Thursday, 26 September 2013

Thriving In Times of Change

Successful innovators always keep an eye on the future. Responding to changing circumstances can be seen as either an opportunity for those who are well prepared or as a great challenge for those rooted in past practices. So what does 'being prepared' look like?  Most would agree that the one great certainty of a changing climate, is that we will all experience much greater levels of uncertainty in the future.  Our current methods of predicting rainfall, temperatures, crop yields, extreme weather events, cyclones, wild fires, famines and floods will all become less reliable. We will be caught out more often as unexpected events or situations arise. Fortunately there are processes available for dealing with greater levels of uncertainty that can help guide how we plan and manage the places where we live, work and play. 

Information systems: Good informations systems are vital to survival. In nature, smaller grazing animals have highly specialised sense organs for sight, smell and sound to avoid the attack of a voracious carnivore.  But in addition to these more obvious peripherals, their nervous systems and brains are also highly attuned to rapidly turning information into action.  Good information systems are therefore those that can gather the right information, store it effectively, be able to rapidly recall and use it wherever and whenever it is required.  Good information systems should include mobile smart devices linked to effective and accessible database systems which combine field-based data input with rapid response. 

Predictive capacity: Predictive capacity is only as good as the information used to calibrate it.  This requires investment in learning from past experiences - the wisdom of hindsight - together with excellent information systems. Predictive science uses a probabilistic approach where the range of likely scenarios are modelled and a rich-picture of likely outcomes produced. 
Modern weather forecasting produces results like: there is a 80% chance of rain today. While completely unexpected outcomes are always within the realms of possibility, a good probabilistic predictive capacity will reduce the number of unexpected shocks. 

Scenario planning: Scenario planning considers the implications of particular events which are selected so as to represent a particular range of possibilities or to emphasise particular types of occurrences. This approach provides a framework for understanding the required state of preparedness, the required actions and resources and the probable lead times for implementation. Scenario planning is an important basis for charting future courses of action for organisations whilst they remain cognisant of how the chosen best path might need to adapt and change. 

"It is choice not chance, that determines one’s destiny" .... Jean Nidetch. 

Innovation: In choosing an alternative course of action, different or more creative thinking will be required to guide it. Innovation differs from improvement in that innovation refers to the notion of doing something different rather than doing the same thing better.  Establishing a culture of innovation requires courageous leadership to not only source and provide required venture capital, but also to ensure wide access to the innovation process so that people feel heard. Leadership must also take responsibility for the protection of participants during the dry periods when innovative outcomes appear to be more elusive. 

Adaptation: Adaptation is the ability of an organization to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes in productive and cost-effective ways.  An adaptive enterprise strives to make change a routine part of organisational life. One type of enterprise architecture that supports agility is a non-hierarchical organization. In this structure individuals function
autonomously, constantly interacting with each other to define the vision and aims, maintain a common understanding of requirements and monitor the work that needs to be done. Important decisions are made collaboratively, on the spot, and on the fly. 

Performance Management: Performance management is a key to thriving in times of change to ensure that goals are consistently being met in an effective and efficient manner.  It aligns resources and systems to strategic objectives and priorities and implies a commitment to vigilance over prolonged periods of time. The best performance management systems can be likened to the auto-pilot on an aircraft where small corrections are applied constantly to maintain the desired course.  In this regard, managers should be like horse whisperers with gentle hands on the reigns if they are to derive the best out of their teams. 

Take home message: 'Being prepared' for change is having good information systems, an 'over-the-horizon' radar coupled with the wisdom of hindsight, an understanding of the implications of likely future scenarios, the courage and support to be innovative and adaptive and finally, in constantly reviewing one’s performance and direction. Despite all this, the structural key for organisations to thrive in the face of climate change uncertainty and other global drivers, is in courageous, wise and compassionate collective leadership.  The old paradigm of ‘command and control’ will face increasing difficulties in remaining relevant.  

The ultimate measure of person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but who stands with them at times of challenge and controversy”  .....Martin Luther King.

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