Business Success: Leveraging Chaos in Organizations Part I

This will be a two part blog series about leveraging chaos in organizations.  As mentioned earlier, the key to leveraging chaos within an organization is to allow the vision to drive the change. Chaos manifests within organizations as an inability to find and deal with information in a useful way. If the chaos is contained within specific boundaries, and if the members of the organization can tolerate the tension, order will eventually emerge. Crisis, however, is the failure of coping mechanisms, resulting in a loss of a framework that leads to stagnation or death. In other words, the system is unable to tolerate the tension.

Vision-driven energy can create change that does not result from crisis, although chaos will still occur. Dissatisfaction with the status quo drives a vision, not crisis. Dissatisfaction is the result of examining the status quo with an open mind in relation to the environment and deciding that change is necessary. The vision provides a way of getting members of the organization focused on the future. A vision should inspire and motivate. It should entice members to move out of the current state and move toward the new state while honoring the values of the organization and its members.

Structure within Chaoschaos

For organizations to foster adaptability, it is important to provide a structure or boundaries to guide it through the chaos. However, there is a delicate balance between providing structure and controlling the process. Recall that new patterns emerge only when the system is far from equilibrium. Providing structure in this case means utilizing the system, getting people together and providing them with ways of interacting, and sharing information. This process provides the tension that results in people feeling the need to change. In a healthy system, they would eventually create a plan together. “No one system dictates conditions to another. All participate together in creating the conditions of their interdependence.”

When an organization is in chaos, leaders typically decide they know the answers and take it upon themselves to establish the necessary structures, processes, and rules without any input from the rest of the organization. While this approach is generally easier and faster, it is antithetical to systems thinking and may impede adaptability. It actually prevents the system from rising to a higher level by way of self-organization. Systems thinking requires that the all parts of the system be involved in any major decision-making process.

When chaos is overwhelming the system, it is necessary to provide boundaries or simple rules to contain the chaos. Doing so entails helping people stay focused on the core purpose of the organization and values. By allowing employees to experience the underlying strength of the organization, everyone in it is able to understand and internalize the core purpose. However, it is critical to create dialogue opportunities that encourage tough questions regarding the purpose and its impact. It is common to assume that everyone understands the purpose; thus, often this step is skipped. Understanding the core purpose is crucial in self-organizing systems; this purpose provides the goals around which self-organization occurs. Dialoguing regarding purpose aligns individuals and helps them to claim the purpose as their own.

Values are guiding principles for how to act. They define members’ behavior in reaching their goals. An example of a value is: “We will continue to learn and evolve by examining what we do and how we do it on an individual, group, and system level.” Values act as the strange attractor that pulls the system into order during times of turbulence. They provide guidelines for how to interact with one another, particularly during chaos. Without clear standards for how to work and interact, change can be too risky.

It is futile to have values that mean nothing and do not define how people actually behave. If people hear one value and see behavior that contradicts it, they will not feel safe. For example, if an organization values self-examination and criticism to aid learning and then uses blame and punishment when something goes wrong, the self-examination will cease. In addition to consistency around behavior, it is important for leaders to model the desired organizational behavior.

Tolerance for Discomfort

Systems change when they are far from equilibrium. For this reason, it is important to resist complacency in times of success. Many organizations fail as a result of complacency. Organizations that continue to look for indicators of new shifts will maintain a competitive edge.
It is helpful to develop a tolerance for the discomfort associated with the change process. Doing so allows natural connections to develop. But when discomfort reaches high levels, some organizations hurry the process by forcing connections, coming to premature solutions, and controlling outcomes. This control impedes the formation of natural connections. Newly formed groups, which are particularly susceptible to this urge, cope with it by jumping to solutions prematurely. During times of change, the urge to bring closure to issues and to know the answers increases. This urge needs to be managed with forethought and care by developing a tolerance for ambiguity and lack of control.

