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It’s All About Adaptability

Feb 6, 2012
By Gerald Meck

Categories: Leadership & Organizational Development

It’s All About Adaptability

February 6, 2012

It’s All About Integrity by Gerald Meck

I recently read an article entitled “The Future of Business is Pure Chaos. Here’s how you can survive – and perhaps even thrive” by Robert Safian in the January 2012 issue of Fast Company.   This article stimulated my thinking about what kind of leadership is needed at the board and executive level to guide an organization through an ever-changing and fast-paced marketplace.

As leaders in a constantly changing world, our ability to predict the future is difficult.  The pace of change continues to accelerate.  Just five years ago three companies controlled 64% of the smartphone market. These companies were Nokia, Research in Motion and Motorola. Today two different companies, Samsung & Apple, control the market. Online education programs are challenging our assumptions about what education looks like. The rise of Facebook, the fall of Blockbuster, the downgrading of the US credit rating, foreign government regime changes and rising unemployment all contribute to the difficulty in forecasting the future.

When leaders, including board members and executives, search for the right answers for the future, no clear road map or business model emerges. When I began as CEO/President of United Disabilities Services in 1983, I created a five year plan that guided the organization into the future. Today, however, a planning model needs to be a strategic thinking process that is flexible and adaptable to the fast-changing conditions of the business world.  In the next decade or two, organizational planning will be defined more by its fluidity and flexibility than by a well-defined strategic direction for the future.

Most organizations are good at solving clear problems, even very complicated ones.  But organizations have a difficult time solving ambiguous problems when leadership doesn’t know what it doesn’t know. Faced with ambiguity, organizations look for leadership that has developed a successful model which can be replicated. But in a world of flux, what has been successful for one organization will not necessarily work for another organization.  Trying to replicate what worked yesterday will leave an organization vulnerable. Every organization needs to find their unique organizational structure, business model and culture that best allows it to stay flexible and competitive.

To survive in this climate of constant change and growing competition, leadership needs to be adaptable. Adaptability requires leaders who:  a) work continually to be clear about the mission, b) embrace instability, c) enjoy recalibrating their business model, and, d) continually evaluate current assumptions. This approach of constant attentiveness to change will enable leaders to weigh the risks and opportunities and to make decisions that will position the organization for future sustainability.

As Martin Luther King Jr. stated, “Our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and face the challenge of change.”

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