Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Adaptive leadership and thriving in the face of change 5: stability and adaptability in a business social context 2

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 13, 2013

This is my fifth 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 Social Networking and Business, postings 187 and loosely following for Parts 1-4.)

I began explicitly discussing the role of effective communications in this in Part 4, where I cited two types of communications breakdown scenarios that lead to what could best be considered maladapted leadership and its consequences. And towards the end of that posting I noted that:

• 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.

I said at the end of Part 4 that I would continue its discussion here, where I would delve more deeply into business connectedness and communications in an adaptive leadership context. And I do so here, beginning with a set of basic questions:

• What specific insight and information would be called for in determining this balance between stable and adaptable?
• And how best would this specific information be filtered out of the general ongoing conversation, and identified as holding particular overall operational, strategic and business model value so that it could be used in achieving and maintaining an adaptive leadership focus?

The easiest place to begin for addressing questions of that type, is with information and insight that would hold the greatest, most performance success-defining value. I refer here to information and insight that would help the strategic leadership team to identify developing problems and challenges, and possible positive opportunities early enough so that they can be more efficiently addressed and resolved, limiting costs and maximizing returns from their action.

• The information and insight that hold the most value for keeping an adaptive leadership approach relevant and beneficially adaptive, all fundamentally addresses change and looming potential change – and the consequences of failure to see that before reactive catch-up and corrections efforts would be needed.
• Reframing this more specifically in terms of the constancy and adaptability balance of adaptive leadership, this is all about getting the right information into the right hands and identified as such, on time and early enough so that the advantage of planning and preparation and proactive responses can create positive net value.
• The alternative, with time and certainly in a rapidly changing industry and marketplace, is that like the more hidebound mature business of my Part 4 example, this business slip further and further into irrelevance – from failure to stay agile and open to change where that would create value, and sure and constant where that would sustain value.

What tends to stay closest to the center of that stable core? I would start addressing this question by noting that simply taking any one answer for granted and simply assuming any one framework element of the business should and must remain unchanged, always, opens that business up to vulnerability and risk in the face of change, and certainly if and when it finds itself confronted by disruptive change. With that in mind, I would propose a few fundamental framework elements to most any business that would at least as an initial default start out in the stable core, and that if changed would go back into it in their new form:

• The business’ basic mission and vision that conceptually define it and its place in its industry and in its marketplace, and for its customers – and internally for its own employees and managers too.
• The business’ core corporate culture, as formed through its collective ongoing experience as a community of people.
• Its core strategic value and approaches that ongoing strategic reviews and planning exercises keep going back to and building from.
• Its core operational processes, and certainly those that are dictated as to form by ongoing due diligence, or externally applied legal requirement.

I will specifically address these four bullet points with a type of example that is all too real-world for many businesses right now, as easily portable handheld online connected digital platforms emerge onto the marketplace and proliferate, and as online-sourced digital content for them does too. I refer here, of course, to digital readers.

• A traditional bookstore would in most cases conceive its mission and vision statements in terms of print technology, and in terms of offering its customers the books that they need, and with supportive advice and information as requested and required for helping them to identify the right books for them.
• Its corporate culture, and certainly judging from my experience in traditional bookstores, would revolve around a shared appreciation for good books and the printed word – with that shared by both store employees and their customers.
• Its basic, settled, ongoing strategic and operational processes would revolve around the dynamics and processes and timing requirements for ordering and obtaining books from the publishing houses that produce them, and from wholesale distributors as appropriate, and with a goal of obtaining for sale, new and high-demand books as quickly as possible, while culling out titles that are not selling adequately.
• Such a store might be entirely bricks and mortar but it is increasingly likely that it would have a web site that would be used for online marketing, and that could also be used as a social media hub, for sharing information on when new books are scheduled to arrive and to offer other relevant information, and even for placing orders and paying for books through online transaction processes as would be supported in an online store (see my series: Online Store, Online Market Space at Startups and Early Stage Businesses as postings 20 and following for Parts 1-21.)

Now consider the by now already maturing challenge of e-books and digital readers. In a traditional print publication world, book content and book platform are indivisible. One printed book can hold a copy of one specific set of content, and once printed, this content selection is set. As soon as that content is transformed into digital file form, and the book as physical object is replaced by an electronic device with a screen and with capacity to hold essentially any specific content, as long as it is correctly formatted and would fit into its memory, content and platform become anything but indivisible. They become fundamentally disassociated and separate. Now, that bookstore faces fundamental change, and of a type that of necessity has to reach into what it has held as its stable core of identity and being.

• If it is going to remain a bookstore per se, and not seek to break into the electronics and digital hardware industries, it is going to continue to sell print books, but increasingly seek out ways to leverage its abilities to reach and help its print customers into also helping them find and secure e-books too. And this leads to some fundamental questions.
• Should it sell e-readers and if so and under what contractual and other terms?
• Should it augment its web site to help customers find and purchase books, or to obtain for free open-source e-books and other digital content or both?
• Should it expand its social media hub to include groups and chat capabilities specifically geared to help like-minded readers share e-book recommendations, and critiques and reviews?
• What should it begin to offer its customers besides just books and e-books, and perhaps select magazines and e-magazines that would specifically appeal to e-book readers? Cases for more popular design e-readers come immediately to mind as do Bluetooth connectable, readily portable keyboards and other add-on devices.
• How should this business reframe and even fundamentally rebuild its basic business model so as to profitably monetize for itself, its new range and prioritization of services and offerings, and in ways that would appeal to a significant enough market share to keep it effectively in business?
• My point is that this business has to make some fundamental changes and even in what it has traditionally seen as its stable core and its self-definition, in order to meet the challenges of this disruptive change in its industry and in its customer’s needs and expectations.

Note that this series is about adaptive leadership and this example is all about the business that its owner and manager would lead. That is not accidental.

Disruptive change has recurringly come up in this series as an ongoing point of discussion and for a reason. I am going to more explicitly discuss that in my next series installment, and adaptive leadership as a mechanism for surviving and thriving in the face of this. 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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