is it that people come first, or is it customers come first or is it profit at all cost … what is it this week?

Focused, Fast & Flexible - these three simple words amplify loudly as the counterweights to a culture of optionalism.  Easy to say … hard to create and sustain!  Focus is the anchor for agility when it embodies the Why, How & What for your Agility journey.  The greater the clarity of these values, operating principles and success metrics - the less room there is for optionalism to exist.  Focus directs and informs where we must build organizational speed and flexibility - especially when allowed (or expected) to percolate at all levels within the organization.  Yes, we are what we tolerate and yet we can also be what you aspire to be … if you are willing to do what it takes and have the courage to be accountable to your vision and values.  There has been lots of comparable discussion in the national news this past week or two … I am hopeful we can all work harder on this in all aspects of our lives.  Our future and the future of our kids depend on it!

I would love to hear your experiences and perspectives.

Is Your VUCA External or Internal?

Whew!  The past seven months has been a pretty chaotic time in Washington and across the globe with almost more dramatic episodes of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) than we can count.  I am pretty sure that the Hollywood screenplay writers and reality TV show producers have more material than they can use for several seasons.  If the potential consequences and implications of this global VUCA vortex were not so daunting with somewhat impetuous leaders in North Korea, Russia and beyond – one might imagine a surreal, Sci-Fi-tinged spy thriller coming to theaters in early 2018.  Let’s hope it does not continue to play out with that kind of drama.

VUCA is that term coined at the US Army War College in the late 1990’s  and is precisely descriptive of the global operating context.  The reality is that there are “layers” of VUCA operating all the time. For example, the Global VUCA layer has its dynamics, consequences, influences and implications – so does your Regional and Local VUCA spheres.  This is intrinsically part of the VUCA vortex and adds to the total complexity factor that leaders and organizations must encounter and navigate.

There is another very impactful dimension to the VUCA equation – your “INTERNAL” VUCA! As we work with clients around the world, we often see significant amounts of VUCA created INSIDE the organization that compounds and exasperates the EXTERNAL VUCA factors – creating a HYPER-VUCA condition … CHAOS indeed.  Sometimes these internal VUCA factors are deep-seeded in the organization’s culture and can range from hard-riveted silos, steadfast holding onto “the way we have always done it” stubbornness, inadequate and often inaccurate information platforms or aberrant leadership behavior demeaning organizational spirit and values.

There are many sources of internal VUCA that often show up in THE VUCA REPORT™ pulse surveythat we have been tracking for two years as well our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™.  These are called out as people, process or technology obstacles that inhibit better and faster nimbleness and adaptability … aka your agility.  Some of these obstacles are chronic and have been around a long time.  Others are newly sprouted as the speed of business accelerates and can cause spontaneous chaos for those who do not anticipate change well.  We invite you to take THE VUCA REPORT™ survey yourself and share your experiences and perspectives along with the almost 1,000 others who have so far.

We are operating in a world filled with consequences and high performance expectations.  The impact of time compression where daily expectations are for faster results and decisions combined with the reality that “the way we used to do it” is becoming obsolete at warp speed – conspire to freeze and paralyze those who are FRAGILE and sets the table for those who are AGILE.  Darwin actually said its about “survival of the most adaptable”.  You will find many tools and insights throughout our website to help you move from the fragile zone to the agile zone.

There are numerous examples of organizations becoming stymied by their own Internal VUCA.  UBER is a recent example of a darling company with seemingly magic touch … then spiraled into whirlpool of internal VUCA around leadership behavior.  Certainly the high profile scandals at ENRON, WorldCom and Lehmann Brothers represented out of control internal VUCA.  Unfortunately, there has been significant amounts of Internal VUCA impacting the effectiveness and agenda at the White House and Congress.  Hopefully, the appointment of General Kelly this week will bring an experienced leader very familiar with all forms of VUCA along with the leadership acumen and discipline to minimize internal VUCA and help build better and faster capabilities to get important things accomplished.  As in any organizations, internal VUCA distracts and undermines organizational performance.

As many of you begin your 2018 business planning cycles, it is an excellent time to examine and evaluate your forces of change and the VUCA impacting your success.  What are those External VUCA factors that you must face and overcome?  What are those INTERNAL VUCA factors that may be undermining and sapping your energy, resources and focus?  Take a look at our ORGANIZATIONAL AGILITY PROFILE™ and work with your leadership team on these questions.  I will be interested in how the conversation flow progresses.  Always remember, as my partner Mike Richardson says … the right conversation flow leads to cash flow!

