One of our clients recently told me of his feelings of nostalgia for the “peaceful years” when there was time to think and decide with some sort of clarity. When I answered that I did not recall him behaving like things were especially peaceful back then – he used to be a hyperactive MD with ambition, strong desire to empower his team, and a relentless push for action – he laughed and admitted that he had always loved the zest of complex businesses and the challenges of transforming the organisation from execution to ownership. It was hard, yes, but in hindsight, those past challenges now seem to pale in comparison with the complexities of today.
So I asked him to dig deep into his perception and tell me more about what makes the current challenges so hard. He came up with two interesting observations:
- It is no longer sufficient to develop the organisational muscle of empowerment. Even within a culture of shared ownership, aligned focus on creating value for all stakeholders, and good flows of communication for mutual accountability, the current situation is so endlessly fluctuating and the degree of uncertainty is so high that people (himself included) develop a higher degree of anxiety than ever experienced before. Now we need to focus more on developing the muscle of resilience. This would involve support to both individuals and teams, as well as frequent encouragement to embrace the frequent changes with a good dose of realistic optimism for experimenting.
- Uncertainty and ambiguity create fear, and empowered teams, if left too much alone, might become a beehive of shared concerns; rather than collectively working on creative problem solving, they might turn into circles trying to find “the right answers” from past experiences, trends or endless scenario risk assessment. When facing an unprecedented series of critical challenges, many teams need to be encouraged to muster the courage behave disruptively, act quickly and immediately test, to then establish novel paths.
A couple of days later, I found out that these two priority concerns, Resilience and Courage, top the list of priorities and concerns for most CEOs, according to the most recent McKinsey survey (their article “What matters most? Six priorities for CEOs in turbulent times” of November 17, 2022).
To train organisations on Resilience and Courage, we need a paradigm shift.
Think about the Cynefin Framework for Decision Making (how to organise disorder in Simple, Complicated, Complex, and Chaotic situations):
Traditional Management in Hierarchical Systems are well suited to deal with both Simple and Complicated situations: in Simple situations one can identify and reapply experience from the past (Sense+Categorise+Respond = Best Practices) and in Complicated situations one can study and predict from trends (Sense+Analyse+Respond = Good Practices)
Participatory Decision Making in Shared Leadership Organisations approaches are better suited to tackle Complex and Chaotic situations: in Complex situations, teams need to embrace the complexity, and imagine alternative scenarios, in order to chose by adapting and flexing (Probe+Sense+Respond = Emerging Practices), while in Chaotic situations teams need the courage to act, test, and correct rapidly, while keeping the long term value of the business in clear sight, in order to co-create courageous new approaches (Act+Sense+Respond = Novel Practices).
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