Building an agile organisation for the future

The Steam Train in the 18th century. The Telephone and the Light Bulb circa 1870.
The World Wide Web in the 1980” s …

What does any of the above have in common with where we find ourselves in present day?

“4IR” is now upon us!

Automation, Artificial Intelligence, Robotics, Nanotechnology, Quantum Computing, Biotechnology and 3-D Printing – This is the 4th Industrial Revolution!!

As things change at a rapid pace, it is less about how strong or intelligent we are as a species, and more about how we adapt to this change (Charles Darwin; Naturalist and specialist in the science of Evolution 1809 – 1882). Disruption is a word that is freely used but very often not properly understood. In fact, the only thing that is constant in today’s world is change.

Organisations urgently need to adapt and become Agile or they will be left behind!

This is best described in one of Aesop’s Fables where he speaks of the oak tree and the reed. While the strong oak tree trusts its strength to withstand the storm, it is blown over. Lying on its side it sees the reeds bending with the wind to survive the storm.

Building a sustainable organisation that can adapt to this ever-changing environment begins with leadership, a mind-set change, a specific set of self-developed skills, and continued learning.

This “Modern Economy” has become so complex that the best thing to do is to stop predicting and trying to control this environment, and rather to listen, sense, adapt, and respond.

Frederic Laloux (Reinventing Organisations) clearly explains what he perceives the history and or the evolution of Organisations Paradigms. He labels five different paradigms each with unique characteristics by colour starting with:

RED – The Red paradigm is the oldest and was developed by tribes. The unique characteristics of a Red paradigm are those of Power and Fear. These being most useful in situations of Chaos. However, a powerful leader is the only thing that can guarantee the success of the group. He or she will need to command authority and set rules in order to divide labour. Organisations that have successfully used the Red paradigm include Street Gangs, Mafia, and the Tribal Militia. It is highly unlikely for a Red organisation to become Agile and this paradigm is at continued risk of losing its leader, which will ultimately result in the organisation failing.

AMBER – The Amber paradigm evolved as the Red power structures could not accomplish long term sustainability. Amber emerged with typical hierarchy like that found in the Roman Military under Julius Caesar. Leadership was established by status and not physical prowess. Common characteristics found in an Amber paradigm are that of hierarchy, stability and exerting control on the lower levels. The breakthrough of an Amber organisation is that of having the ability to take long term views, developing strong Process and creating Formal Roles within the hierarchy. Examples of Amber organisations today are that of Public Schools, Governments and traditional Churches.  Amber organisations begin to hit their limits when conditions change, and high levels of Process and Bureaucracy begin to creep in, which ultimately aggravates Agility.

ORANGE – Orange organisations evolved when the Amber paradigm could not adapt to change. The start of the French and American Revolution sparked this shift. Key characteristics of an Orange organisation is that of Competition, focus on Financial Profits and Growth and a switch to Objective based Management where leaders set the strategy and lower levels within the hierarchy are given some level of freedom of how to carry out the plan. Breakthrough ideas in an Orange organisation are Innovation, Accountability for reaching the Objectives as laid out by management, and the ability for individuals to rise through the hierarchy structure based on their skills and experience. Orange organisation are the predominant perspective in the world today, and most large-scale corporations’ function with this paradigm. Orange however has recently begun to hit its limits as employees feel that the profit motif is not fulfilling enough, which causes them to become disengaged with the organisation and they begin to see themselves as simple cogs in a machine.

GREEN – A Green paradigm has now emerged as people seek to find more and more meaning in their work. Key characteristics of a Green organisation is a focus on Delighting Customers, making decisions based on a set of Shared Values, and High Engagement from everyone within the organisation. The breakthrough ideas in a Green paradigm are that of balancing the needs of all Stakeholders including Customers, Employees, Partners and Suppliers, a focus on Culture over Strategy and true Empowerment of employees within the organisation regardless of their level within the hierarchy. The Agile movement lends itself to organisations with this perspective.

Laloux continues to write of the TEAL paradigm but that is a discussion for another day.

Organisation Leaders need to embrace change and adopt a Green paradigm mind-set. They need to develop skills that will assist with driving an Agile an environment. They need to have a High Tolerance for Ambiguity and they must assume their position with no concrete knowledge of what their corporation will look like beyond three years.

Leaders must develop the ability to properly project and adapt to the type of climate the organisation will need to endure through this world of constant change and disruption.

Leaders will also need to have the ability to embrace new technology in an attempt to keep their competitive edge.

They must have the power to inspire and assemble the best possible talent. They must develop Agile Decision-Making Skills and most importantly they must master the art of keeping all stakeholders engaged with the organisation, its Mission, its Vision and its Values.

The Future is now. Adapt or become irrelevant.

Author: Chris Economou