Hacking HR to Build an Adaptability Advantage

chris-grams's picture

Help us synthesize the key themes from the enemies of adaptability sprints

By Chris Grams on May 20, 2022

Do you see barriers that all seem to fit together into larger categories or groupings? Do you see key themes or concepts that are coming up over and over? We’d like to know what you see in the contributions we’ve collected during the past two sprints.

Do you see barriers that all seem to fit together into larger categories or groupings? Do you see key themes or concepts that are coming up over and over?

We’d like to know what you see in the contributions we’ve collected during the past two sprints. Let us know in the comments section below.

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fiona-savage's picture

How do we harness collective wisdom within all these posts? . Modern physics has taught us that the nature of any system cannot be discovered by dividing it into its component parts and studying each part by itself. . . .We must keep our attention fixed on the whole and on the interconnection between the parts.

So the question for me is how do we learn to communicate and move forward and harness our collective wisdom? There are different methods available to achieve this and maybe leaders and managers need to understand and learn how to communicate in a way.
The Art of Hosting is one method, often described as participate leadership. This method has had great reviews from public and private sector.
Traditional corporate communication must give way to a process that is more dynamic and more sophisticated. Most important, that process must be conversational.
- Harvard Business review
"The Art of Hosting and harvesting conversations that matter is a new practice of democracy that we really need in the world now."

- Phil Cass, CEO, Columbus Medical Association and Foundation, Ohio, USA
"This is the best training I have had in the 20 years I have worked in the European Commission."
- Senior manager in the European Commission

alberto-blanco's picture

After reviewing all entries and wallpapering my living-room with post-it notes, I have grouped the enemies of adaptabilty into 15 categories listed in this google drive spreadsheet:


However, I have considered the following categories as my top four:

Talent burden (23 entries)

Our focus on talent is a pernicious thing and is perhaps the source where all this fear of failure comes from. (Please refer to professor Carol Dweck for more insights into this subject)

Some of my favorite entries: Fear by Heiko Fisher, Fear of Failure by Chris Grams, and Limiting mindset by Belinda Kiely.

Control (18 entries)

“We need to let go of the power to unleash the power” as Leila Ljungberg wrote in her Power vs empowerment (my favorite entry in this category)

Confort-zone (11 entries)

Self preservation, Even small threats pack a punch!, and We love homoeostasis!, are three great illustrations of our tendency to stick to our nice, cozy and rather boring routines.

Confirmation bias (9 entries)

As Nassin Taleb wrote in his book Black Swan, we too often get caught in the confirmation bias trap and it looks like this (according to Taleb): “Assume I told you that I have evidence that the football player O.J. Simpson (who was accused of killing his wife in the 1990s) was not a criminal. Look, the other day I had breakfast with him and he didn’t kill anybody. I am serious, I did not see him kill a single person. Wouldn’t that confirm his innocence?.”

The latter sounds unrealistic but that’s the very logic that rules and clouds our thinking when we are in front of success for instance, as illustrated by Stephen Remedios in his Success - Adaptability Enemy Number 1 entry.

Well, that's it. I hope this can contribute a little in this titanic task of wrapping up this juicy and highly productive sprint!


giuseppe-gerardo-ciarambino's picture

Would be interesting to exaggerate the synthesis up to identify a focal point that determines everything else.
For me the key point is the human.
Maybe we should define a new human, and around him, build a new business concept.

nigel-barron's picture

I agree, and your comment so simpler than my effort. People, #1.

I agree with Keith's synthesis - a great group of categories. The only thing I would add (which I suspect underlies many categories) is the fragile state of the employment relationship (link with Trust) and the potential mismatch between employee psychological contract expectations (at least among some segments of workforces) and current business/organisational needs.

The quest for leadership is a fenomena of a patriarchal world view at the end of the industrial era.
The world is changing and the start question could better be a strategic one, with a birds eye view: the whole organisation is not flexible enough, inert and perhaps too complex to change.

The construct of multinationals is no longer the best economic model. At the 21the century we are growing into a network economy with a flat organisation model where employees are working for more than one company or project. Perhaps multinationals has to cut itself into specialized enterprices, niches, and bring them together in a cooperation.

One more theme I would like to propose is the need for a change process. Even with well intended focus, change efforts fails or become dificult to repeat as the organization doesn't adopt change as a evolving/learning process. We should think about a change process adopting from the software industry such as agile SCRUM process where change can happen systematically with a focus to improve adaptability of the organization during each sprint.

luc-galoppin's picture

Kudos to Keith Gulliver's and other contributers in trying to categorize the enemies.
It is at this stage that I miss the opportunity to be physically present in the same room and to be able to move around, group and regroup post-it notes on a big board. The dialogue that happens in between is sense-making and making sense.
There must be a technology available to do this online, no?

alberto-blanco's picture

Hi Luc,

This tool (https://www.stormboard.com/) could be just what we need

amanda-boonzaaier's picture

A frame taking form for me is the impact of adaptability on:
1. The organisation and its purpose (sustainability, long term vision, profitability, power at the top, prosperity)
2. The individual and his/ her talents (personal change readiness, training, buy-in, fear/ loss, reward/ benefits)
3. Leadership and culture (modelling behaviour, values, belief systems, power, decision-making)
4. Responsibility and roles (triple bottom line, environment & social impact, partnerships vs. support roles, building for future generations)
5. Systems and structures (processes, practices, standards, bench marking, re-engineering, functions, hierarchy)

helen-snape's picture

Key themes for me have been:
1. Fear (of failure, the future, etc)
2. Centralised decision making
3. Structures and processes
4. Blinkers (what is the need? What is wrong with how we are doing things now?)
5. The roles of different players in driving adaptability, from the CEO, to HR, to frontline staff.

