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Developing “Change Capability” in the face of ever-rising complexity

As I recorded in my 2011/03/13 blog, the world’s private and public sector leaders have reported to IBM that a rapid escalation of “complexity” is the biggest challenge confronting them (Capitalizing on complexity – IBM Global CEO Study 2010).

“Events, threats and opportunities aren’t just coming at us faster or with less predictability; they are converging and influencing each other to create entirely unique situations. They expect this to continue – indeed, to accelerate – in the coming years.” As one CEO said: “The complexity our organization will have to master over the next five years is off the charts — a 100 on your scale from 1 to 5.” (Edward Lonergan, President and CEO, Diversey, Inc.)

The respondents to IBM’s study are also agreed that their organisations are not equipped to cope effectively with this rising level of complexity. They need to “invent new business models based on entirely different assumptions”.

David Snowden, CEO of Cognitive Edge, sees this as a shift from a world where we can predict probable risks and use risk management systems to make our plans robust, to one where we need to accept that complex and interdependent risks will occur, and find new ways to cope, building ‘resilience’ into our organisations.

“Moving from a system designed for robustness to one that supports resilience represents a significant strategic shift. Whilst systems have commonly been designed to be robust – systems which are designed to prevent failure – increasing complexity and the difficulty it poses to ‘fail-proof’ planning have made a shift to resilience strategically imperative. A resilient system accepts that failure is inevitable and focuses instead on early discovery and fast recovery from failure.” (Risk and resilience – David Snowden, Cognitive Edge)

This requires a shift from deductive and inductive methods of managing risk, to placing greater reliance on skilled managers’ sensitivity to emergent behaviour and their ability to use abductive reasoning – identifying relationships between factors that would not normally be considered linked. As it happens, that’s what humans do best!

So we need to apply new skills in our management of change projects and programmes. to focus on developing and maintaining an infrastructure that supports continuous innovation and transformation – I call it an organisation’s Change Capability.

In the Change Equation’s Organisational Culture Evolution model, this is described as an ‘Imaginist’ culture. But an Imaginist culture has to be built on a solid foundation – it can’t just be grafted on. To quote Mary Douglas: “If you want to change the culture, you will have to start by changing the organization”.

See our slidecast on this: http://www.slideshare.net/peterd35/inpact-slidecast-2

As the IBM study says, avoiding complexity is not an option – the choice comes in how you respond to it. Will you allow complexity to paralyse your already creaking organisation, reduce your responsiveness to customers, create corporate burn-out among your managers and eventually kill you off entirely? Or do you have the creative leadership, a focus on sustaining your people and the right calibre of managers to develop the change capability and operating dexterity you need to turn complexity into a strategic competitive advantage?

It requires a separate, continuous thread of capability development to reflect, transmit, embed and maintain the organisation’s core values and Change Capability infrastructure  – but that is the recipe for sustained growth and survival in these complex times.

Is that what your organisation is doing?

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June 6, 2011 - Posted by | business change management, change capability, complexity, innovation, project and programme management |

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