How can organisations and their employees adapt to rapidly changing times? The answer, says John Cumming, is to recognise the value of learning…
The need to adapt is rooted in human nature. Think about it. When dealing with a complex and evolving world, we ourselves must change or be left behind. But faced with the acceleration of knowledge and its application, particularly in technology, it’s a case of how should we adapt?
Large change programmes used to be about transition. Digital Transformation, though, is very different. Here, we’re talking about a process of continuous change, something that require Agility because you can’t do it once and you’re done – you’re never done. If transformation is about change and change is constant, transformation should be also be constant, not just a project or single outcome.
There is also a secondary effect of change – uncertainty. If the pace of change in knowledge is high, the volatility of that knowledge is too. Or looked at another way, the uncertainty is increasing. When change us ricocheting all around us, how can we know with any degree of certainty about what the future might look like with this pace of change?
We need to respond in a way that not only recognises that change is accelerating but also recognises that uncertainty increases with it but we cannot wait forever as market opportunities decay over time.
There is a significant cost of delay in waiting for clarity and we know that, as Chip Holt*, a leading innovator at Xerox in the 20th Century, once said, "If you wait until all the facts are available, you have not demonstrated leadership“. This means that although we need to be comfortable acting amidst uncertainty, we must also look for a means of increasing clarity and understanding more rapidly through learning more effectively.
Transformation as capability
Transformation must be viewed not as a project or outcome but as a capability to adapt in response to increased understanding. If we consider transformation as a transition from an as-is to a to-be state, we risk finding ourselves in need of another transformation further down the line. The reason organisations find themselves in this situation is often because they have considered transformation in this way in the past.
The pace of change means that if we take this view of transformation, this decay will come sooner than it has done previously. We will have increasingly less time to avoid the expanding gap between our current capability and our customers' capability. We therefore need to consider transformation as a core capability, in sync with, or preferably leading our customers in their capability development.
People are the heart of transformation
Transformation must be rooted in all our people. By doing so we also provide an engaging and motivating environment to work in.
We need to ensure that we are focusing on the right things. We need to enable decision making at the right level, enabling those with the information to make the decision, with the safety to be wrong as well as right.
We need a means to validate and adapt as we learn, and we need everyone within the organisation to be fully engaged.
What I am suggesting is, of course, just an empirical approach but it is one that is an effective way of coping with the change and uncertainty in the context we find ourselves.
Transparency will ensure we are presenting the facts as they are, and increase our confidence that we are measuring the right things in order to validate our decisions and gain insight. We can then adapt, based on those insights, in order to make better, more effective and measurable decisions with confidence that we have the means of continuing to measure and adapt as we learn.
Transformation is business agility
Fundamentally, we need to recognise the value of learning as central to transformation capability – something that is essential if we are to respond to the changes in the world around us. As Arie P. de Geus, the head of Shell's Strategic Planning Group, once said, "The ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage."
From business units to individuals working on teams, this needs to happen everywhere. For many this is what agility is all about. Enabling people to deliver value to the business continuously through rapid learning, within an environment that is supportive and safe in which to make decisions and learn through both successes and failures.
Transformation is, I believe, about becoming an Agile organisation. It is about core learning capability where change and uncertainty is inevitable in the environment and context we find ourselves.
* Fourth Generation R&D - Managing Knowledge, Technology and Innovation, William L. Miller & Langdon Morris. Published by Wiley.
- A question of agility. Government IT is on the move. Chris Hesketh explores why Agile by Design is finally taking root across public sector organisations
- Going Digital is one thing, Transformation is quite another. Mivy James explains why genuine transformation requires far more than just digitising outdated processes
- Making the Ministry of Defence more Agile. Agile working is by no means limited to the private sector. Continuing our series examining transformation, Mivy James sits down with the MoD’s Adrian Bailey to talk process, product and pace
- Adapting for Agile: Lessons from the frontline. Changing how an organisation works is not for the faint-hearted, says Iain Abernethy. Here, he shares a few lessons from years on the Agile frontline
- Delivering digital change in Defence. Continuing our examination of Agile working, Kevin McLeod spotlights the technological whirlwind reshaping the UK’s Defence sector. But with change comes challenges...
- In control with Agile. Jenny Matthews explains how Agile working can give you the control you want, without having to compromise