An adaptive enterprise (or adaptive organization) is an organization in which the goods or services demand and supply are matched and synchronized at all times. Such an organization optimizes the use of its resources (including its information technology resources), always using only those it needs and paying only for what it uses, yet ensuring that the supply is adequate to meet demand.”1
Organizations—enterprises, corporations, companies and businesses—exist to make the biggest profit possible in the shortest amount of time. Their secondary goal is to sustain that pattern of highly competitive profitability indefinitely. That begs the question: is there a paradigm in which adaptive and sustainable can be inherently interwoven, or is sustainable adaptability an oxymoron?
The way-of-doing-business changes that enterprises face just to exist in today’s evolving competitive environment are extreme, challenges coming in the near future are even more intense, and they are coming at all of us at record speed and variety. There is no question that each business has to adapt quickly and effectively to respond profitably to each new development. So, while successful business leaders and their teams are adapting at a frantic rate, is it possible to build a sustainable, adaptive culture?
Yes. Effective adaptiveness is an always-evolving, innovative, learned and encouraged way of thinking and acting—existing. Adaptive leaders understand that what worked today won’t work tomorrow, and they empower their teams to roll fluidly in front of the flow. They excel in the following characteristics2:
"Agility, open minds and a never ending pursuit of waste and opportunities because change is hard and developing the skill set to adapt is far and away one of the most important traits for the world’s most successful companies.”
— MetaExpert David Goodman
"Adaptive organizations move quickly and adjust dynamically to market pressures and changes. In order to thrive in today’s environment one must move rapidly, often before all the data is in. The barriers to adaptive organizations are often entrenched mangers with a fixed paradigm, and organizations which fear repercussions if they are wrong. One must have the ability to experiment and adjust real time. Sure errors may happen, but they will be adapted to immediately after.”
— MetaExpert Rich Morley
“Mitch and Steve Rales from Danaher. As mentors they provided the lead by example leadership traits that exemplified that skills required to drive real cultural change. Danaher is by far one of the most successful in terms of cultural integration and working capital success that fuels the fire lit by the Rales brothers.”
— MetaExpert David Goodman
“There are many barriers to being an adaptive organization, but the key to overcoming these barriers is proper change management. The main issue is complete and transparent COMMUNICATION. If employees and team members do not know or clearly understand the “whys” and “hows” of the situation, then the other barriers or issues cannot be resolved, or at least not resolved easily. People need to clearly understand:
For companies who use Strategy Deployment (or Hoshin-Kanri), they may already be deploying a technique called “catch-ball”. The key is to carry out the discussions level by level through the organization, rather than stopping with the management levels. At the lower levels, the ideas for activities that the teams can consider are constrained by their level in the work place, but employees still need to be involved in order to feel included. This goes beyond sitting in large meetings and watching presentations. “Catch-ball” meetings offer them the opportunity to shape their responses and participation. Their supervisors also have the ideal opportunity to discuss the “what’s in it for me” question to help staff understand the individual impact.
It is only when everyone understands, and is aligned with the changes happening, that the organization can become truly adaptive. The extra time, effort and patience needed to carry communication through to all levels, and back up, is well worth it.”
— MetaExpert Stephen Cherlet
These characteristics are the core values, mission and culture of highly adaptive organizations. They are woven through the mission, vision, ethics and personal behaviors of every person in the organization.
Fundamentally, being adaptive is rooted in an organization-wide, passionate “can do!” attitude. Business processes, projects and people aligned to innovate and deploy innovation, eagerly taking ownership of the projects required and the outcomes achieved.
Mechanical leaders focus on the overall activities of the business, such as:
This is all work that needs to be done in many organizations, and leaders who are very good at the mechanics of business are invaluable to organizations in one or many areas of management.
Adaptive leaders focus on outcomes that have added value, such as:
It takes heart, head and hands to be an effective practitioner of either leadership style. Perhaps, above all, is the value of a leader’s ability to communicate the mission to their teams, and facilitate the team’s success.
A company that has only one type of leader is unlikely to achieve optimal success. Someone has to keep the systems running well while others figure out how to identify opportunities and generate results from them. And at the end of the day, every organization needs to keep their good leaders happy by allowing them to assume the leadership roles in which they can succeed, whether their best environment is a corner office, a shop floor, on the go, or on the clock.