Natural Connections and Flexibility

Order rises naturally from chaos, and connections form naturally to make sense of the inherent and emerging information. Organizational structures and processes should be formed as a result of natural connections, and they should be adapted when necessary to ensure that the vision is achieved in the most productive and efficient manner. Jan Carlzon, chief executive of Scandinavian Airline System, made the organization legendary by (among other things) simplifying its rules. He burned thousands of pages of manuals and handbooks to demonstrate how overrun the organization was with rules. If rules and processes are rigid and inflexible, the organization will not be able to shift at the appropriate time. Six guidelines for staying flexible include:
1. Be patient when allowing connections to form.
2. Avoid becoming rigid with or overrun by structures, rules, and processes.
3. Make sure the rules and processes that are in place are relevant and necessary.
4. Solicit regular feedback.
5. Stay open to new ways of doing things.
6. Make sure suggestions and ideas are fully understood before discarding them.

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Business Success: The New Paradigm

In traditional organizations, strategy management is usually static and reductionist. The focus is on short-term gain, optimal allocation of resources, process improvement, and increasing competitive advantage. The approach to change is incremental, with the assumption that a slight change in the existing strategy or variation in the organizational structure will do the job.paradigm_shift_logo

As mentioned earlier, two fundamentally different organizational models are offered. The traditional model, based on Newtonian science, is linear, rational, and reductionist. It is based on the idea that organizations are made up of individual units that can be managed separately. Units such as people, products, tasks, and expenses can each be optimized to support the whole. Change as predictable and controllable with a final end state characterized by stability. According to Laszlo and Laugel in Large-Scale Organizational Change, “This notion is rooted in calculus with which Newton expressed his immutable laws of physics—smooth, continuous, differential equations that lead toward a fixed equilibrium.”

The emergent model is on the opposite end of the spectrum. It sees organizations as emerging from complexity with their parts interconnected and relating as living systems. Behavior emerges and is experienced on an organizational level. It cannot be reduced to incremental units. Rather than implementing change, the emergent or living systems model is always adapting to stay in balance. Change, as defined by the old model, is continuous. The wisdom or intelligence of the organization does not just reside with leadership but is assumed to be distributed across a wide variety of people and systems.

By understanding the rules, principles, and behaviors of each model, organizations can select the best path based on the specific situation. For example, if a company needs to manufacture a product, a clear linear process with a predefined path and time frame is optimal. However, when pressures from outside or deep within an organization require adaptation, it is rarely predictable or controllable. The constant need to innovate, a pressure felt by many in the global economy, is a good example. The intelligence of the organization to meet this goal is far superior to that of the top management team.

To illustrate how our traditional change methodologies and structures limit adaptability, imagine if traditional business rules and processes are applied to the neurons in the brain.
Organize the neuron in your brain, the most complex, infinitely diverse organ that has ever emerged in evolution, as you would a corporation. The first thing you’ve got to do is appoint the Chief Executive neuron, right?

Then you’ve got to decide which are going to be the Board of Directors neurons and the Human Resources neurons, and then you have to write an operating manual for it. Now, if you could organize your brain on that model, what would happen? You would instantly be unable to breathe until somebody told you how and where and when and how fast. You wouldn’t be able to think or see. What if your immune system were organized on this basis? First you’d have to do some market research to determine what virus, if any, was attaching you, right? Then you’d have to have marching orders for all the various aspects of your immune system.

Feel free to share your thoughts and comments.

Where Business Intelligence Fits Into the Information Evolution Model

In Information Revolution: Using the Information Revolution Model to Grow Your Business, authors Jim Davis, Gloria Miller, and Allan Russell introduce the idea of the Information Evolution Model. As I discussed in my last blog, Modeling Innovation With BI, they propose four dimensions — infrastructure, process, people, and culture — as guides for evaluating your organization’s ability to leverage information in an effort to achieve your business goals. Here, I’ll take a deeper look at these four dimensions, framing them in context of the five-level Information Evolution Model.

The model’s five levels — operational, consolidation, integration, optimization, and innovation — are hierarchical and reflect aspects of maturity across the four dimensions. Generally, companies fluctuate within different levels across the four dimensions during this evolution.

Level 1: The operational enterprise

The most common type of organization at this level is the startup. However, many small businesses and large siloed businesses operate at this level as well. The following describes key Level 1 characteristics:

  • Level 1 knowledge process focuses on day-to-day tactics. This results in high variability in the access, analysis, and use of information.
  • Level 1 people tend to thrive in unstructured environments. The information technicians are often self-motivated and risk-takers. They tend to strive for differentiation and recognition, which might serve a company still operating at an entrepreneurial level. However, they resist change and loss of control, which may inhibit maturing to the next level.
  • Level 1 culture is well-suited for charismatic leaders and self-starters. Information management positions are structured to compete, allowing for the emergence of “information mavericks.” Job security is gained through individual control.

