Like everyone else the team at Change2020 are having a final push towards the end of the year with some huge deliverables and lots of productive discussions. It’s a time when the forthcoming break feels like a huge milestone, and I often think that this is because it’s the one holiday when we tend to truly relax and aim to do very little (after all that shopping and cooking, of course)! Just some time to pause, reflect and reset. As we look back on the development of our business over the past 12 months, it is with a sense of purpose and pride – at what has been accomplished and what is propelling us ahead on our very exciting journey. Yes, this year Change2020 has taken on new paths and grown in a business sense, but really it has been the story of our ‘growing up’ as an organisation and the forging of an exciting agenda built around Embrace Ambiguity.
What a treat for our sporting nation – the two key codes of football celebrating grand final wins with the underdogs getting up on both occasions. Having grown up with an almost obsessive love for AFL, I am absolutely delighted that the Western Bulldogs are the 2016 premiers (even though I am a passionate and long-suffering Carlton supporter)!
How does a team come from 7th on the ladder to win the flag? How do they overcome a 62-year premiership drought? How do they manage to play as a high performing team week after week even though their beloved and highly skilled captain was injured early in the 2016 season?
My observation – they believed they could do it. They were 100% focused on the outcome, they had a shared goal, a goal which was largely shared by the entire western suburban population of Melbourne.
So often we use sporting analogies in the business world; it seems apt, in a sporting team everyone must know their role, commit to maintaining and building their skills, always be there to play their role in the game, recognise the strengths of others and provide opportunities for them to be optimised, operate selflessly, communicate continually, reflect on performance and opportunities for improvements and always remain focused on the goal, in this instance the premiership.
While the analogy works we are rarely treated to leadership and teamwork such as that demonstrated by high performing sporting teams. There is no doubt that the busy changing world we operate in creates challenges for teams to remain aligned or high performing, but surely they should never lose sight of the goal?
If we believe in what we do, why we do it and our role in it, then regardless of the rapidly changing environment we are faced with, alignment, high performance and ultimately achieving the goal is more likely.
The ecstasy of the Western Bulldogs win will easily carry them through the off-season while they enjoy a well-earned break. But first, they will take a deep breath, they will celebrate, they will reflect on their role in this momentous event and they will demonstrate thanks to every supporter who shared in their belief that anything is possible!
Recently Change2020 launched the Embrace ambiguity movement. This movement is about firstly acknowledging where your tolerance of ambiguity sits and then taking action to Embrace ambiguity – both at home and at work.
At Change2020, we believe that Embracing ambiguity is imperative if you are to remain relevant as a leader. Research also identifies that “leaders who are comfortable with uncertainty and competent under ambiguous conditions might very well provide a competitive advantage to organisations”.
So, if relevancy and having a competitive advantage are important to you, is it time to jump on board and join the Embrace ambiguity movement.
Joining the movement is simple, the first step is to complete our survey by clicking here to determine your tolerance of ambiguity.
Over the next nine weeks will be releasing a blog on each of these habits. Watch out for these to build your tolerance to Embrace ambiguity.
 White, R.P. and Shullman, S.L., Acceptance of Uncertainty as an Indicator of Effective Leadership, Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 2010, Vol 62, No 2, 94 – 104
How many times have we heard that? Or “communication is hopeless in our business, we are like mushrooms, always kept in the dark!”
While I will be the first to admit that we have worked with many leaders who lack communication and in particular storytelling capabilities and experience, and may not prioritise communication or are not skilled in ensuring they are ‘on message’, we rarely work with leaders who intentionally keep people in the dark.
Recently when working on a major acquisition, there were rumblings from across the teams that ‘we don’t know what is going on, no one is telling us anything’, so we investigated the communication forums, channels and initiatives available to the largely centralised organisation. There appeared to be several ways to learn more about the acquisition – CEO Update, intranet updates, toolbox talks, lunch and learn, team briefs, branded newsletter blasts, fortnightly videos – ‘what it means for our function’, the obligatory bathroom and kitchen posters and of course key messages were provided to all leaders to deliver during their standard team meetings. So, why was the “Mushroom Syndrome” so alive and well across the business? My theory – there was resistance, scepticism and almost a laziness from some individual’s about keeping themselves informed. If the information was not delivered in the way I wanted it, by whom I wanted it delivered by, then I did not feel informed!
Communication is two-way, we interpret and we listen, it is also multi-faceted, we can gather enormous amounts of information through questioning, observing, involving ourselves and most simply, reading the available information and actively listening when it is relayed at various forums.
Regardless of position, duration or experience; there is a responsibility to keep yourself informed, some easy options include:
We live in a highly complex, rapidly changing world where the luxury of waiting until all data is available before communicating an outcome is becoming a thing of the past. However the positive of operating in a highly complex, rapidly changing world means there are many times when the unknown is a real opportunity to test, challenge, query and learn – and we do all of this by keeping ourselves informed.
A lesson from early school days – if you don’t know, you need to ask!
In May 2001 I had the good fortune of attending a well-known conference within the UK HR industry on board the Oriana. This event is an annual tradition and held on the ship for three days during which time delegates are able to attend a variety of discussions on emerging people issues and, of course, network like machines with an assortment of suppliers, peers and organisations represented.
