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Successfully Developing Triple Bottom Line Sustainability: #4

November 9, 2010 4 comments

This is the fourth of six Blogs dealing with TBL Sustainability to be published over the next few weeks. All these Blogs are being co-developed with my colleague and TLA Associate Tia Carr Williams.

“Prosperity is the best protector of principle.” – Mark Twain

Right to Market™ (R2M™) involves introducing the right products and/or services at the right time in the right contexts with the right supply chains, and then continually updating, optimizing, and retiring them as necessary. In Blog #2 of this series, we noted that both Sustainable Advantage (SA) and Sustainable Competitive Advantage (SCA) are based on achieving R2M. We also noted that SCA pits both employees and organizations against one another in a never ending competitive “survival of the fittest”, whereas SA strategy and implementation are based on a much more desirable win-win collaboration of all parties. In other words, SCA tries to push change into being – yeah, just like pushing on a rope – while SA pulls change into being. Now however it’s time to pull a different rope!

Given the growing business sensitivity to ecological and social concerns it is apparent that R2M™ has become outmoded, and that SA will be less and less persuasive in the future. This is because innovations must now combine economic and social knowledge with technological and scientific knowledge to ensure that an organization’s products, services and activities are meaningful and sustainable in a triple bottom line (TBL) sense i.e. in an economic, social, and ecological harmony we call Organizational Sustainable Advantage™ (OSA™).

OSA™ results from following a Right for Market™ (R4M™) approach. R4M™ is an innovation on the R2M™ approach, whereby an organization makes sure that its R2M™ strategy and implementation plans are based not only on a win-win collaboration of all parties, but on strategy and implementation plans that are ethical, and without negative impact on relevant ecological, sociological or environmental systems. In other words, OSA™ is still pulling change into being, but it goes to a new level by adding the TBL elements as a significant component of sense making and decision making. This must be achieved whilst still emphasizing the culture value-set that enfranchises, to the greatest extent feasible, employee participation through informal learning and the social technologies that act as stimulus for positive behavioral drivers.

OSA plays a powerful role in transitioning an organization to the polyarchic structure highlighted in earlier blogs. This structure accords the degree of distributed influence requisite to shaping a new culture, and shaping occurs from the bottom up as well as from top down to effectuate a gradual acclimation to new processes that form the necessary foundations. Drucker noted that: “Every enterprise is composed of people with different skills and knowledge doing many different kinds of work. It must be built on communication and on individual responsibility. All members need to think through what they aim to accomplish-and make sure that their associates know and understand that aim. All have to think through what they owe to others-and make sure that others understand. All have to think through what they in turn need from others-and make sure that others know what is expected of them”. OSA incorporates key Network Visualization Analysis capabilities that help to acknowledge which and where key personnel are contributing, and acts to direct the organization to incentivize appropriately.

Sustainability models derive conceptually from natural self-organizing structures that build colonies of knowledge aggregation and mobilization that effortlessly optimize ‘the best solution’ –  a process greatly hindered in standard top down cultures. The natural state of every sustainable system moves toward balance that is fluid and freely adaptive to necessary improvements.  Responsiveness to critical knowledge is a core exemplar of OSA functionality.  The capacity to observe, address and respond in a timely manner to key issues affords the agile organization the capability to stay ahead of the marketplace by authoring and acting in anticipation of, not only reacting to, marketplace demands.

In the upcoming fifth Blog of this series, the triple bottom line approach to sustainability plus its monitoring and reporting are discussed in more practical detail.

Change Proofing

November 21, 2009 Leave a comment

In 1995 I co-authored a paper [1] about “Change Proofing” – the ability of a commercial organization to manage change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks. Examples up to that time included trauma due to third world debt in the 1970s, the energy industry in the 1980s, and commercial real estate and corporate buy-outs in the 1990s.

History shows that the consequences of failing to recognize and interpret harbingers of change can be devastating. It is said that the ancient Peruvian Indians were unable to “see” the sails of the invading Spanish fleet, and dismissed them as mirages. More recent historical (hysterical?) examples of myopia include US automobile manufacturers who were blinkered to Pacific-Rim competitors, and even IBM, which was long unprepared for opportunities presented by the explosive growth of personal computing.

Clearly-identified business trends, such as globalization, technology, demographics and new social orders, had often been cited up to 1995 as drivers of change. However, little attention had been given to management of change stimulated by largely unanticipated, hard-to-predict events and shocks, such as rapid oil price changes or the sudden collapse of centrally-planned economies. Few models of such change, or techniques to plan or cope with it had been presented in the literature in 1995 or since for that matter, although even in 1993 according to such an authority as Ed Schein [2]: “…the problem is not management of change but the management of surprise”.

Change Proofing was not intended as a means to resist or avoid change, but rather a process for becoming more flexible and responsive in order to cope with it. The Change Proofing paper proposed that environmental shocks and surprises could best be managed by increasing the ability of the organization itself to anticipate, recognize and respond to them – surprise surprise – before hand! The paper set out theoretical reasoning, but more importantly it detailed a straightforward practical Change Audit that would help organizations of all types and sizes frame and address critical factors for Change Proofing; form more realistic and objective views of radical environmental change; and develop better means of coping with surprise. The paper also recommended that the Change Audit should cover organizational learning processes and their impact on strategic focus, motivation and core capabilities.

So what can one say about current events? Too bad so many of today’s organizations haven’t read the paper or didn’t heed its message?! Well, it’s not too late to plan for next time – and there will be a next time – so I invite you to have a look at the paper now …

[1] Drew, S.A.W. & Smith, P., The Learning Organization: Change Proofing and Strategy, The Learning Organization, Vol. 2, No. 1, 1995

[2] Schein, E.H., How can organizations learn faster? The challenge of the green room, Sloan Management Review, Winter, 1992; pp. 85 – 92