High AR

Mastering Turbulence through High AR

Being Action-Oriented

Forward Leaning & Open to Change

Creating & Sustaining an Adaptive Design Mindset

With appropriate tools for rapid movement, proactively or reactively, alone or collaboratively

Being Action-Oriented is the capability most often associated with agility and resiliency. These concepts behind this capability imply action, but two others – Being Purposeful and Being Aware – strongly suggest that action must always be directed from a clear sense of purpose and an accurate assessment of what is happening in the environment.

Our research indicates that being open to change at all levels is essential for High AR. Just as clearly, it shows that higher performing organizations see change as posing opportunities and they instigate change to create advantage, as Figure 6.1 from Mastering Turbulence reveals.

Being Action-Oriented for High AR requires:

  • Focusing and actively managing the organization’s culture by tightly aligning goals and strategies with it. Research is confirming the linkage between organization values, beliefs and strategy and the performance benefits of that linkage. Organizations that act in ways consistent with their sense of purpose and identity simply perform better. All employees are firmly committed because they have a context for action – they understand “why,” not just “how.” They also act with trust that others do so in the same consistent way.
  • Supporting active learning and knowledge management that identifies major challenges. Engaging in the Five S’s of the Being Aware capability means being firmly committed to continuous learning and active knowledge management. Those efforts should produce a clear appreciation of the major knowledge challenges facing the organization. Assuming they do so, the goal from an action perspective is to acquire the essential knowledge, competencies and skills demanded, and then marshal and apply those resources.
  • Fostering an aggressive goal orientation and opportunistic posture that meets those challenges. Being Action-Oriented means being “forward leaning” with a strong bias toward action that is reflective and thoughtful, not premature. It is not simply action to support strategy and accomplish business goals but to build capabilities.
  • Adopting an adaptive design mindset which focuses on combining and recombining capabilities as conditions change. A critical aspect of Being Action-Oriented is an ability to view the world as “process,” not “structure” – as dynamic, not static – where relationships among things are dynamic over time and can be designed to adapt as conditions change. Similarly, the capabilities that count in a turbulent environment are the dynamic ones – those that can take on new forms and applications as conditions change. This adaptive mindset applies to everything from an individual’s job to global institutions. However, change is always grounded and guided by purpose.
  • Strategically managing internal and external boundaries. If everything is a flow of processes, then how is structure, which is needed to support and sustain action, created? Structure is created through boundary management processes that initiate, support or end relationships (i.e., interdependencies) between elements of a situation, whether people, organizations, or industries. Boundary management is a fundamental cognitive process that all humans engage in as part of their normal sensemaking, and we advocate doing it more consciously and thoughtfully than is normally done. The number and kinds of interdependencies present in a situation directly impact turbulence – how rapid and disruptive change gets generated and transmitted through an environment to the systems in it. The goal is to realize the benefits of those relationships with others while managing any and all risks associated with them.
Figure 6.1 - Joeseph McCann & John W. Selsky, Mastering Turbulence

Being Action-Oriented as an Individual

Confidently and competently taking initiative

Being Action-Oriented at an individual level means first building the right competencies and skills needed to meet any situation. It means understanding what the “right” competencies and skills are for increasingly turbulent environments, and having opportunities to proactively build them ahead of prevailing conditions. With that capacity, an individual can act with confidence and competence, not with fear of the unknown or a sense of being totally overwhelmed. It is the difference between being able to seize a sudden opportunity before others can do so and surviving an unavoidable setback better than others. This capacity is as much a mental mindset as it is practical skills, and an action-oriented mindset linked with solid skills is a formidable combination!

An open mind means being open to change. Accept the need for continuous learning and building on what you know. That is the basic message of embracing change, since Being Action-Oriented means that learning and knowledge acquisition are directed at specific gaps you need to fill in in order to meet future conditions that may be even more turbulent.

Recommendations for Being Action-Oriented as an Individual

  • Get ahead of those conditions by recognizing knowledge gaps and creating learning goals directed at competencies and skills. The learning and knowledge needed may come from formal education degrees, but just as likely not. Instead, learning and knowledge acquisition goals may also be met through developmental experiences, stretch assignments, and mentoring relationships.
  • In a hyper-connected world, question your relationships in terms of how much they add actual value to what you want to do now and what you may want to do in the foreseeable future, versus how much they create unacceptable costs and risks. Boundary management in a social media-saturated world is one of those valuable skills you need to acquire to prevent information overload, wasted time, resources and effort.

Being Action-Oriented as a Team

Engaging in group based problem solving, decision making and effective project management

Believe in the value of teams. Simply said, but many companies do not enable teams to be as effective as they can and need to be. This means rewarding and supporting teams with the resources and development opportunities needed to assure their effectiveness.

Agile and resilient individuals are essential, but teams – temporary and permanent -- are the basic way for accomplishing goals in most organizations. High AR teams are more than the sum of individual member skills and actions. When developed well, teams are capable of impactful accomplishments that advance strategy. For impact, teams need to know how team members contribute best through their own individual competencies and skills, but also how individual members interact to create synergy through their collective competencies and skills. There are team level competencies and skills that need development, including those normally associated with teams – problem solving, decision making, conflict management, etc. The key question is whether these will operate under exceptionally uncertain, stressful conditions brought on by turbulence. That requires a higher order of team development, extraordinary collaborative effort within the team, and testing in crisis situations where quick, decisive action is necessary.

