Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Adaptive leadership and thriving in the face of change 4: stability and adaptability in a business social context 1

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 7, 2013

This is my fourth installment to a series that addresses the sometimes conflicting requirements of stable consistency as a leader, and the need for flexible adaptability as a leader – where both can become crucially important simultaneously and certainly at a time of rapid change, uncertainty or crisis. See:

Part 1: starting a new series,
Part 2: leading flexibly from a stable center and
Part 3: creating and sustaining stability and confidence in the face of change and uncertainty.

I began to more explicitly address the two sides to this dichotomy in Part 2 of this series, where I focused on the stable center that a leader creates, and in Part 3 where I began discussing how adaptive flexibility would come into play too. And I ended Part 3 by raising a fundamental question:

• When as a leader, should you be facilitating and presenting that solid, stable, consistent core and when should you be open to flexible and adaptive change and to working with your overall team to help them do so to?

Effective leadership means bringing others to follow you as you pursue both sides of this challenge. But simply leading others convincingly enough to bring them to follow your lead is not enough. Finding that right balance and maintaining it in the face of change and uncertainty are essential too.

• Sclerotic and hidebound organizations that find themselves increasingly out of touch with their markets and with their employees and their voices as well, and that are progressively less and less competitively competent as a result, tend to be built around rigid and inflexible “stable cores” that in fact extend out to cover and include seemingly everything where flexible decisions should enter into strategic and operational processes. Decisions in these businesses are all in effect predetermined from past thought and according to past decisions, and in many cases from that business’ more successful past and from when it was still more nimble and competitively strong.
• Businesses that lack a sufficient stable center tend to take a disorganized, ad hoc approach to virtually everything – and that can and too often does mean a lack of core consistency that would be needed in developing and following through on any genuine long-term strategy and planning. Leaders and those they lead tend to get endlessly caught up in the little details and never see, let along respond to or proactively plan for the larger picture.
• I have seen the first of those two scenarios play out in mature businesses that have become stale and moribund and that are in need of change management, and I have seen the second of them play out in startups and early stage businesses where the founding teams and their chief executive officers have a vision of what they seek to do, but one that is not fully articulated as a game plan or a solid business plan for achieving it, and who lack the leavening of experience to pull this together into a workable form. In their own way they need change management too, or at least executive management mentorship.
• Finding that right balance between stable and flexible is an ongoing process and as indicated in earlier postings to this series, the areas that need to be stable and constant and that really need to be more openly flexible, change with time.

You can view that and its determination, and the gray area where you could in fact go either way in being stable and constant or openly flexible, in a variety of ways. I have, up to here at least, touched upon this strictly in terms of:

• Addressing constancy and change in your marketplace and in your competition and what thy offer,
• With decisions made there driven by outside forces and considerations, and
• In how your own business is changing and evolving, for example in what it offers to its customers and to its outside community,
• With that arising from the inside.

I would address this same set of issues from a somewhat different perspective here: considering communications patterns, and of who speaks with whom and who listens to whom and under what circumstances and concerning what. And with this, I specifically add this discussion to the thread of postings and series that I have collectively organized around the topic area of Social Networking and Business.

Going back to my two example scenarios from above:

• Businesses that adhere too strongly to rigid consistency, as noted above with sclerotic and hidebound mature businesses, tend to have very rigid patterns of communications. I have, for example, seen organizations where it was frowned upon for people to socialize and share information with others from outside of their own work areas, and where it was actively discouraged to meet directly with, or converse on anything of substance with anyone higher on the table of organization than their own direct supervisor. Even if conversation and socialization were acceptable laterally and for those in non-management positions, vertical communications except when one-way and from the top down were very limited and restricted.
• Interestingly enough, the uninformed and disorganized startups and early stage companies of my second example suffered bottom-line, from a parallel and even similar problem. Everyone might be talking with everyone else and everyone might be listening, but all of this conversation tends to be on the immediate here and now and the fine detail, and even when ostensibly more long-term focused. More specifically, there is very little effective conversation that would lead towards developing a consistent, stable core – unless this business is growing out of this problem. This goes beyond the “who is talking to who” and addresses the issues of “concerning what.”

First and foremost, effective adaptive leadership has to be built upon open communications. Finding the right balance points between stable and sure, and changeable and flexible can only take place when everyone involved: leaders and those they would lead, are able to share information that they have that would be needed to make that determination. In the mature businesses in need of change management in my first example, no one can effectively two-way communicate with anyone else. In my second, disconnected startup example, everyone is talking and everyone is listening too, but no one is talking or listening about the right things – and certainly from a leadership and an overall business strategy and planning perspective.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will delve more deeply into business connectedness and communications in an adaptive leadership context. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and related at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and at the the first and second page of that directory. And as noted above, you can also find this posting, and I add related material from other series in Social Networking and Business.

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