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Organizational Flexibility

“The mission doesn’t change. The circumstances change how we approach it.” Kurt Reinhart

 In 2009, I was nine years into management consulting, and two years into my own consulting business. I was designing, developing, and delivering retail management development and leadership programs. As I was in the midst of delivering a large-scale training program, something became a big topic. At almost every workshop, as we explored best practices, newly promoted managers kept asking, “What if this happens?” They were challenging what to do when they faced a host of possible situations. These were situations that popped out of classic managerial and leadership circumstances. To name just a few: getting buy-in, team conflict, perfectionism, coaching poor and rock star performance, tardiness, and my personal favorite, personal hygiene. 

These conversations stimulated me to write a book about organizational flexibility. Specifically, improvisational management. It focused on the need to be adaptable, and, most importantly, that context dictates action. The managers and leaders wanted a “one size fits all” formula that would help them navigate these unexpected or uncomfortable situations. But in their search for prescriptive answers, their deficiency became clear: the inability of new management to plan for change.

Creating a Culture of Organizational Flexibility

In What If; A Guide to Improvisational Management, I discussed there is no absolute “A + B =C” formula. There is a formula of sorts. “A + Variable(s) = Customized Approach”. “A” represents the thing that must be done. It is the task, system, objective, mission or core value. “Variable(s)” represents what makes up the situation. It can be seen in the context, history, environment and even the degree of belief and buy-in with everyone involved. “Customized Approach” represents our response and action. And the most important element in living out this formula of sorts is creating a culture of organizational flexibility.

If you want to evaluate the necessity and power of organizational flexibility, look no further than COVID. This pandemic, and the ripples it created, represents the ultimate case study. Within this experience, we realized the leadership book we relied on did not contain this chapter. And if it did, I do not believe it could have shared the sheer scope of how it challenged leadership teams. 

COVID challenged everything in our leadership arsenal. Skillset. Mindset. Belief. It provided ample opportunities to bring into question our ability to see this unprecedented moment as an opportunity. To remain adaptable in uncertainty and constant change. To innovate our what and how. COVID had us questioning our organizational flexibility. What did we learn?

Start Thinking about Organizational Flexibility Today

Get a sheet of paper and a pen. Draft your answers to some or all of following questions:

  •  How do you define organizational flexibility, adaptability, agility, and improvisation?
  • How do you typically respond/adjust to change, uncertainty, discomfort, criticism, and inefficiency?
  • How open are you to alternate approaches, suggestions, and necessary changes in your own behavior?
  • Where and in what situations do you typically engage your organizational flexibility?
  • When you craft a change management plan, does it offer the right level of flexibility?
  • What are your strengths when flexibility, versatility, and innovation are required?
  • Describe a challenge you have dealt with, and how you overcame it
  • How do you handle having multiple priorities at the same time?
  • Consider your team. How do you work with people with differing personalities, views, and work styles?
  • If you could change something in the course of your life, what would it be?

Each of these questions provides a glimpse into our culture of organizational flexibility. In challenging situations with a diversity of people, managing and leading in all efforts to achieve a seemingly unachievable goal.

Imagine something ahead. An objective or mission you believe will create good or produce impact. Your circumstances change, or things get turned upside down. How do you approach the path ahead?

The Value of Organizational Flexibility in Management Culture

Commander’s Intent is a military doctrine in executing a mission. Simply put, it promotes leaders and subordinates to exercise judgment and initiative – to depart from the original plan when the unforeseen occurs – in a way that is consistent with the desired outcome. In other words, the mission does not change, however the means to achieve it can and will.

Leadership will always involve tension. Tension between what we believe, what we know, and what we do. Flexibility represents an elasticity in that tension. It is a pivot posture in how we move forward.

I close with this. The uncertainty and unexpected happen. They are constant variables. Our teams need us to know our mission, and be willing, honest and open in our drive to get it done. We do not control the winds of change – we do control how we adjust our sails. Cheers.

Using Organizational Flexibility to Create a Change Management Plan

  • Define organizational flexibility, adaptability and improvisation
  • Prior to any implementation, ensure a clear goal and discuss potential tripping points
  • When possible, run a pilot to test efficiencies and effectiveness of process and teams
  • Encourage consistent and ongoing “pulse checks” during implementation process
  • Identify and educate change management best practices
  • Look for positive ways to make changes work rather than identifying why change will not work
  • Encourage curiosity and collaboration

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