Organize in Times of Uncertainty – Surviving the Techstorm

ORGANIZE
IN TIMES OF
UNCERTAINTY

There are many challenges to innovation, of course, and one such challenge is disorganization. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to create any solutions when a company is so disorganized that its leaders and employees have to devote time and energy to finding information and resources instead of using that time to innovate and problem solve. However, in times of uncertainty, there is more to it: even the most organized business may find itself in need of reorganization. New technology, new problems, and new innovations can lead to the need to reorganize. Many once saw reorganization as a last ditch effort before a business failed completely, but that is no longer the case. Successful businesses led by strong leaders know that reorganization is sometimes necessary, and it is becoming more and more typical as a form of response to global trends and emerging technologies.106

REORGANIZING THE RIGHT WAY

The average term for a CEO of a worldwide company is only about five years.106 That leaves very little time to establish much of anything resembling stability, and it means that he or she is only going to get the chance to reorganize the company once. This is especially true if the reorganization does not go well – shareholders and boards are quick to place the blame on the top executive and send them packing, even if the major issues were out of their control.

How can a leader go about reorganization in the right way in order to outlive the average lifespan of a global CEO? There is no easy answer to this question – every reorganization is going to be different. There are some similarities between those who have successfully reorganized, however.

The first thing to do is to address the problem. What is holding the company back? Why is this reorganization necessary? What does the company need more of, and what does it have too much of? Answering these questions allows the leader to create a framework for the reorganization.

How can a leader go about reorganization in the right way in order to outlive the average lifespan of a global CEO?

This framework includes tangible elements like information, resources, and structure, along with intangible elements like motivators, commitments, and mindsets.106 Both have to be considered when preparing to reorganize.

Building this framework is going to take time, and it is not as simple as creating jobs and plugging people into them. In fact, that is the exact idea that can lead to a business failing, especially during periods of uncertainty where the wrong leadership can be disastrous.

THE END OF WORKERS, THE BEGINNING OF PROBLEM SOLVERS

That is why a good leader does not look for workers – he or she looks for problem solvers, those who are innovative and maybe even have an entrepreneurial spirit that pushes them not only to show up from nine to five every day but to also step up and take ownership of their work. The idea is to create problem solvers or “thought leaders” – people who are creative, innovative, influential, and willing to go out of their way to make a business succeed.109 These problem solvers are not afraid to share their ideas, get involved with large projects, and build up others. A worker, on the other hand, may feel as if they ought to be compensated for their thoughts, may have no drive to volunteer for anything, or feel so small that they have nothing to contribute.

That is not to say that everyone will be in a position to be innovative, but no one should ever feel like “just” a worker. Each employee needs to feel valued and needs to know that they do contribute to the overall objectives, goals, and community of the business.

A strong leader also has to realize that it takes more than simply telling someone they need to contribute – they have to show it. The atmosphere and environment is one of the things that a strong leader can control and can directly influence during reorganization. Putting forth the effort needed to make everyone part of the team isn’t wasted time – it may not be directly measurable, but the intangible element of job satisfaction is one of the most important aspects of any business.

EVERYONE IS A KNOWLEDGE WORKER

A knowledge worker is someone who uses information every day, hopefully in a creative, innovative way. Often, knowledge workers are thought of as the creative people in a business.110 Engineers, programmers, researchers, scientists, and others who create or sift through information are thought of as being more important than those who do more physical tasks. Assembly line personnel, janitorial staff, drivers, construction workers, and others are often considered as not just less important to a business but also as less educated and less valuable.

This point of view is one of those traditional things about which strong leaders are more than just aware; they are also aware that they must change this type of thinking. In today’s world, everyone makes use of information in one way or another. Even those who follow the same basic routine every day, such as an assembly line worker, still have to be prepared to improvise and respond to unforeseen circumstances. With more and more reliance on technology, employees are not simply nailing something together. They are using expensive machinery to solder microchips or weld metal frames. This involves specialized training on the machinery used and on the overall computer system the business has. Even clocking in and out is done electronically now, and company memos are distributed through email rather than paper copies.

