Would you be attracted to a workplace that developed resilience and change readiness so that you don’t just survive disruptive change, but you get stronger because of it?
With all the systems and support for leaders and teams in the average Australian business or government agency you might assume that environment already exists:
Performance management, change management, development courses, engagement surveys, career guidance, collaborative software, lean and efficient systems and so on.
Now pause for a moment and ask a challenging question: Do these practices really make people and organisations stronger, or could they be having the opposite effect?
To paraphrase Nassim Taleb, author of Antifragile, are the practices that corporate Australia uses to protect and support you and your colleagues actually making you more vulnerable to disruptive change?
Fragility is increased by rules, by structure, by linear planning, by reliance on protection from outside and interestingly, by size.
And it’s hardly new knowledge that our own bodies respond to stressors and become stronger. Vaccination and physical training rely on this adaptive capability. People, teams and organisations do the same, provided they are set up to do so.
So, how might the very practices that we rely on to enable adaptability and resilience be having the opposite effect?
- Too much of the change management that happens in Australian industry is project management dressed up to look like change. Instead of assisting people to navigate through adaptive change it protects them from the experience and the learnings.
- Performance management consistently misses the point that adaptability requires a rapid and continuing cycle of alignment, collaboration and learning (not an annual review!)
- Classroom training by itself is a poor way to embed learning so that behaviours stick under pressure (which suggests that resilience training courses might not be quite what they could be)
- A bias towards restructuring to address silo behaviour suggests that Australian leaders won’t confront the realities that effective cross-boundary collaboration develops because of tension not in the absence of it
Not surprisingly, a first wave of organisations are already using this ‘antifragile’ thinking to create and explore a different set of principles. These principles run counter to the mainstream but they are already being embedded in a new style of capability development.
Four trends are emerging:
- Replace change management with in-the-field adaptive change development, where leaders and teams are guided to apply problem solving and decision making tools within their real challenges
- Replace performance management with frequent robust two-way learning and performance conversations
- Replace most classroom training with experiential knowledge gained from real life experience, coupled with powerful debriefing.
- Replace the bias to restructure with a one team model of nimble connected teams using partnering and social technologies.
These approaches are increasingly used in Australian Universities, government agencies and businesses because they want to empower employees, boost engagement and develop the capability for adaptive change.
The challenge for everyone is to accept that adaptive change involves a level of discomfort and squirming and it is from the squirm that we learn and adapt.
For our careers, our businesses and our nation we can only hope that our leaders learn how to create the environment in which we don’t feel the need to be protected by them, but rather by the power of our own resilience and adaptability. That has always been Australia’s trademark – perhaps we just need to remind ourselves again.
Graham Winter is Executive Director of Think One Team International and three times Chief Psychologist for the Australian Olympic Team. www.thinkoneteam.com