Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Adaptive leadership and thriving in the face of change 6: disruptive change as an adaptive leadership driver

Posted in social networking and business, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on August 18, 2013

This is my sixth 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 1-5.)

I have written this series in large part in terms of change, and the demands that addressing its challenges can create for leaders and for the leadership process. I said at the end of Part 5 that I would discuss disruptive change in this installment and I will, here focusing on sudden change and its demands. By comparison, I focused more on gradual, even if rapid evolving change in Part 5.

I began Part 5 with a more abstract discussion of adaptation to change and its demands, and followed that with the example of a print book store as it seeks to change to accommodate the growing emergence of e-books and related innovations. I begin this installment with a very real world example that I lived through, and with the sudden emergence of a true crisis – that in this case was not handled very well. I will then turn to consider more general and even abstract principles that become relevant as its context.

I was working with a large healthcare related nonprofit and heavily involved in hands-on managing that organization’s online side to a major fundraising event. A well-known radio talk show host had offered to host a fundraiser on-air for the organization in support of its mission, and as a part of that, he was directing all callers to an easy to remember and type in URL for a web site landing page set up for this event. People could either go there directly online through their web browser or they could go to it through a prominent link on the home page to the radio program’s website. The problem was that the landing page, set up by a third party web development service provider, was not live when it was supposed to be. And the manager who had arranged for this web development project was at a meeting and he was the only person that this developer would talk with about making any changes, as he was the only person they knew to be authorized to do that. And he was in a conference room group meeting as one of about twenty with his manager and he refused to leave that room least he offend her. Meanwhile, we were losing donation opportunities at the rate of several thousand dollars a minute.

There are a lot of lessons learnable from this. First, this manager created an avoidable single point of failure when he told this developer that he was the only point of contact for that organization who had authority to make any decisions regarding this project. When he was absent and there could be no back-up everything ground to a halt. But my focus here and my reason for citing this here is a bit different than that point. This manager was caught in a bind, even if one largely of his own making where he was caught in a conflict of simultaneously being a manager and a leader of a web development project, and a follower of his own manager – who he did not want to let in on what was happening. I add that he refused to listen to find that out for himself either.

His stable core was to sit and listen and to be involved in his manager’s planning and discussion. Strategically, and as a matter of 20-20 hindsight, he should have broken ranks and left that meeting, at least briefly, indicating to his boss that he was being called away to coordinate resolution to an emerging problem that required his hands-on help. The corporate culture in place, however, and certainly in that branch of the table of organization with its top-down authoritarian approach made that too challenging to try. So he sat there and stayed. And even with reactive repair work to try to recover this fundraiser and with extra support from this radio show host, above and beyond what was initially offered we still ended up bringing in several hundred thousand dollars less than we could have.

When I write about stable cores and ranges of decision making capability where a business can be agile and adaptable, I am writing about businesses as organizations. But at least as importantly, I am writing about people – and people at all levels of those organizations who would be called upon to make managerial and leadership decisions, and where the consequences of those decisions would spread out from.

This series is about adaptive leadership and ultimately all decisions made in a business are made by people – by individuals and even when they seek to hide behind a vaguer group consensus cover. Stable cores and decision areas where adaptability and change can be allowed and sustained are defined by and acted upon by people. And when decided necessary they are changed by people and by individuals too. Leadership can be seen as providing a fulcrum point that this change can be defined and acted upon from.

I am going to finish this posting and this series here and add that I am going to start a new and related series in a few days, on Putting Change in Perspective. 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 at Social Networking and Business 2 and page one to that directory.

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