How can organisations achieve organizational readiness in the information age?

Professor Ben Laker, Henley Business School

The era we’ve just entered – the Information Age – is like nothing we’ve seen before. It’s caused workplaces to become more volatile because of rapid changes, more uncertain with unknown outcomes, more complex with many interconnected parts, and more ambiguous with a lack of clarity. Hence, agility, has become the number one priority for organizations; it’s the only way to differentiate and achieve competitive advantage. Here are three ways to master organizational readiness in the information age.

Solve for purpose, not just profit

To keep people on board when strategic shifts are needed, firms need to offer their employees a clear purpose. We’re no longer in the bygone era of operating merely for profitability: the connection of your people to a higher purpose that isn’t market driven is essential to increase your output. What will connect your most precious human resources to your work requests; to quote Simon Sinek, “What’s your ‘why’?” The dawn of Millennials and Gen Z in the workforce along with a decimation of the traditional idea of working until retirement has created a more mercenary workforce that will require a reason to connect to your workflow. This requires a rethinking of many strategies along with an incorporation of principle-driven leadership. Studies have shown employees have more respect for CEOs and leadership who are socially conscious. This purpose is more than soft skill people management; it’s a business imperative: a 2017 Cone Communications study about corporate social responsibility stated, “76% of those surveyed said they would decline to do business with a company if it held views and supported issues that conflicted with their beliefs.” Companies must now share not only what they stand for, but what they stand up for.” We must remember our employees are also customers, and their connection to our purpose is critical to our business success.

In plain language, your people connect to a purpose more than a paycheck; you can only rely on compensation up to the point where individuals are pushed past comfort into reliance upon dedication to a deeper meaning. The emotional cost of redeployment is non-marginal for employees. Those same employees must understand the overall strategy of the organization and it needs to make sense to them to maintain stamina when the boat is rocked by environmental turbulence and brutal technological changes.

Don’t Work, Design Work

The time has come to release our reliance on organization charts and traditional top-down management structures. Top-down control of perceived scarcity is, quite frankly, smothering the flexibility needed for businesses to truly flourish. Now is the time for the “amoeba organization” – agile teams which form and deploy to leverage assets around innovation and problem solving, then disbanded and reformed based on the needs of the business.  Corporate agility is needed to take advantage of the new surplus of resources, which means looking at organizations as microcosms of talent, cultures of innovative talent that form and disband teams based on initiatives. It requires an intense focus on consistent upskilling of talent and a more fluid means of viewing your human resources. This means the cultivation of an innovation culture with motivated people, which means whole new ways of looking at talent acquisition, an abundance of performance feedback, and a strong investment in compensation and reward. Those aspects of human resource management will help support a new organizational structure in which individuals get involved in multiple projects across the organizations, fructifying their skills transversally.

Mindset (change your mind, change your work, change your world)

Changes in the design and purpose of the organization comes with a deep rethinking of the general mindset. We must think and act differently about our people: we must consider redeploying valuable talent, consistently upskilling current employees, and a focus on both short- and long-term education for everyone. Rapid flow of information means we throw away our handbooks in exchange for cultures of innovation led by providing more instant feedback, valuing ideas, trusting in your people and most importantly operating with a mindset that not only focuses on talent but relentless pursues enabling people to being the best and addressing those that prevent the organization from moving forward for the better good.

Ben Laker is Professor of Leadership at Henley Business School. This blog post is based on his Washington Post article published on 06/26/2019

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