People often believe that moving fast is the same as adapting. Speed plays a crucial role in the evolution of organisations and products, but it can be risky if people can’t cope with the evolving reality or realign to new strategies.
Market disruptions affect all companies, and an exponential pace of change is the new reality. Artificial intelligence augments possibilities, short work cycles impact the markets, and big data provides a continuous strategic advantage.
Imagine if you got out of bed every day and found yourself in a different house with different children and a different job. Although some might be happy with this, most would find it exhausting. This is how exponential change feels for many.
If you are the leader of an organisation, more and more disruptions are going to affect your plans. You and the people around you will need to adapt roles, ways of working, and products. But how do you build an environment where employees can confidently adapt to market opportunities, even when they do not feel ready to change?
Building a flexible, resilient company is as simple as it is challenging. If the right techniques are not in place, people will have less energy, motivation will decrease, initiatives will lose traction, and customers will see less innovation and business value. You need new models to help people align to new perspectives and strategies, and all this must happen in record time.
Most mindsets or frameworks used during the last 20 years (e.g. Agile, Lean and Scrum) have helped, but they are not enough. They do not consider crucial aspects that arise during exponential change, and they don’t contemplate mechanisms to help leaders exposed to employees with higher levels of resistance. As a result, techniques or practices that appear to be ideal may produce subpar results.
hen consulting, I strongly support retrospective meetings, the idea that employees need to reflect on work and their interactions with others regularly. We know that people can process only a limited number of concurrent changes every day. Go above it, and they will feel overloaded, and they will resist.
If we try to implement this practice in highly changing environments, teams will need to reflect more frequently on what is happening, and at some point, they will tire. They will give up or follow procedures without any desire to improve them. These not-so-positive effects are heightened in an environment of exponential change, so broadly used practices have to be reevaluated to avoid counterproductive effects when exposed to exponentiality.
At Enterprise Agility University, we have been working to understand the best ways to address these situations and provide global leaders with enterprise agility models for leading exponential change. A large part of this work involves an advanced understanding of the brain.
Did you know that learning something new or adapting to a unique situation can lead to increased oxygen consumption in the prefrontal cortex (the area of the brain responsible for constructing your reality)?
We analysed studies that involve real-time brain monitoring, including electroencephalography, magnetoencephalography and functional magnetic resonance imaging. We have examined how the energy of thought flows through the brain—just as blood flows through the circulatory system—when people are exposed to exponential change. This has helped us build better ways to deal with the constant alterations of processes, roles and mindsets.
Many of these concepts allow companies to deliver results, even during turbulent times. These ideas enable organisations to respond better to changing market conditions. We developed the concept of Outcomes Agility to provide leaders with crucial skills. Outcomes Agility is based on three important pillars:
Leverage the power of the collective, intuition, artificial intelligence and big data to sense what is happening in the markets. Leaders must increase their levels of mental agility to encourage neuroplasticity, or how your neurons connect when you are exposed to a situation, so they can view change from different perspectives and embrace different values.
Several techniques can be used here. It is about more than empathising with clients – it is about temporarily adopting their values as if they were your own to test new hypotheses and ideas.
Leaders must know how to modify current strategies so that people can adapt, with higher levels of adherence and lower resistance. The secret lies in understanding that people are not physiologically prepared to adapt to exponential change. If leaders want to build a powerful strategy, they must learn how the brain works when exposed to exponential change and how to build a company with higher levels of organisational health.
When a disruption impacts the market, the organisation must be prepared for the rebound effect of external consequences. Competitors might start playing a different role, or clients might move in a different direction. This will require your company to accelerate change further.
In addition to evaluating the impact of a market disruption, you should regularly ask, “Will my people be ready if everything changes again?” Any intentional market disruption must take into account the organisation’s manoeuvrability in the short term.
It is no longer a matter of grouping existing agile practices and techniques. We call this practice: Classic Agility. You must consider new frameworks of reference – like Enterprise Agility – to build a better organisation. Employing concepts such as the neuroscience of change, organisational psychology, organisational health and new types of leadership is crucial if you want to build a resilient, flexible and sustainable ecosystem.