The need to adapt to constant change is perhaps the only certainty in today’s business climate. Black swan events such as the 2008 financial crisis or the global Covid-19 pandemic, have meant that the past is no longer a safe basis for predicting the future.
During the pandemic, we saw fast, radical change in action as countless companies reacted by necessity to their customers’ behavioural changes. This provided a taste of a growing business imperative – to be able to change fast and effectively. However, it’s those companies that are doing well today and will continue to thrive in the future, that can innovate and implement significant change without causing organisational trauma or pain.
To remain on top, businesses are now in a cycle of adapt or die.
Both agility (speed) and adaptability (ability to change) have become enablers for brands to continuously create strategic differentiators. However, this requires sustained and directed momentum or motion. Yet, this alone does not give businesses the edge they now need – the advantage comes from turning motion into progress and becoming a more adaptive organisation in the process.
Rocking horses don’t belong in boardrooms
As Alfred Montapert once said, “don’t confuse motion for progress. A rocking horse moves all day but goes nowhere”.
While this might sound simple enough, all too often businesses have boardrooms filled with metaphorical rocking horses generating a great deal of motion that adds very little real value and instead, wastes huge amounts of time, resources and in some instances – a loss of competitive advantage.
As a result, there are many organisations today that are undergoing a period of transformation because they have fallen behind and need to rapidly keep pace. But transforming simply to play catchup is no longer enough.
Businesses need to break out of this cycle and make adaptability and evolution a core part of their foundation to ensure it never lags again (or ideally, never falls behind in the first place).
So, how does an organisation break out of this continuous transformation loop?
Leadership within the business
Much like the foundations of a house – a clear purpose is everything to an organisation. Without a defined direction of travel, businesses can find themselves floundering, so setting a North Star and embedding it into the company’s DNA from the get-go is crucial.
To drive the right behaviours and communicate this purpose, putting the right measures in place to ensure everyone is aligned on this vision is essential. Without clear measurement of the correct metrics, you cannot see how far (or not) you’ve come and therefore are in danger of slipping back into a cycle of motion.
What’s more, it’s about prioritising your actions and making sure that you do the important things first – don’t try to boil the ocean.
Aligning your workforce behind your vision
Establishing a culture that is open to change is a key component in becoming an adaptive organisation. This involves not only aligning your workforce behind your vision, but also how you empower your team members to contribute to that progress, deliver on business goals, and do so in a way that draws on their strengths.
When an organisation has teams that are aligned to a common purpose, as well as giving those teams and individuals autonomy, it is much more adaptive and therefore better able to pivot as and when challenges arise.
Internal and external business environment
If the last two years are anything to go by, then we know that survival depends on building an organisation that can adapt to external factors that are outside of our control. For example, the economy, political upheaval, global pandemics, and even the weather impact organisations of all sizes and sectors.
This is not only about navigating challenges, but also about spotting opportunities and knowing when and how to take the shot that can significantly accelerate a business’ progress.
New patterns and incremental adjustments
In the highly competitive and fast-changing world that we find ourselves in, keeping up and keeping ahead can be a constant challenge. Without the above components, a business will struggle to successfully turn motion into progress and lack the essence required to become an adaptive organisation.
This doesn’t have to be a huge, sudden organisational revolution. It can instead be a journey that requires a business to follow new patterns of behaviour and incremental adjustments. Once these foundations on which to build an adaptive organisation are in place, the future doesn’t have to feel so uncertain.
About the authors: Azlan Raj is Chief Marketing Officer, and Richard Lees is Chief Strategy Officer, Merkle EMEA. Their book Shift: Transform Motion into Progress in Business can be purchased on Amazon.