Everyone now uses information in some way in their everyday work lives. Everyone is, to some extent, a knowledge worker who can be innovative. When organizing a company or a department, a good leader will take this into consideration.

STEPPING OUTSIDE THE BOX

It’s a horribly overused cliché, but the idea of stepping outside the box does still have some relevance. A new, novel approach to business is vital in a time of uncertainty, but this adaptive thinking has to go beyond company leadership – it has to reach the average employee. Your knowledge workers need to be able to approach situations with new adaptive thinking. This goes hand in hand with the above point that everyone uses technology now. It is not enough to understand a basic task – an employee now has to understand how to handle the technology that makes each basic task possible.

Even those who are not comfortable with technology will need to be ready to step outside their comfort zones.

The rise of integrated computer networks and new communication technologies are certainly some of the main drivers of uncertainty111, which is why it is important for employees to be prepared to deal with technological failures. Being literate in new media, a term used to describe social media, online culture, and the new forms of communication used daily, is vital to everyone in today’s workforce. Even those who are not comfortable with technology will need to be ready to step outside their comfort zones.

This is one area where a leader can organize the company with an eye towards skill set, commitment, and accountability. Because it is a reorganization, leaders should not feel tied to the past. Putting those who have the right skills and knowledge into the right positions is key to any reorganization, but it is also key to put those willing to learn into positions where they can grow. Allowing each person to take ownership of their work and be accountable for it without feeling micromanaged is a key part of any business structure.112

ORGANIZING FOR THE FUTURE

Organizing a business, or reorganizing one, requires leaders to be willing to make changes not just for the duration of a chaotic, uncertain period, but also for the future. If the dust settles and stability returns will the business be in a position to function, or will it still be in combat mode, still ready to battle the problems it has been facing? Creating a flexible structure that can handle a variety of problems is difficult, but the key to everything is the people involved. With the right people in the right positions with the right sense of being valued, the rest of the organization will fall into place.

ORGANIZATION TOOLBOX

In times of new technological paradigms, when one technology wave is maturing and another is about to take over, new ideas for organization and cooperation are flourishing. Throughout this book, simplicity has been one of the guiding principles, and although the organization of a project or a company is never simple, the basic ideas should be.

One of the most interesting recent initiatives in this area is presented by the NOBL Collective (www.flox.works). Their idea is that the work of organizing should never overshadow the actual work, obvious but seldom understood. Their research shows that this leads to improvements in decision making, product delivery and overall profitability. Also, research shows vastly improved employee engagement in just 30 days when using this approach to working and organizing.

The method is based on two habits and four rules, all designed to be lightweight and flexible. First, the two habits:

Flocking, where the team comes together in a first meeting to initiate the work and together form the strategies, structures and systems they need to reach their goals.

Steering, monthly meetings with the goal to reflect on the work of the past month and set new goals. The outcome is an updated action plan and refreshed strategic plan.

With the habits in place, every team should steer toward four simple rules: Customer, alignment, autonomy and simplicity.

The first rule, your customer can be either external or internal, depending on the nature of the project or initiative. This direction is used to identify the real customer, understand their present and future needs, decide on a strategic direction and initiate the project.

The second rule, alignment, is there to improve communication and collaboration. Focus here is to identify internal misalignment, increase information exchange, find a common model for decision-making and make sure to have interpersonal rituals in place.

The third rule, autonomy, aims to empower risk-taking in an orderly manner. All through improving development across functions, the test-and-learn process as well as your rapid prototyping and also a responsive budget process.

The final rule, simplicity, is essential for reducing unnecessary complexity: Here focus is on recognizing complexity, approaching it in a new way, resisting increasing complexity as you scale and testing-and-learning to reduce it internally.