The manner in which Level 1 organizations share and use information is highly inconsistent. With the right talent, a business can thrive at this level up to a certain point or in a limited market. As it tries to grow, the individual focus can lead to inefficiencies, redundancies, and errors. Since little intention gets paid to coordinate silos, alignment does not play an important role. Skills in social interaction and teamwork are of little value.

Level 2: The consolidated enterprise

Organizations at this level have integrated information management within a silo or department. Typically, they’ve optimized knowledge processes to support operations within the functional areas.

  • Level 2 infrastructure features all data management hardware and software designed to optimize information and decision processes at a departmental level. Departmental discrepancies and duplication of effort are common pitfalls.
  • Level 2 knowledge process supports decision-making at the department level. This may result in inconsistencies and suboptimal results on an enterprise level.
  • Level 2 human capital and culture dimensions aren’t managed with an intention toward integration. Teamwork may be encouraged in small, homogenous areas, but strategic and interdepartmental collaborative efforts are challenged by the organization’s competitive structure. Communication also may be challenging without the benefit of a shared vision or enterprise-level goals.

Level 3: The integrated enterprise

An enterprise-wide approach to data management and decision-making characterizes organizations at this level. Integrated knowledge systems generate value by standardizing processes that promote coordinated marketing efforts. Resources are mobilized around market and customer relationships that optimize long-term value.

  • Level 3 infrastructure features a seamless, enterprisewide system of hardware, software, and networking that supports data reporting, analysis, and auditing while delivering a single version of the truth.
  • Level 3 knowledge process enables the company to optimize reporting and analysis to meet enterprise-wide goals and objectives. The focus shifts from a product to a customer or market focus with emphasis on relationships and long-term value. All information access and quality is aligned and standardized. Performance management is automated. This level of interdepartmental cooperation requires highly developed communication and collaboration skills.
  • Level 3 people balance departmental goals with those of the enterprise. Their holistic view and emotional intelligence allows them to contribute to and champion enterprise efforts.
  • Level 3 culture views business intelligence as a corporate asset and essential strategy. Training and organizational development focus on the importance of enterprise-wide access and intelligent use of information.

As the organization realizes gains of rapid decision-making, enhanced customer relationships, and shorter time-to-market, alignment becomes crucial for departments striving to coordinate actions and achieve enterprise goals. As the enterprise promotes cross-functional collaboration, competencies in the areas of communication and collaboration are increasingly important.

Level 4: The optimized enterprise

Adaptability is the distinguishing competency of organizations at this level. The ability for constant realignment with changing markets allows Level 4 organizations to maintain a competitive edge.

  • Level 4 infrastructure enhances Level 3 by linking internal business systems across the supply chain, from back-office functions through customer touch points. This enhances communications, data exchange, and connection to partners and customers across functional areas.
  • Level 4 knowledge process focuses on bringing the information systems to a higher level of quality, access, and relevance. All workflow patterns are modeled across the entire information value chain to optimize continuous measurement, decision-making, and real-time analytics leading to consistent and immediate customer response. Closed-loop feedback processes ensure continuous evaluation and improvement.
  • Level 4 people have many similarities to those in Level 1. They are independent, adaptable, innovative, and driven, and take calculated risks. However, their approach to the organization is more holistic. They, along with their peers, are focused on enterprise-level goals. So along with being innovative and adaptable, they must be highly skilled in the areas of communication and collaboration.
  • Level 4 culture empowers individuals across the organization to take on leadership roles. Along with access to rich quantitative information, they are given the autonomy to fine-tune the business model as needed by making incremental improvements. Doing this requires clear communication of the goals and vision from top management as well as the willingness and skills to collaborate and share ideas across departments. Change-readiness is an inherent part of the culture.

Level 5: The adaptive, innovating enterprise

Innovation is the distinguishing competency of organizations at this level. These organizations continuously seek ways to reinvent and transform their value propositions. This proactive model, based on BI and creative energy, lets organizations stay competitive continuously.

