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What happens when two transformation specialists, from opposite sides of the Atlantic, ponder the sustainability of their own profession? In late 2018, Greg Verdino and I started a candid conversation about transformation.
We had noticed the term becoming unpopular, losing momentum, with some voices wanting to move on and talk about life after digital transformation.
For fear of distraction, we decided to park the transformation bandwagon on the verge for a while and consider an alternative viewport, one that would still compliment and compound the transformation consulting work we had been doing for years.
In those early days, we didn’t know where the conversation would take us, but some weeks later we did agree to explore something: the propensity for organisations to adapt.
We wanted to better understand the concept of adaptability within organisations. Was it discussed? Identified even? Was it agreed with compelling consensus? Responding to disruption (tick) innovation (tick) managing change (tick) and even “transforming” (tick, tick, tick, tick) are well catered for, but identifying what it takes to adapt as a way of working, and how to sustain such a state of purpose?
That was more often considered secondary, more elusive and less ‘important’ when compared with delivering active change programmes or launching new products.
Given that disruption can be painful (especially if an org isn’t prepared) and positive (if they are) it was interesting to look at adaptability as an isolated topic. We got to thinking that managing unknowns is inherently difficult, therefore positive pointers to adapt (rather than react) would be something worth putting down on paper.
That was the easy part, and so begin several months of research and hard-fought propositioning. We looked hard at failure as well as what works and contested many points back and forth. Like a LEGO holiday marathon, we just kept going, not fully knowing what we might end up with.
Back in 2015, I was invited to join a panel led by Hudson, to determine the transformation mindset. Mind-set is without question a key factor and it is true that certain individuals can embody an organisation’s attributes, either for a period of change or an entire career. Which is why leaders of change have been so well sought after in recent times.
Like the fighter pilot psyched for a mission, leaders of change are valued assets, expected to be the oil in the machine that will ‘make it happen somehow’ by using their evangelical enthusiasm to find a way in the face of persistent challenge. That’s been the insinuation at least, that transformation specialists embody the form of some futuristic superuser, who steps up and stands out to reflect the best of what an organisation can be.
Against all the odds they keep going to represent the voice of the customer, especially at times when the customer was last on the list of C-Suite considerations. Having worked with some of the best, it’s true that some leaders of change can dispatch their duties with empathy, energy and efficiency.
But it begs the question – what if we could bottle some key transformation attributes and see success across a whole organisation? For that, it’s worth considering why being adaptable is important, so that organisations can manage modernisation more sustainably, and in perpetuity.
This was the early thinking behind the Adapt Manifesto. A mind-set precursor, that identifies values and principles required to achieve adaptability – not just for super users, but for everyone.
Inspired by fault and failure
When big transformation programmes go wrong, there is typically a striking inability for organisations to pivot in the moment, despite the original premise being that of a need to be more agile and re-gear for change.
Yes, we can blame a long list of factors, some well documented and we can agree that lack of funds, tech options, resources, strategy or planning can be at fault. But beneath these manifest misgivings is typically a people problem. More specifically – that people know how to solve the problem but are often unable to put their recommendations into action.
This can be due to an organisations inability to adapt quickly enough to act, which is by no means a revolutionary insight, but certainly is a persistent conundrum. This led to our documenting some basic steps to help orgs get the ball rolling, and the formation of this statement which introduces the manifesto:
In our work, it’s been found that when organizations evolve — whether to survive or to innovate — there is one attribute that is inextricably linked to sustained success: the ability for the organization to reliably and repeatedly adapt to the changing environment in which it operates.
Getting into grassroots
It took six months of back and forth to draft the Adapt Manifesto, drawing on (mainly) transformation fieldwork and progressive thinking to create a combinatorial catalogue of values and practice principles that could work in the workspace.
Like all grassroots initiatives, others will hopefully build upon (learn, apply, reuse, remix) the theory, by making use of the manifesto within the creative commons framework it was published.
Since launch, we have been asked numerous times what our plans are to progress Adapt further. For now, we want to let the values and principles live a little; give them some air-time. It’s interesting to consider what consensus there might be for people to align, especially given the positive feedback the manifesto has generated so far.
What’s clear to us is that change is hard, even for transformation specialists – and it’s not very often we look outside of the constructs we create. Especially when those comfortable and cosy constructs result in good consulting day rates.
Many of us plough our trade on transformation, so making a wholesale shift to adaptability won’t be high on anyone’s agenda (that we appreciate). However, there is no harm in asking if learning to be adaptable is a strong starting point to transform?
View the Adapt Manifesto Values: https://www.adaptmanifesto.org
View the Code of Practice: https://www.adaptmanifesto.org/adapt-code-of-practice-principles
Join the movement: https://www.adaptmanifesto.org/join-the-movement
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