Love to get your feedback and perspectives on your sources of INTERNAL VUCA and what you are doing.

DO YOU HAVE YOUR VUCA NIGHT GOGGLES?

Have you ever looked through a pair of night goggles when it is pitch black dark?

It really is quite amazing what you can see.  Things appear that are otherwise completely invisible to your unaided eyes.  These are invaluable tools for use by military forces as well as wild game hunters.  Night vision goggles work by using image enhancement technology that collects all the available light, including infrared light, and amplifies it so that you can easily see what’s going on in the dark.

Often these night vision goggles are used to help us identify or discover potentially disruptive creatures (sometimes human and sometimes not).  Recently, I participated in a very interesting meeting with some colleagues in another learning and consulting company. We discussed various ways of anticipating change and discovering the forces of disruptive change coming at us,  i.e. the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) that surrounds us.  This idea of night goggles came to mind.

Sometimes I think it would be very helpful if there were a corporate variety of vision enhancing technology – ways for helping leaders to “see” what is happening in and around their organizations that often stays invisible.  There are many amazing technology solutions for many things – I have my doubts whether we can simplify this equation enough to reduce it to an app or new device.  In the absence of such off-the-shelf solutions, business leaders will need to rely on training their perspectives and building awareness of the kind of questions and resources that can to help them recognize where their disruptive change is coming from next.

That is the essence of THE VUCA REPORT – a global collaborative pulse survey we launched two years ago in an effort to help us all better identify, recognize and understand the disruptive forces of change coming at us faster and faster each day. Just like with night vision goggles, as you begin to explore the right questions you can begin to see things you may not have seen before.  In THE VUCA REPORT,  we have been tracking 35 disruptive factors categorized in the areas of  technological advances, economic dynamics, environmental & social issues, geopolitical dynamics, regulatory & cyber security issues and a collection of issues grouped as workforce dynamics.

What is additionally interesting are the open-ended questions we ask …

  • What practices are you doing NOW that are helping you counter the effects of VUCA? 
  • What practices have you seen others do or that you plan to do in the FUTURE?
  • What do you see as the OBSTACLES standing in the way of making improvements in your agility?

Lastly, THE VUCA REPORT has been collecting data about the extent to which leaders believe they have the essential agility capabilities in their organizations to counter the effects of the VUCA context and navigate the future with success.  Those capabilities map out on THE AGILE MODEL® as outlined below:

As we all face the VUCA that lies ahead, it will become increasingly essential that we become better equipped with organizational night goggles or at least a better lens and skills to face this otherwise daunting future.  The capability areas outlined above give us a good roadmap for discussion and self-examination.

  • How are you doing in the area of Anticipating Change … do you keep getting surprised by your customers and competitors and sometimes even your employees?
  • How well are you Generating Confidence internally with your teams and externally with your investors, customers and suppliers?
  • How effective are you at Initiating Action on the right things – making decisions better and faster at all levels in your organization?
  • How pervasive is the drive for fresh, innovative thinking (FIT) across your organization?
  • How well does your whole team know and understand how to Evaluate Results and what real success means for all?

As leaders begin to regularly examine and prosecute these kind of questions (and more), they begin to SEE things in their organizations that they did NOT see before.  They begin to see the obstacles AND the enablers for becoming better and faster at those things that really matter.  In the south, there is an old saying “when the water level is low – the stumps will show”.  Don’t wait until your water level is too low from not adapting as needed to stay competitive and agile.  Use these AGILITY GOGGLES to see into your people, processes and technology domains and discover the opportunities for becoming more FOCUSED, FAST & FLEXIBLE … aka AGILE.

I look forward to hearing your feedback and perspectives about the lens and questions you think will help illuminate the next practices for countering the effects of VUCA in your world and helping you create the agility advantage.

The Gig Economy: VUCA and Opportunities for CHROs

The Gig Economy:  VUCA and Opportunities for CHROs

The Gig Economy is a Digital Disruption Challenge for CHROs

The era of digital disruption for Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs) is often referred to as the Gig Economy (AKA -- contingent work, sharing economy, agile talent, non-traditional work relationships, or alternate forms of employment) where Uber and Airbnb have received most of the attention from the press.  Other Gig Economy “digital disruptors” include Lyft (ride sharing), UpCounsel (legal experts), Instacart (shopping and delivery), and TaskRabbit (odd jobs). 