  • Level 5 infrastructure features an “intelligence architecture” capable of integrating and expanding quickly and seamlessly based on organizational needs. An advanced combination of analytic tools allows organizations to test and perfect new ideas in virtual environments, thus reducing time to market. Innovation is systematically fostered and supported through information access and sharing.
  • Level 5 knowledge process encourages innovation at the highest levels. Extensive analytics provide the ability to model the future while minimizing risk. As a way of stimulating new ideas, organizations encourage and facilitate collaboration on an enterprise-wide basis. The entire innovation process is documented, analyzed, and communicated throughout the organization.
  • Level 5 people are holistic thinkers. With a keen eye for the bottom line, they are also proactive, creative thinkers. They thrive on juggling many roles and activities. They actually enjoy change and get bored if the business becomes stagnant. They know their competitors are able to reach Level 4 with cutting-edge technology. But at Level 5, they can always outpace their competitors by continuing to innovate.
  • Level 5 culture embraces holistic thinking. All ideas, even the most absurd, are examined. Processes aim to facilitate creativity and support an intuitive flow of ideas. Constant change is the norm. To support innovation, inquiry, feedback, and collaboration are embedded in all aspects of the Information Evolution Model.

According to Davis, Miller, and Russell, no organization has truly reached Level 5. Some have pockets of Level 5 competencies, but most organizations find it difficult to thrive during constant change.

Conclusions

The skills needed for success in our high-tech, global, interconnected economy are moving from the technical to the human realm. Organizations are automating or outsourcing all linear processes. Enterprise BI based on accurate, accessible, useful data is a driving force behind this shift. Innovation as a core competency lies in an organization’s ability to align its infrastructure, processes, people, and culture to progress through the Information Evolution Model.

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A Dynamic Organization Principle #10

Re-envision Leading: From Command and Control to (R)Evolutionary Influence


Motivation is the art of getting people to do what you want them to do because they  want to do it. —Dwight Eisenhower

In contrast to years of hierarchical management, leaders in adaptable organizations play a more subtle leadership role. They are the visionaries who envision a future that seems impossible today. They inspire, empower, and motivate others to make decisions. They manage the flow of information and communicate extensively. They take the broadest possible view and encourage collaborative problem solving.

The term (r)evolutionary influence is used to capture these qualities. The evolution of management_for_changecomplex systems is guided by probabilistic influence rather than deterministic control. When discontinuities arise, leaders must occasion a revolution by declaring a future others may not see as possible, and get alignment in the organization so that actions forward that future.[i]

The leadership model in the adaptable organization is more egalitarian. A manager might admit to not knowing an answer or even know the answer but still delegate that executive decision to someone on the front line. Rather than being the solver of all problems, the leader’s role to disseminate decision making by engaging the whole organization in the bidirectional sharing of information and knowledge.

Some powerful tactics facilitate and encourage evolutionary influence. Leaders must be willing to let go of control, take calculated risks, and envision the impossible for themselves and the organization. To maintain an environment of perpetual transformation, they must be willing to accept a higher risk of failure. This is achieved by treating everyone in the organization like a valued member of the team. True dialogue and information flow are necessary to facilitate communication. Conflict is managed effectively, leading to the generation of new ideas and energy.
Referring back to fractals, it is essential to see the system in its entirety. Each decision must be linked to the larger context. Some decisions may be suboptimal for a small group but still serve the larger good. The survival of the system depends on the quality of the relationships of each of its parts.

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[i]Christopher Laszlo and Jean-François Laugel, Large-Scale Organizational Change (Boston: Butterworth Heinemann, 2000), , 124.

A Dynamic Organization Principle #9

Use Organizational Instability to Catalyze Learningleadership_training_models_

Organizations that succeed in leveraging instability unleash enormous amounts of energy for fueling innovation and adaptability. As situations present themselves—such as a new competitive threat or loss of investment money—management must maintain a delicate balance between reacting too quickly and resorting to old patterns.

Working in a culture of constant instability can be stressful, especially when it is new to the organization. Because of years of experience with the stable, predictable model, many managers resist moving to a model of permanent instability. What is required is a delicate balance between maintaining enough discomfort for learning and productivity to be optimized while avoiding the risk of demotivation, paralysis, and complacency.

