6 Principles to Create an Adaptive Organization (Reeves)

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6 Principles to Create an Adaptive Organization (Reeves)
Eugene James, Premium Member
According to Reeves, Lewin and Ueda, companies - similar to living organisms - are "COMPLEX ADAPTIVE SYSTEMS". They evolve in a complex manner, wherein individuals contribute towards shaping and altering the system. In turn, the system leads individual entities to be adaptive to changes, which in fact is the only way to survive.
Accordingly, leaders must manage the complex process of change, in view of guaranteeing the survival of the firm and the development of staff.
The authors draw up a range of six principles that can assist leaders in managing complexity:
  1. BOLSTER (~SUPPORT) DIVERSITY: Ensure that the company gathers a strong mix of "people, ideas & endeavors". Recruit staff from different backgrounds. Encourage the staff to experiment new ideas.
  2. COMPARTMENTALIZE: Compartmentalize business units to ensure a degree of independence from the overall system. This prevents external shocks from adversely affecting the individual businesses.
  3. BUILD DUPLICATION within operations, for instance with respect to suppliers. This ensures that disruption of one unit does not bring the whole system to a grinding halt.
  4. BE PREPARED TO TACKLE UNCERTAINTY: Monitor what rivals, especially startups, are up to. Conceive ways to address areas of weaknesses where rivals can outperform your business.
  5. DEVELOP FEEDBACK MECHANISMS: Establish feedback methods between staff & company procedures. For example, leaders can enhance collaboration with staff through field visits and in turn, they are able to integrate insights into novel strategies.
  6. PROMOTE MUTUAL SUPPORT: Individual staff must be encouraged to work in the best interest of the organization, while leaders should promote staff well being and offer incentives.
⇒ Do you agree with these principles? How do you apply them in practice?
Source: Martin Reeves, Simon Levin, Daichi Ueda (2016) "The Biology of Corporate Survival" Harvard Business Review.

Benefits of Principles of Adaptive Organizations
Dr. Anil Kumar Singh, Member
These principles are really important to create a supportive internal environment. On top of that, they are also helpful in strategic human resource planning. And in talent retention.

Comments on 4 Principles, a 7th?
Haiblet, Member
1. Diversity OK for the competences & styles; crossed competences/experience to be promoted (a Lean solution). INITIATIVE would be a very strong asset too: an extra one?
2. Compartementalize fm the overall system (external? superstructure?): an alignment with the general mission of the organization is needed; crossworking/info between BUs can become an asset (product i.e. mixing techno/serv., access to another customer base...). What about common resources?
3, 4. No comment
5. Feedback mechanisms: part of PDCA loop i.e. to be managed on the field by visual management, short term solving methods, regular assessments along projects (and not at the end only), by sharing experiences within a same function + between functions. Before, it supposes not to track every minute (I know a group not obliging 100% of the working time for engineers to be 'used' into projects, 10 to 20% for initiatives ruled with management)
6. Mutual support: also: exemplarity by leaders between themselves.

Compartmentalizing Adaptive Organizations
Alexey Timoshek, Member
The "Compartmentalize" point makes a lot of sense, from my point of view. Each BU becomes a "company" with its own P&L, fully responsible for the business deliverables in some particular territory.
Surely alignment with the overall mission of the organization is a pre-requisite. An important point is also to focus each BU on the core business results, and for that support functions should be centralized or outsourced.

Organization Principles to Manage Complexity
Agnes Kamau, Member
I totally agree and support all the six principles because with diversity you get different ideas and feelings, with compartimentalization, there is institutional attachment which repels external shocks, feedback and mutual support to employees leads to success of the organization because there is freedom of interaction and airing ones views. Duplication is also OK because in case of failure of one unit, the system continues.

Dialogue for Understanding for Adaptive Organizations
Bill Boynton, Member
There is another principle that would also add significant opportunity for any organization adapting and/or addressing change activities.
That principle would be, to build an organization environment around a COMMUNICATION PROCESS OF DIALOGUE, where there is significant face to face communication and collaboration.
This means downplaying electronic social media, with limited Twitter and Facebook communication and voice mail, which limit communication clarification activities.
That old saying of "I know you think you understood what you thought I said, but I am not so sure that what you thought I said, was what I really meant," is very important for adaptive organizations.

