The Theory of Social Entanglement, Part 3
New adaptive style of leadership (see Part 1) – check! An integrated approach to communications, collaboration and change management (see Part 2) – check! So what’s the missing ingredient to obtaining the elusive state of social entanglement (as described in the predecessor post to this series)? Teaching people how to flourish in this new environment.
Part 3, the last in this series, discusses the different ways organizations can help foster the trait of personal adaptability among their staff.
3) Fostering Personal Adaptability
If your organization is going to become adaptive and change-ready, which is the primary goal of what my last few posts have discussed, then it stands to reason that the people need to adopt that mindset too. Organizations, of course, are human constructs made up of people. For change to effectively happen on a broad basis, each individual needs to go through the process of understanding and accepting the change. Organization-wide change is simply the sum of individual changes as the Prosci change model talks about.
Similarly, for an organization to be flexible enough to adapt to any change that comes its way, each individual needs to develop those adaptability traits. After all, an organization’s ability to prosper can only go as far as the skills, mindset and strengths of its people will take it.
Therefore, developing your people in a way that helps enable this behavioral shift should be a priority as well. Many companies have programs to develop their employees, ranging from improving soft skills to learning technical abilities. But how many look at their programs in a cohesive manner, where every class or program represents one step in developing the overall aptitude necessary to take the organization into the future – in this case, developing 21st century change-ready employees.
Most employees today were raised with the old industrial mindset when it comes to work, meaning they see themselves as cogs in the machine with little to no control over their destiny. This mindset leads to fear and resistance to change. We need to help our people break that fear mindset by not only changing the way we do business (i.e. show them things are different; become a more connected company) but showing them how in this super-connected world today they have much more control of their future than employees of any past age – even if it that change gives them confidence and skills that eventually results in them leaving the company.
An employee who is confident of his or her ability to direct their future, no matter what is thrown at them, is more desirable than one who follows out of fear. The former will have the mindset needed to sail headlong into a sea of change. And if the company’s purpose is aligned with their personal motivations (which should be taken into account in the recruiting process) they’ll move mountains to make those changes happen.
That’s why implementing an integrated development program designed to promote resiliency, autonomy, mastery, mindfulness and adaptive leadership skills is such an important part of the overall picture.
There is no single mix of training programs that presents a formula for developing employees this way. It’s more about ensuring that the skills being developed – through a variety of ways – are focused on these areas. That said, there are a few specific concepts/programs worth mentioning that can be built into an overall larger program. I’ll highlight these in the next post.
The third key lever of change for creating a fit-for-the-future organization, is fostering the trait of adaptability within all employees. In the same way that organizations as a whole are expected to be more flexible and responsive today, as we’ve been discussing in this series, so too must the individuals who make up the organization. There are a number of existing programs out there that you can incorporate or pull from to create your own comprehensive program that helps employees build this trait.
Here are a few that I recommend:
Working Out Loud (WOL)
If you only had the resources to implement one program, this would be the one I would recommend, as it helps form traits like autonomy, mastery, relationship building and more, which are all critical elements of adaptability. WOL is really more of a transformational mindset shift in how we work and how we go about our careers, rather than just a training program, but there is a program designed to help implement it.
The concept originally started when social media tools were introduced into the workplace. The term “working out loud” was first coined and defined by Bryce Williams in a now often-cited blog post. It was about shifting your work to these open and transparent channels so that others in the company can benefit (knowledge sharing) and the organization become more effective as a result. At the same time, the individual also benefits from the serendipitous connections and opportunities that arise along with the recognition that comes from publishing helpful information.
Since then, through the work of author/consultant John Stepper, WOL has evolved beyond the use of social tools in this manner, and now embodies a way for anyone to gain more control over their career and life. John’s book “Working Out Loud: For a Better Career and Life” describes a 12-week mastery program that individuals or companies can put into practice to develop these skills.
The concept of co-active coaching has been around for at least 25 years but seems more relevant than ever in today’s hyper-connected world. It may be easier than ever to make connections today, but true relationship building seems to be a lost art.
Co-active coaching helps people change the way they relate to and work with one another, forming stronger connections and collaborative habits, which is needed to build a truly connected culture. You can learn more about it here.
Combining co-active coaching with WOL habits would be a powerful one-two punch for developing the kind of employees that can thrive in today’s accelerated environment.
Resiliency, as a trait, is more than just a side benefit of other personal development programs. It’s something that can be learned. In fact, resiliency training has become more common and there are many options available.
One that I would recommend, from personal experience, is a course called “The Five Secrets of Resilience”. It helps people cope with adversity, uncertainty, and change, which makes it a perfect fit for the kind of organizational development skills being discussed in this piece.
If the work you do (or are asked to do) doesn’t play to your natural strengths or inclinations (regarding the way you like to work and what you prefer to work on) then disruptive change is going to have a more negative impact on you since you’re already at a disadvantage. Knowing your talents – and the organization as a whole knowing everyone’s talents – can improve engagement, collaboration, and change capacity, as long as that information is properly applied.
When referring to “talents” this doesn’t mean specific capabilities like building PowerPoint decks or being good at statistical analyses for example, but broad themes that help you identify the type of work and the type of environment that best fits your personality (e.g. Do you desire continuous learning? Do you prefer intellectual activity? Are you more forward-looking than others?).
The insight that comes from assessing your strengths can help you better direct your career by enabling you to gravitate towards work that will allow you to shine and which you’ll find more enjoyable. Organizationally, it can help managers form teams that cater to everyone’s strengths. When change strikes, people whose strengths are best suited for the specific change can be moved to the “front lines” to help cushion the blow and make it more palatable. It’s a win-win situation.
If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because it’s derived from the well-known Strengths Finder assessment and study from Gallup, which led to the bestselling “Now, Discover your Strengths” book. These have been used to create effective corporate strengths programs for organizations.
All of these programs can sound overwhelming. It’s a lot of training for staff to absorb, which is why it shouldn’t be rolled out as one long program where everything is piled onto them at once and then forgotten. It has to be part of a long term development plan, for everyone, so that it becomes part of the way the company works.
The ideals associated with these traits also have to be factored into performance assessments so that those who exhibit and practice personal adaptability are rewarded, while those that don’t aren’t punished, but simply guided either towards more learning in this area or towards roles that are better suited for them. It’s all part of baking these traits into the culture to make the organization as a whole more responsive to change.
Thriving in an accelerated age is not easy. The average lifespan of companies on the S&P 500 is getting shorter and shorter. Things will likely never go back to how they were. Accelerated change is here to stay.
All the more reason organizations need to shift to ways of working that at least give them a better chance of surviving and hopefully adapting to the ever increasing demands of the 21st century. Reaching a state of social entanglement through adopting a new leadership paradigm, building a connected culture, and fostering personal adaptability can provide that much needed edge.