That year the keynote speaker for the conference was Charles Handy, a great thought leader who, with Irish wit and charm, did not disappoint in the clarity of his view points or challenging the status quo. I got to meet him briefly with this wife Elizabeth as they had chosen to remain on board for an additional three days of the conference (other speakers had scurried off before setting sail on Friday night).
Handy introduced a rapt audience to his latest book at that time, The Elephant and the Flea, which proclaimed the rise of ‘fleas’ – or individuals who would work independently, flexibly and creatively across a number of organisations in their career – versus ‘elephants’ who remained stable in their careers working for a large corporation. Amongst the many ideas that he puts forward in the book Handy identified four key challenges for organisations over the coming 20 years:
Fast forward to 2016. Bombarded with the rising impact of the freelance economy, numerous reports on the future of work – including one from the World Economic Forum – the rapid acceleration of technological and social change and the words of Charles Handy are once again ringing in my ear.
We have been talking a lot about the future of work in the Change2020 hub, particularly as we pursue our vision to Embrace Ambiguity. Today we live in a VUCA world – volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous – and the pace of change is relentless and rapid. It requires news ways of thinking and a new mindset to gain competitive advantage and deliver impactful leadership. Moreover, the greater connection between people and organisations is changing the language of work and the expectations of the customer or client. It’s entrepreneurial meets big business in the face of massive disruption. Charles Handy was both right and way ahead of his time.
However, the most humbling recollection of hearing and meeting Charles Handy at the HR Forum is not only the relevance of his words but the timing of them. In May 2001 the world was breathtakingly different. There had been no 9/11, 7/7, Lehman Brothers collapse, technological revolution, GFC or Facebook (or any other social media) to accelerate the pace of change as all of these events have. A few short months later and we were staring at our TV screens (no tablets then people) for days – in my case at our local in London – as we grimly watched the events of 9/11 unfold.
Putting this into perspective for me in 2016 reminds me of three things: how far we have come, how far we have to go and how embracing new ways of thinking – and views about this issue – is going to be the key to building a sustainable future in business and as leaders.
Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), is an assessment tool that measures an individual’s preferences and how they make decisions. Change2020 regularly uses this assessment tool to build self-awareness and team effectiveness.
Prior to starting the role as Office and Team Coordinator at Change2020 I had not been exposed to an assessment tool of this type, but I was eager to be involved. Naturally, as most people are, I was curious to find out about myself and the MBTI tool was a great place to start.
Apparently, I am an ESFJ – a “supportive contributor”. After reviewing my report, I was not surprised by the results but the real benefit for me came when I shared my results with my team and they shared their profiles with me. I feel I am more considerate of how others like to work in my team, particularly those who fall into the opposite preference to me (for example; those who prefer to direct their energy as an introverted style vs myself who is a clear extrovert).
Embrace Ambiguity – creating legacy with the agile mindset
This article was previously published in the July 2016 edition of Entrepreneurs and Innovation Magazine (a UK publication) and just in case you missed it, the full article is below;
‘Change’ is occurring at a pace unprecedented in history. By example, the Roman Empire essentially used the same military strategy to create its empire over 700 years with little modification, a successful model that had longevity. By contrast military technology today is changing at lightning speed, it is not that long ago that ‘drone warfare’ entered our vocabulary, the ability of a ‘pilot’ to sit in an office in Arizona and fly missions anywhere in the world. The next step will be ‘drone warships’, obviating the need to have crewed ships.
‘Change’ is no longer a matter of choice. If you fail to change you will be left behind. Amazon is currently developing the capacity to deliver parcels by drone. The recipient will spread out a receiving mat in the backyard and the drone will land and leave the parcel. Is the courier industry contemplating this development with their fleets of vans? It is easy for an industry to miss the wave, who goes to a video store any more? Movies are delivered to you, streamed over the Internet.
No industry is immune to ‘change’. In fact ‘change’ is probably a wrong descriptor, it sends the message that this is a momentous exercise that once completed will provide breathing space till the next ‘change’. An unnecessary impost imposed by a new management regime to make its mark. Preferable sets of descriptors to ‘change’ are ‘evolve, adapt and mitigate’ with ‘agility’. ‘Evolve’ indicates you have read the winds and your business is at the cutting edge, leading the pack. ‘Adapt’ is reading the metadata to tell you what is likely to happen, not what is happening, making sure you do not get left behind by the evolutionary businesses. If a company is reading the traditional ‘measures of performance’ it is probably at risk of missing the next adaptation. ‘Mitigation’ is something you want to avoid; it means you are peddling hard because you missed the wave to ‘evolve and adapt’ – you lacked ‘agility’.