Recommendations for Being Action-Oriented at a Team Level

  • Don't disrupt your teams through unnecessary membership changes. Membership changes are inevitable, of course, and teams need to get good at cross-training to avoid gaps and at integrating new members.
  • Create a candid, open dialogue within the team about whether individual team member competencies and skills are the right ones – and how well they are being used, particularly for extreme conditions. Create opportunities for members to develop their ability to participate, and if found lacking then make the tough decisions about team composition before difficult, high-stake situations reveal those flaws.
  • Stress-test your teams. That is, periodically assess the overall alignment or fit of competencies and skills within your teams, keeping those lurking extreme situations in mind. Will your teams be able to cope?
  • Believing in teams means integrating them into key decision making processes and linking them into other flows within the company in routine, structured ways. If they are permanent standing teams, then recognize them. Show them on the organization chart if you use one.

Being Action-Oriented as an Organization

Adopting an adaptive design mindset for applying capabilities and managing boundaries effectively

Figure 6.2 - Joeseph McCann & John W. Selsky, Mastering Turbulence

Expecting a company with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands members, to be fully action-oriented may be rather optimistic. However, there are many examples of those that are precisely that. They are the ones known for disrupting their industries through new products and services that result from continuous innovation. They can take a hit when their industry suffers a serious setback, like some firms in the financial services, automotive or airline industries, and quickly rebound to even higher performance levels while others suffer. We believe that these companies have become very good at identifying those aspects of their operations that really drive performance and relentlessly focus upon these as targets for development. They recognize their distinctive capabilities, especially those associated with High AR, and sharpen them.

As an entire organization, they invest in developing processes and technologies that link units and enable them to act with sufficient scale to meet a challenge. They adopt an adaptive design mindset where change is encouraged, and they deploy the ability to “design on the run” – to deploy, then redeploy people and resources smoothly -- as a source of competitive advantage. Structure is helpful but secondary in importance to creating and bundling key capabilities to support strategy, and those capability configurations are changed as strategies and conditions change. In short, it means the company stays agile and resilient.

An action-oriented, adaptive design mindset means getting good at strategic boundary management. Relationships that create interdependencies are examined and questioned in terms the value they create relative to the costs and risks associated with maintaining them. High value relationships are nurtured and sustained, while lower value and high risk relationships are not. The goal is to maximize relationships that support action while minimizing those that may transmit undesirable disruptions.

Recommendations for Being Action-Oriented as an Organization

  • Recognize that the two previous capabilities – Being Purposeful and Being Aware – enable Being Action-Oriented. It is crucial that you act from clear purpose, with wellness, on events and processes in the environment that you have come to recognize through the Five S’s and now present themselves. Being Purposeful and Being Aware are the basis for action and determine whether you are able to seize an opportunity, avoid a collision, or minimize damage.
  • Design HR practices that select, develop and reward action-oriented individuals and teams. Encourage those practices at all levels of the organization.
  • Build communication systems and other technologies that support effective collective action at the right places in the organization to best meet a challenge. Recognize that multiple initiatives are probably underway and that you need to have a command and control capacity for monitoring them.
  • Recognize your company’s key capabilities and how to develop them by combining individuals, teams, resources and knowledge on a strategy-specific basis. The emphasis is on combining and then recombining in new ways to meet unexpected challenges.
  • Accept the idea of strategic boundary management as a key element in enterprise risk management (ERM). It is not enough to recognize risks – you need to manage them.

Being Action-Oriented as an Ecosystem

Collaborative action from a shared appreciation and purpose

A basic premise of our work is that an organization has to build High AR “down, around and up” – down to individual and team levels, across all functions and operating units, and up in its relationships with organizations and groups in its larger operating environment, what we call the ecosystem level. By acting with other organizations and groups with which it is interdependent, an organization benefits from the added scale and scope, pooling of knowledge and resources, and most importantly, from more predictable, less threatening change. It creates greater defensible space.

Being Action-Oriented at an ecosystem level is therefore focused on building the competencies and skills needed for collaborative action across often diverse and dispersed sets of organizations and groups. Ecosystem level collaboration may be difficult to achieve, but many companies do this routinely through memberships in chambers of commerce and trade associations. Some companies are getting very good at it; they are expanding their partnerships and will continue to improve with experience.

Consortia and alliances, joint-ventures, loose federations of diverse groups and institutional memberships in such entities as the Federal Reserve System, World Bank and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development are all examples of shared governance and collaboration around shared issues. Global supply chains are another. Specialized bodies (e.g., a trade association or regional economic development group) may emerge to facilitate collaboration among members.

To work effectively, these collaborative initiatives require two essential things: (a) a shared appreciation of the situations or conditions they face, and (b) a shared sense of purpose or fate that galvanizes and sustains action. These two things are accomplished by building the Five S’s of Being Aware and by Being Purposeful. Despite an explosion of partnerships in recent years, the interventions available for building collaborative action are not well developed but are moving forward with some urgency.

Recommendations for Being Action-Oriented as an Ecosystem

  • Accept the basic idea that it is very often better to go it together rather than alone.
  • Study as many examples as possible of both successful and ineffective collaborative action. These may be found in the business press and in the management literature on partnerships and alliances. Then develop the competencies and skills for successful collaboration at all levels, particularly how to manage differences and execute large-scale projects that are widely dispersed.
  • Build and improve the relationships among the various actors that would be involved. Test those relationships well ahead of when needed to identify weaknesses and establish trust. Engage in strategic boundary management to assure collective capacity and extend the number of actors involved with manageable risks.
  • Invest in shared processes and systems that will facilitate collaborative action. This may mean paying dues and fees for sustaining specialized services and entities that share knowledge and support communications among participating members.