The rapidly accelerating growth of the Gig Economy represents one of the most significant and all-encompassing challenges faced by human resources professionals.  The fundamental question is whether human resources can demonstrate the agility to lead the change in culture, programs, processes, and policies originally designed for work completed by full-time employees to a new era when 

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What 280 Executives Said They Face

What 280 Executives Said They Face

Turbulence ahead.

That’s one key message I learned while writing the inaugural issue of The VUCA Report™, which outlines findings from an ongoing study I’m spearheading here through The Strategic Agility Institute.

This study essentially focuses on two elements: (a) the forces of change that executives face and (b) what they’re doing about it. We were fortunate to have had 280 responses 

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This Week in Agility Research: Jan. 6, 2016

Here are a few items of new agility-related research that popped up on our radar this week. 

Proposal of Organization Framework Model, using Business Processes and Hierarchical Patterns to provide Agility and Flexibility in Competitiveness Environments
By: Oswaldo Luiz Agostinhoa

This article proposes the development of the Organization Framework with the intention of reduction or even the elimination of the dichotomy between the Pyramidal Management and Business Processes Management models, searching the necessary close association between these two administration models. The adoption of the Organization Framework tends to provide more agility and flexibility to the organization and the easier approval of the Business Processes Management model by the superiors levels of the organization, mainly for business reasons, due to the increase of agility and flexibility, necessary to compete in the very competitiveness environment of the years 2000.

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The Math of VUCA: How Many Ways Can You Combine 6 Lego Bricks?

The Math of VUCA: How Many Ways Can You Combine 6 Lego Bricks?

We live in a world of increasing VUCA.  Not least of all just because of pure math.

Think of the math involved in growing your team by adding people.

If two of us start a business today, we have one person-to-person conversation to manage. If we add a third person tomorrow, now we have three person to person conversations to manage. A fourth person the day after takes us to six conversations. Then a fifth person takes us to 10 conversations, a sixth person to 15 conversations, and a seventh person to 21 conversations! That last person adds

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How an Artist Captured the Essence of VUCA and Talent Management Agility

How an Artist Captured the Essence of VUCA and Talent Management Agility

I was asked to deliver a keynote presentation complemented by an executive panel discussion on "Leadership in a Dynamic World" at the annual Investment Program Association (IPA) Conference in Chicago this past week.  

Oh, I might also add that the audience of about 350 direct investment professionals were also engaged throughout the session through the use of handheld rating devices that enabled immediate analysis of the questions asked of them.  This was a daunting task since I was to be followed by Austan Goolsbee, former Chief of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors.  

Therefore, 

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Chaos Is Not Your Problem. Your Relationship With It Is.

Chaos Is Not Your Problem. Your Relationship With It Is.

When working with teams of all descriptions and, in particular, CEOs and their executive leadership teams, I help them explore the secrets of agility, understanding what it is and what it isn’t, to develop agile-teamwork. 

Teams who are able to:

Anticipate Change ... Generate Confidence ... Initiate Action ... Liberate Thinking ... Evaluate Results

In particular,

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This Week in Agility Research: Oct. 26, 2015

Here are a few items of new agility-related research that popped up on our radar this week. 

Using Science to Identify Future Leaders
By: Kenneth De Meuse

A recent influx in assessment tools being developed and utilized by consulting, firms for the measurement of learning agility, has sparked research interest regarding the construct of this concept. Learning agility in itself is considered in its infancy compared to other theories within the field, and is identified as one’s ability and desire to learn, with a willingness to utilize the acquired knowledge for leadership challenges. While several consulting agencies utilize measurement tools for assessing and predicting learning agility for leadership potential,

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The Agile Startup Week 11: Experimentation and Learning, VUCA-Style

The Agile Startup Week 11: Experimentation and Learning, VUCA-Style

This week, as evident in the average ratings below by its three co-founders, was one of considerable volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) for GILD Collective. After a bit of a reduced perception of VUCA in Week 10, the team had an interesting Week 11 as part of the Cincinnati-based business accelerator The Brandery, to say the least.

A big part of their increased VUCA this week was likely due to their increased emphasis on testing new ideas in their market while simultaneously maintaining current operations.   

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The VUCA of Driverless Cars is Coming, Probably Faster & Bigger Than You Think!

The VUCA of Driverless Cars is Coming, Probably Faster & Bigger Than You Think!

Watch this TED Talk video of Chris Umson, Director of Self-Driving Cars at Google,  outlining how advanced the technology is already, of how the car sees the road, surrounding traffic, cyclists, school buses, pedestrians, road-works, traffic cops and more, making autonomous decisions about what to do.

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