5 Values for Organizational Adaptability
srinivas, Member
  1. COURAGE: Enabling people to take decisions in the event of change by taking different view points into consideration and then arriving at a wise course of action.
  2. CONSISTENCY: The change in the entity to be CONSISTENT with regard to meaning. For example changes at a place in the document is having consistent meaning with regard to its references in all other documents in the project.
  3. COLLABORATION: Enabling people to collaborate with regard to cost, schedule, scope and quality constraints in relation to change events.
  4. COMPLIANCE: Changes are in COMPLIANCE with existing rules procedures of project.
  5. CONFIGURATION: Changes done at a centralized location would get reflected in effected parts of the system.
Thought by having above will aid adaptability which in turn results in saving extra cost,effort and time.
Semantic web technologies would be of help in having all the above.

The Main Principal to Establish an Adaptive Organization
Hussain Abdulla, Member
I think the SUPPORT FROM LEADERS is the main principle to achieve the goals of an adaptive organization. The main issue in the Arabic management style is lack of support from the top manager. For instance, participative decision making is not recognized as an important issue.

Duplication Leads to more Complexity
ld wilson, Member
Building duplication does not decrease complexity; it increases it. It does minimize risk, but not complexity.

Duplication Can Increase Adaptability of an Organization
Jaap de Jonge, Editor
@Ld wilson: Good point. Note however that Reeves c.s. do not focus on decreasing complexity, but on increasing adaptability of organizations. So even if duplication as you say somewhat increases complexity, it may still allow the organization to react faster or better to sudden problems or changes, such as when a key supplier breaks down. And of course we won't duplicate everything, just certain critical parts of the organization.

At what Cost??????
ld wilson, Member
@Jaap de Jonge (Editor): Redundancy is expensive and managing additional systems takes time and effort thereby creating a slower organization -the opposite of agility.

The Need to Limit Organizational Duplication
Jaap de Jonge, Editor
@Ld wilson: I agree there are costs involved with organizational duplication and also it makes the organization more complex. That's why duplication should be applied only in certain really important, strategic areas. The extra cost and complexity of such strategic duplication could then be considered as the price the organization has to pay for extra adaptability.

Strategies to Employ in Order to Become an Adaptive Organization
Ger de Waard, Premium Member
I was intriged by the chameleon picture, but I now understand that a chameleon like organization must be able to keep up with rapid changes in its environment.
One of the strategies these organizations must employ (to stay fast and flexible) is entrusting more decision-making powers and associated resources to the employees. Hence they must possess the ability for all employees, departments, and groups WITHIN an organization to collaborate effectively. Plus the ability for all employees to network with others OUTSIDE the organisation, gaining new sources of useful information and helpful perspectives in the process, including networking with customers and other stakeholders, including competitors. They should be able to innovate and experiment without fear of “reprisal” or marginalization etc. etc.

Problems with Compartmentalizing
Hello Eugene, just like the @problem or disadvantage of Duplication: (increase of cost and complexity) there is a similar problem or disadvantage with Compartmentalizing, as this may lead to lack of knowledge and learnings sharing between the different BU's and them making similar mistakes.

Entrepreneurial Environment
Greg Johnson, Member
I agree with Mr. de Jonge and Mr. de Waard to the extent of creating the mindset of an entrepreneur in creating a progressive environment versus a controlled environment.
Entrepreneurial environments push the openness of thinking and mental investment to the lowest level. It does not require restructuring or any of the costly measures mentioned. It does demand an environment of openness and trust. Ideas of improvement are more authentic when they are born from the impact area of the business/work environment. The entrepreneurial environment has contingent incentives centered around adding value to the product and/or service. It also allows inclusion in outcomes with an accountability element from everyone at every level.
While I agree with the six points above, I would suggest that point number six serves as the umbrella to create an environment of progressive thinking and outcomes.


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