What are the barriers that prevent our organizations from being more adaptable? That is the question we posed to contributors during Sprints 1.1 and 1.2 of the CIPD/MIX Hackathon
What are the barriers that prevent our organizations from being more adaptable?
That is the question we posed to contributors during Sprints 1.1 and 1.2 of the CIPD/MIX Hackathon. In just under two weeks, our hackathon community of over 1000 HR experts and practitioners from around the world developed a list of over 120 “enemies” of adaptability—barriers that prevent our organizations from being as adaptable as it could be.
As we read through these 120 enemies of adaptability, we saw 12 core themes emerge. These are perhaps the most critical barriers that impede organizations from adapting to the changing world around them. Below we share those barriers using the comments and explanations of hackathon contributors who helped identify them.
Enemy #1: Hierarchy
Top-down, control-based hierarchical structures discourage individual initiative and reduce autonomy.
Hackathon contributor Peter Russian observes that in a today’s world, “those closest to the front line are going to be better placed to understand the increasing demands of an informed customer and need to be able to respond to those demands.” Yet the traditional hierarchical management structure found in most organizations makes it almost impossible for them to do so.
Enemy #2: Fear
Command-and-control systems lead to organizations filled with anxious employees who are hesitant to take the initiative or trust their own judgment.
Megan TeBay suggests that fear of failure is one of the root causes of organizations’ inability to adapt. Employees worry about being “run out of town for getting it wrong” while the organization as a whole isn’t tolerant of experimentation. Instead there is increased pressure in a tough financial environment to “get it right the first time,” increasing the level of fear within the organization.
Enemy #3: Decision Bias
Defensive thinking, fossilized mental models, and contentment create a bias in favor of the status quo.
Stephanie Sharma Stephanie Sharma wonders if our bias toward seeing things through outdated paradigms blocks our ability to see future potential. She asks how we can eliminate “the bias of the old to truly evaluate new ideas and foster their consideration.”
Stephen Remedios Stephen Remedios sees past success as one of the greatest decision biases. “When there's no threat on the horizon, and you've just had your best quarter in a while, adapting to remain relevant in the next quarter is the last thing on anyone's agenda,” he says.
Enemy #4: Habit
Lack of proactive change often has to do with mindsets and behaviors: we must want to change, and also understand how to change.
Deb Seidman Deb Seidman thinks “we are wired to follow routines.” She observes: “When something is working for us, we will continue to do it. The pain of doing things the same way has to be greater than the pain of change or we won't garner the energy needed to make a change (or sustain it).”
Enemy #5: Centralization
When the responsibility for making big decisions is concentrated at the top, a handful of executives favoring the status quo can thwart change.
According to Maria Padley, adaptability is halted by “senior management holding too tightly onto the reins and not delegating decision-making authority.”
Perry Timms Perry Timms observes that the “tighter the grip, the more opportunities slip through.” To make organizations more adaptable, we must “break the hierarchy, open up the power base, and allow more influence across the board,” Perry says.
Enemy #6: Inflexible Business Practices
Highly optimized business system are great for efficiency, but deadly for adaptability. Assets, skills, and processes become more specialized, and change becomes more incremental.
Julian Birkinshaw refers to this enemy of adaptability as “ossified management processes” and believes these inflexible processes “create simplicity and order, but also become entrenched and self-reinforcing.”
Enemy #7: Rigid Structures
In many organizations, rigid unit boundaries, functional silos, and political fiefdoms hamper the rapid realignment of skills and assets.
Keith Gulliver Keith Gulliver observes that these rigid organizational structures are often evidenced by “functional silos that operate independently,” each with “small spans of control,” and with “very little movement of talent around the organization between silos.”
Enemy #8: Skills Deficit
Employees don’t have the skills, training, and coaching they need.
Kate Nicholls Kate Nicholls believes that that a lack of skills will continue to be a barrier as long as organizational learning is stuck in HR’s “learning and development” department and not integrated into the culture of the organization as a whole. “We should be helping people within our organizations to understand how they learn as professionals, to understand the value of, and make the most of, social learning opportunities and to drive their own development in line with the needs of their area and the wider business."
Enemy #9: Short-term Thinking
Compensation and incentive systems often truncate executive time horizons and skew perspectives.
According to Bruce Lewin Bruce Lewin, “addiction to core revenue streams, short term profits and short term thinking all combine to make change an ongoing challenge” to the ability of an organization to adapt.
Enemy #10: Insufficient Experimentation
Management processes typically arrive at the “one best strategy” through top-down, analytical methods, and discourage bottom-up experimentation.
Benjamin Keep says that you can spot a “non experimental culture” when upper management “views itself through the lens of operations management” instead of seeing itself more like a university. He observes “when you have confidence that you are in the solution space, your only real concern is maximizing your gains while there; when you suspect that you do not have the answers you're much more inclined to explore.”
Enemy #11: Lack of Diversity
Management systems value conformance and cohesion at the expense of diversity and divergence. This limits the ability to generate the rich variety of ideas and options required to be truly adaptable.
Mugil Manivannan Mugil Manivannan believes many organizations suffer from a lack of “cultural variation” while Stephanie Sharma points out that many organizations are lacking women leaders “bringing the feminine to organizational lens of leadership.”
Alan Arnett Alan Arnett thinks “organizational cultures focus too much on 'the right answer', 'the right values', 'the right strategy' and then trying to manage against it, instead of using the diversity of opinions to get creative ideas into action and then adapt along the way.” His suggestion: “Let people be themselves, and learn to use the differences effectively, instead of trying to manage conformity.”
Enemy #12: Lack of Purpose
A paucity of organizations without a shared purpose may have trouble aligning on a natural path for adaptation.
Julien Pascual says that without “mission, vision, and values that are engaging and crazy, epic enough to define a journey worth being followed” employees will have “no ‘why’ to adapt what they do or how they do it.”
Many hackathon contributors also had great ideas for how to synthesize the contributions from the first two sprints into core themes. Go here to read their ideas and add your own.