We are in the midst of a metamorphic period of change unlike anything the world has seen since the Late Middle Ages. With “meta” (meaning “form”) and “morph” (meaning “change”), the word suggests the transformative change in form of human institutions now emerging as we awaken to the realities of climate change and the destruction of ecosystems we have long relied upon for our survival. As the organization specialist Peter Drucker insightfully said, ‘In times of turmoil, the danger lies not in the turmoil but in facing it with yesterday’s logic.’
Nowhere is this metamorphic change more evident than in the way business organizations are being organized and managed. The ideal of ‘organization-as-machine,’ which was dominant for hundreds of years into the late 20th century, is now giving way to an ideal of ‘organization-as-living-system.’
Increasingly, as our organizational context requires us to become ever more emergent, innovative and adaptive, so leadership must become more about empowering, empathizing, encouraging interconnections, innovation, learning, local attunement, reciprocating partnerships and an active network of feedback. As such, the aim of leaders becomes more focused on nurturing conditions in which the organizational living system can unlock its creative potential, learn and flourish in a purposeful and coherent way, so that it can create and deliver value while being mindful of the wellbeing of all the people it serves and the wider fabric of life with which it relates. This is not some utopian dream; it’s happening now, as you read this article.
Enter a myriad of organizations thriving amidst uncertainty by applying living-systems logic: the healthcare provider, Buurtzorg; the bank, Triodos; the employment agency, Vaga; the chemicals manufacturer, Scott Bader; the global network of social-enterprise community centres, Impact Hub; the multimedia provider, Sounds True; and the Brazilian hi-tech manufacturer, Semco, to name a few.
Overcoming the purpose paradox
Hear more from Carol Cone on how B2B and B2C companies are implementing purpose — and what may be holding them back — at SB'20 Long Beach.
Future Fit Business
SB'16 CopenhagenTo aid this transformation, here are five important areas for leaders and change agents to focus on in these transformational times:
- Communication: to commune with others, really listen and share with our peers and stakeholders within and beyond the organization by creating collaborative networks that do more than just brainstorm by having the remit to prototype the future.
- Innovation: within the organization ‘accelerator skunkworks,’ ‘incubators’ or ‘innovation hubs’ operate like cocoons in stealth mode (Google X, for instance) where bright, out-of-the-box innovators across the organization can engage in entrepreneurial explorations, with the support of the organization to invest in these prototypes, testing them out before the activities are either spun off or integrated into the main business.
- Diversity in the boardroom: yes, we need more diversity and inclusiveness in terms of age, gender and race - yet also in our ways of thinking - by bringing in non-conformists that provoke and cajole with different perspectives and insights. This can be achieved through inviting a wider range of non-executive directors, diverse stakeholder representatives, and a greater variety of external advisers, and utilizing forward-thinking consultants and coaches beyond the traditional mainstream consultancies.
- Sense of purpose: As Paul Polman has said, as leaders we need to cultivate our inner compass, develop our own coherence within ourselves, taking time and energy to embark on a process of ‘knowing thyself’ so as to understand our deeper sense of purpose beyond our ego-personas and acculturated masks. When we align our outer actions with our inner sense of purpose, we allow a deeper creative impulse and authenticity to flow through our work. Ditto for our teams and stakeholders. And when our organizational sense of purpose resonates with our personal purpose, truly extraordinary things spark – we develop what living-systems scientists refer to as ‘super-coherence.’
- Time and space: taking personal responsibility for our work schedules and recognizing that the continual busyness and stress actually undermines our ability to think out-of-the-box and sense our inner compass. Each of us can be more effective at managing our diaries, creating blocks in our schedule for ‘systemic thinking’ where we can reflect, pause and learn to tune-in to our more intuitive awareness and authentic, soulful selves.
Gone with the winds of change is the artificial certainty and mechanistic linearity of command-and-control cultures and ‘human resource’ management, revealing a fresher, purposeful, altogether more human approach to our ways of working.