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Has Your Organisation Lost Its Adaptive Intelligence?

Here are five ways you can get it back.
By Kate Christiansen | Print Edition: September 11, 2016
Has Your Organisation Lost Its Adaptive Intelligence?
Photo: Ajay Thakuri

Do you work in a well-established organisation? Does it need to be more adaptive? Do strategic changes feel harder than they should? If you answered 'yes' then you are in the majority. 88 per cent of CEOs acknowledge their organisations need to be more adaptive, yet as few as 9 per cent of organisations describe themselves as being excellent at strategic change.

So, what's the problem? Some argue it comes down to leadership complacency, others say what's needed is greater customer-centricity or innovation. However, these are only part of a more fundamental issue which can be captured in just two words - Adaptive Intelligence.

Within an organisation, Adaptive Intelligence is like the starter-motor for adaptive capability. While it doesn't make the organisation adaptive on its own, it does determine whether the right approach is adopted and with it, the chances of success.

  1. When an organisation has high Adaptive Intelligence, it demonstrates five key attributes. These ensure the organisation:
  2. is intrinsically driven to become adaptive - Adaptive Drive
  3. has productive and meaningful conversations about being adaptive - Shared Language
  4. has an open and realistic appreciation of its current adaptive position - Self Awareness
  5. is clear how adaptive it needs to be and how to change it - Shared Insight.
  6. has leaders who aligned enough to build adaptive capability together - Leadership Alignment.

When an organisation has low Adaptive Intelligence, there is no drive to trigger the change, no language to talk about and measure it and no insights to determine where to focus or what to do next. As a consequence, becoming adaptive feels like a three-legged-race with a thousand people. No one knows which leg to put first and it quickly becomes all too hard.

To demonstrate the impact of Adaptive Intelligence and its effects, take the five attributes described above and apply them to your organisation. Scoring each attribute out of 10, how would your organisation rate?

If you gave it low scores, the chances are your organisation is not as adaptive as it needs to be. If you rated it highly across all five attributes, the opposite is likely to be the case.

So, if your organisation has low Adaptive Intelligence where has it gone and, importantly, how do you get it back?

When Dodos migrated to the island of Mauritius, they found a tropical paradise, rich in accessible food sources and free of natural predators. Under these circumstances, large wings were a cumbersome inconvenience and so over time, the Dodo devolved its ability to fly. The same thing happens to many organisations when they grow. The capabilities required for operational scale supersede and devolve adaptive capabilities. When functional structures are subsequently created, Adaptive Intelligence becomes fragmented and is eventually lost. So, how do you bring it back?

  • Use consistent language. Establish a simple, shared terminology that everyone can use to discuss 'being adaptive'. This enables productive conversations that make tangible progress instead of going around in circles.
  • Get real. Bring people from within your organisation together to openly assess how adaptive it really is. Use this conversation to build engagement.
  • Understand first. Looking for solutions is easier and more satisfying than trying to understand the root cause of a problem. Spend time understanding 'why' your organisation is the way it is then, target the real cause, not the symptoms.
  • Engage your leaders. Have candid, structured conversations and agree why being adaptive is important, how adaptive your organisation needs to be and what adaptive advantage would look like.
  • Resist silver bullets. Every organisation is different so just copying someone else is likely to make your organisation less adaptive, not more so.
  • Finally, remember this. In the busy world of business, it's easy to come up with reasons why 'now is not a good time' for your organisation to become more adaptive. However, as the Dodo, Kodak and Blockbuster discovered, if you wait until it feels like the right time, the chances are, it will be too late.

Kate Christiansen is the Melbourne-based business author of 'The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within'

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