Adaptive Capacity: Preparing for the Unknown

  April 1, 2020

What happens when the environment that your organization operates within experiences a major shift – such as a pandemic – that impacts the way in which everything within that environment behaves? How does your organization prepare for and react to such shifts?

The ability to act in anticipation of or in response to threats, vulnerabilities, or opportunities within fluid contexts is essential. In PartnersGlobal’s Resiliency+ Framework, we call this “Adaptive Capacity: Preparing for the Unknown.” It is one of the seven factors of organizational resiliency.

Get a quick explanation of Adaptive Capacity from PartnersGlobal President & CEO Julia Roig below.

Below are the three main elements of Adaptive Capacity and key resources for each.

1. Adaptive Leadership

Key to resiliency is the ability of an organization’s leadership to mobilize people and systems to effectively tackle challenges presented by shifts in their environments.

The theory behind adaptive leadership and how is it different from other leadership approaches

Check out “The Theory Behind the Practice: A Brief Introduction to the Adaptive Leadership Framework or watch an interview with one of the main authors of the Adaptive Leadership framework, Martin Linksy.

Linksy says adaptive leadership is like “being able to be on the balcony, or the capacity for being in the action and standing back and watching at the same time – including watching yourself.” Anyone can become adept at adaptive leadership – it is not a position, but rather a behavior and mindset shift.

Adapt to change, don’t wait for it!

Simon Sinek, author of multiple best-selling books, including “Start With Why” and  “Leaders Eat Last,” shares his thoughts on how an organization can adapt to change rather than waiting for change to happen.

“Why is it that Netflix invented Netflix and not the movie and television industry? It’s because the movie and television industry was too busy protecting the old business model and ignorant that the world was changing around them.” See the brief discussion below.

Learn from the private sector

Watch a webinar on Adaptive Leadership for Agile Teams below.

Additionally, Bain and Company identifies the top common myths to change management and adaptive capacity and offers five guiding principles that can help leadership teams steer change more effectively in this article.

In a study of 184 global companies, Bain and Company found that:

“About 65% of initiatives required significant behavioral change on the part of employees…Nearly 60% of the companies analyzed lacked the right capabilities to deliver on their change plans. The same percentage of companies didn’t have the appropriate individuals, structures and decision-making processes to drive the change initiatives.  About 60% lacked the right metrics and incentives to make change efforts successful. And more than 63% of the companies faced high risks to their change efforts because of significant communications gaps between the leaders of the effort and the employees most affected by it.”

Check out our webinar with Natalie Boudoud, Co-Founder and Executive Coach at PEPIT Consulting, on Adaptive Leadership for a Resilient Civil Society in Uncertain Times. You can access the presentation here.

2. Flexible Governance

The second aspect of Agility and Flexibility is the ability of organizational structures and policies to adapt in relation to needs within changing external environments. This is enabled through shared governance and an environment of self-reflection.

Liberating Structures

This approach to organizational governance and design focuses on tiny shifts in the way we meet, plan, decide and relate to one another. As opposed to conventional structures that are either too inhibiting (presentations, status reports and managed discussions) or too loose and disorganized (open discussions and brainstorms) to creatively engage people in shaping their own future, this website provides a menu of thirty-three Liberating Structures to replace or complement conventional practices.

Unique private sector insights

Deloitte offers insights on flexible governance structures  in its report “Unlocking the Flexible Organization: Organizational Design for an Uncertain Environment.” It posits that: “Today’s global operating environment is too unpredictable to rely on organizational structures devised over a century ago in order to adapt and respond to new challenges,” and that organizations should evolve their structures to “unlock the potential within it and unleash the latent power in networked teams.”

Intergenerational collaboration

We know that intergenerational collaboration is a key factor to organizational resiliency, and we need new models for shared leadership across generations.

Try establishing a Shadow Board of Directors composed of young leaders within your organization. This trend is found mostly in the private sector, and has led to greater engagement, higher levels of work satisfaction and new successful initiatives.

Several resources are available, including:

3. Contingency Planning

The third element of Agility and Flexibility is the ability to anticipate potential future scenarios and create alternative plans of action that respond to those scenarios so your organization can act quickly and effectively when new situations arise.

Tools and Approaches for Contingency Planning

In his blog “Welcome to Peak Uncertainty,” Dave Algoso, founder of Open Co-Lab, offers a tool that helps us make sense of what steps to take the now, next, and later stages of a massive change to the environment.

Save the Children recently published a massive volume of tools and approaches to scenario and contingency planning titled The Future is Ours: Strategic Foresight Toolkit.” In it, you will find 12 different tools to help your organization plan for possible futures. For a webinar on the toolkit, watch here.

Transformative Scenario Planning is a specific approach within the scenario planning space developed by Adam Kahane from his experience in Apartheid South Africa.  This approach goes beyond adaptive scenario planning that focuses on navigating future changes to one’s context. I The intention of Transformative Scenario Planning “is not just to adapt to the context but also to shape the future of it.”  For information on how to embark on a Transformative Scenario Planning process, read here.