To ‘evolve and adapt’ is a 24/7 event; it requires an organisation to be ‘agile’. Everyone in the organisation needs to be ‘agile’, not just those defined as managers. This universal requirement reflects the one critical change from the 20th to the 21st Centuries. ‘Knowledge and information’ in the 20th Century were largely controlled by a limited number of people. Teachers, for example, were ‘knowledge and information experts’, a position attained by their education, experience and what they had read in books; there was a ‘monopoly’ on knowledge and information and its dispersal. Now there is no limit or control on the access to knowledge and information, it is no longer a monopoly or a ‘top down process’. The Internet potentially make everyone an ‘expert’. Managers should no longer be appointed on what they know, it should be on their agility to consume and interpret new information and reformat it to define how the organisation needs to evolve or adapt.
The term ‘disruptive industries’ has entered our vocabulary. Essentially people thinking with ‘agility’ outside the box to deliver an old service in a new way. Disruption is really just evolution, turn an industry on its head and become a monopoly supplier is a smart strategy to making significant revenue quickly. Why enter a business sector and mirror the way it currently operates, taking the small, start up margin you can eke out while you establish your business? Shooting to undermine the margins of your competitors by a new way of operating makes more sense, agility at its best.
Established businesses operate with a mindset that the counter to ‘disruptive players’ is to ‘change’. This is usually an expensive and disruptive process. It can impact on the ‘bottom line’; the assumption is short-term pain for long-term gain. Unfortunately most change is premised on what is happening now, or in the immediate future. ‘Change’ rarely discriminates between previously ‘good and bad practice’; everything goes. Change is usually based on an embryonic understanding of the future and a large dollop of experience of the past, however, what if the past experience is invalid for the future? Surely it makes more sense to continuously ‘evolve’ with ‘agility’ as the accepted best practice. Sequential ‘change’ is a hangover from the 20th Century.
‘Agility’ is an organic process. It is a mindset that needs to be embedded in the operating style of everyone in an organisation. It is the only counter to the increasing number of ‘industry disruptors’ and dynamic change. The key features of this organic and agile process are:
Importantly the mandating of ‘agility’ to the people in an organisation should not be open slather. There is ‘good and bad agility’. ‘Bad agility’ is the actions of rogue traders in the financial market, while making money for their company and themselves it is done unethically. ‘Good agility’ is framed by ethical standards and clearly enunciated values and principles that are understood and persistently reinforced.
The business world will increasingly become ambiguous – the only solution is to embrace ‘agility’ and to join the team pushing the ‘evolutionary’ envelope.
One of my favourite TED Talks is Derek Sivers’– How to Start a Movement. It is a great resource that is often used in leadership development programs to start a great conversation around the role of the leader.
At Change2020 we sometimes start “dancing by ourselves” particularly when we commence partnering with businesses to transform and transition. This soon changes as the “first follower” joins the dance and then the second until the movement has started. We love this element of our work.
Recently we started a business changing movement – and while there was limited dancing – we officially began the movement for leaders (and subsequently organisations) to Embrace ambiguity. (Change2020’s vision)
Joining the movement to – Embrace ambiguity. – will result in leaders remaining relevant. The skills that leaders have are excellent and will continue to remain relevant but this will not be enough in a world where change is the way of life. Embracing ambiguity will also enable opportunities to be seized, complex problems to be solved, creativity to be released and stress levels to decrease.
Leaders will need to do things differently. We have developed 9 habits that will assist leaders to Embrace ambiguity:
This movement is not going to happen overnight and it is going to be challenging for leaders to “flip” the way many currently operate. It will require focus and support from colleagues and friends.
A starting point for embracing ambiguity is working out your tolerance of ambiguity – low, moderate or high. Change2020 has designed a survey to assess your tolerance of ambiguity.
To be part of the movement, take our survey by clicking here and we will provide you with your tolerance of ambiguity score and some tips on how to join the movement to Embrace ambiguity.
Be a first follower and join the movement…..
At the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, one of the memorable stories was from US star swimmer Michael Phelps. ‘Swimming blind’ his goggles filled with water during the Butterfly final, an event that he went on to win. “I didn’t panic,” he said. “I went back to all of my training. I knew how many strokes it takes me to get up and down the pool, so I started counting my strokes I didn’t reach the time I was aiming for, but I did win the race.” Of course, this is a story of great talent, discipline and training – his coach had prepared him for such an eventuality – but given the pressure of the event, the huge expectation and his own personal goals, it is also a tale of great resilience.
“More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.”
The volume and pace of change in organisations, whilst perhaps not quite an Olympic event, is a constant and relentless cycle. It necessitates resilience from individuals’ time and time again in order to sustain the pace and focus that is needed during a transformation. Beyond personality attributes, such as optimism and humility, the process of building resilience is a well debated and discussed topic. Yet, resilience is still a key challenge and often creates real risk in the delivery of change. In our experience, the key element for embedding resilience lies in an appreciation of the context – one that is shaped by ambiguity.
Ambiguity is the norm in change and also the opportunity. Internal and external factors impact the change process and create an uncertain environment. One of the major impediments to building resilience is often a lack of connectedness as this impacts not only on the individual but also on morale and team dynamics and can lead to a breakdown in communication or working relationships if an individual ‘checks out’ of the process.
There is no shying away from the fact that resilience is hard, particularly in challenging and unpredictable environments. It is essential to embrace this reality in order to build resilience: this is the opportunity and the common denominator for all involved in change and will provide the basis for success.