Some tactics are well suited for fueling innovation and adaptability. One is to make sure that every member of the organization knows the truth about the difficulties facing the company. Holding people accountable is important. Doing so might include publicizing risk taking to highlight successes and explain shortcomings while avoiding blame. During times of stress, typically 20 percent of employees step up to be change agents. Another 20 percent resist or retreat. By raising the visibility of the change agents, the other 60 percent typically follow their lead.

Encouraging diverse points of view enhances adaptability. Discussions that support opposing points of view often trigger ideas that can be advance warnings of needed transformation.
To maintain the energy and loyalty essential to adaptability, organizations should design and share relevant metrics. A strong vision accompanied by clearly communicated roles and responsibilities will lead to accountability. With distributed decision making in a rapidly changing environment, success metrics must be clear and equitable.
Come back for the last Principle on Leading a Dynamic Organization! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. To receive alerts when the next blog is published, click on the RSS feed at the top left of the page to subscribe.

Christopher Laszlo and Jean-François Laugel, Large-Scale Organizational Change (Boston: Butterworth Heinemann, 2000)

Use Organizational Instability to Catalyze Learning

Organizations that succeed in leveraging instability unleash enormous amounts of energy for fueling innovation and adaptability. As situations present themselves—such as a new competitive threat or loss of investment money—management must maintain a delicate balance between reacting too quickly and resorting to old patterns.

Working in a culture of constant instability can be stressful, especially when it is new to the organization. Because of years of experience with the stable, predictable model, many managers resist moving to a model of permanent instability. What is required is a delicate balance between maintaining enough discomfort for learning and productivity to be optimized while avoiding the risk of demotivation, paralysis, and complacency.

Some tactics are well suited for fueling innovation and adaptability. One is to make sure that every member of the organization knows the truth about the difficulties facing the company. Holding people accountable is important. Doing so might include publicizing risk taking to highlight successes and explain shortcomings while avoiding blame. During times of stress, typically 20 percent of employees step up to be change agents. Another 20 percent resist or retreat. By raising the visibility of the change agents, the other 60 percent typically follow their lead.

Encouraging diverse points of view enhances adaptability. Discussions that support opposing points of view often trigger ideas that can be advance warnings of needed transformation.
To maintain the energy and loyalty essential to adaptability, organizations should design and share relevant metrics. A strong vision accompanied by clearly communicated roles and responsibilities will lead to accountability. With distributed decision making in a rapidly changing environment, success metrics must be clear and equitable.

Come back for the last Principle on Leading a Dynamic Organization! Feel free to comment with questions, insights, or additions to this post. 

Christopher Laszlo and Jean-François Laugel, Large-Scale Organizational Change (Boston: Butterworth Heinemann, 2000).

 

A Dynamic Organization Principle #8

Fluidify the Organizational Structure

The flow and accessibility of information is critical in complex organizations, especially those with global reach. The best structures are those that avoid rigidity. Community-based organizations are structured to optimize collaboration between horizontal units while requiring minimal input vertically. Their network structure facilitates the flow of information and task allocations diagonally, leading to maximum adaptability.management_of_change

The level of localization or decentralization depends on the conditions necessary for self-learning. The goal is to allow a structure to emerge that optimizes the ability to make rapid and relevant decisions. These structures will evolve over time as the organization grows and diversifies. Decision making is delegating to the front line with a mechanism for self-learning. Management does not set the goals and means. Rather, it sets the overall aim and allows each organizational unit to determine its own path through communication and collaborative decision making.

These tactics facilitate the development of a fluid structure with in a learning organization:

  • The creation of multilevel project teams supports a community-based structure. Senior management should delegate resources and objectives to the lowest possible level. Performance should be measured on both a team and an individual level.
  • Continually changing demands can lead to unclear reporting relationships. To facilitate learning, the organization should clearly define accountabilities while tolerating some lack of clarity. This becomes more natural as companies experience the value of community-based structures. Specific objectives and defined responsibilities lead the process while maximizing flexibility and learning.
  • Horizontal information flow and communication is very important. Within community-based organizations, information flows freely. Interconnectedness is facilitated by a plethora of communication devices. Therefore, the challenge is moving from information availability to discretion and relevance.

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Christopher Laszlo and Jean-François Laugel, Large-Scale Organizational Change (Boston: Butterworth Heinemann, 2000).