nigel-barron's picture

When I looked through the list and and re-read some of the posts, the theme that stood out for me was behaviour. Behaviour is closely connected to habit, something I touched on in my contribution to Sprint 1.1. At the beginning of the 20th Century as the USA came of age a thriving science emerged that focused on ourselves as individuals, psychology. For some psychology meant studying thoughts and feelings, but for others this wasn't enough. To be truly scientific, psychology should focus on something that could be seen and measured, behaviour. Enter B F Skinner. Skinner believed that the best way to understand behaviour is to look at the causes of an action and its consequences. He called this approach operant conditioning or, roughly, changing of behavior by the use of reinforcement which is given after the desired response. For skinner, much of who we are came from our environment, surroundings were all important. His most famous invention, the Skinner box, would tell us something revealing and ultimately unnerving about ourselves, that behaviour can not only be learnt, it can be altered. As our behaviour interacts with the environment it makes us who we are and that history of our interactions with that environment shapes our whole behavioural repertoire, that is, a collection of behaviours that many people might refer to as a personality.

Reinforcement of a certain behaviour in organisations can lead to all kinds of consequences as we are witnessing. What's being reinforced in your organisation? Is the behaviour positive or negative? Can behaviour for the purposes of this discussion be better explained as culture?

stefan-blobelt's picture

I started to comprise the list ...
Addiction to Core Revenue Streams, Short Term Profits and Short Term Thinking
Control-freaks at the top
Rigid organizational structures
Centralized decision-making
Reward mechanisms credit the status quo, not change
Fear of failure
Hierarchical Hold on Power, Decision and Direction.
Cultural Variation
The non-experimental culture
Metric Over-Reliance
Inability to Learn from Failure
... but I stopped after these twelve topics - and there are many more barriers which are clearly addressed by the so called "Science of Synthesis", namely Systems Thinking. I have no idea why Systems Thinking has such a hard time to become more popular!?
If we talk about companies, corporations, and institutions, we are talking about socio-technical-economical systems and such systems are Complex Adaptive Systems. The science and practice which delivers tools, models, and concepts for how to manage those complex adaptive system is Systems Thinking with Peter Senge (author of the Fifth Discipline) being one of its most prominent ambassadors. Systems Thinking is interdisciplinary quite by nature and definition. Systems Thinking is the antithesis of contemporary reductionist and mechanistic thinking – it’s the practice of social system management - not more, not less.

fiona-savage's picture

I am a member of a group called the Unreasonable Learners and we are systems thinkers and support what Edward Deming, John Seddon, Peter Senge and others.
The Unreasonable Learners www.unreasonable-learners.com/
Lifting the human spirit by exploring new ways of working together within organisations.

So why when there is so many great example of companies working effectively and with, happy engaged employs are other companies not taking on the methods. Deming published Out of the Crisis, originally published in 1982

Is systems thinking get mix up with tools such Lean and Six Sigm? These tools don't change thinking.......

John Seddon say Systems thinking is also counter intuitive we are taught at school to break problems down it to small part and the we assume that the part equal the whole. However the parts and the interactions between the parts are the sum of the whole.

The first video with John and Haley is Aviva’s introduction to systems thinking;
How do we change thinking? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcdahNIu820&feature=player_embedded

The second video is once Aviva have been trained Great Video on Aviva Systems http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wF-ERyiDWI0
Lets start getting it right first time round for customers, reduce Failure Demand and Focus on Value Demand

Another fundamental reason change is so difficult is “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
― Upton Sinclair,

monique-jordan_1's picture

When I read through many of the posts and look at the tags the theme that emerges is "the power of power". Power has been at the core of many struggles throughout our history and appears to be at the core of today's business problems as well. In my mind, the need for power drives organizations to be hierarchical with centralized decision making and fuels fear (the loss of power). Those in power must maintain control and are inflexible or rigid in their thinking and unable to trust. They cannot be open to experimenting or innovation. So what then drives the need or desire for power? Well I am not really sure -- I have no research or data to support my theory -- and I am beginning to believe it has to do with how we (individually) define our self-worth. If self-worth is measured by things or influence then power to obtain (or control over) 'things' is paramount and would explain why leaders design business systems to keep them in power (or control). Have we made leadership synonymous with power and control and built business systems to reinforce and validate that truth? Is asking leaders to give up power and control without giving them a new model (or definition of leadership) like asking them to make themselves irrelevant? I am not sure, as I am filled with far more questions than answers.

chris-grams's picture

Great observation, Monique! Since power/control is at the heart of the traditional management model, I believe you are right to think that many of the things that hinder organizations from being more adaptable come down to how that power/control is manifested. Which provides a great segue into our next sprint where we'll be discussing what we replace this control-based model with in the future--as you say, the new model--to make our organizations more adaptable. I'll look forward to your comments/thoughts on that next week!!

barry-walsh's picture

These are the links that I see as the enemies of adaptability that are really a shortened version of Keith's excellent contribution - The traditional hierarchy and structures that everybody expects, with leaders that reinforce and encourage adherence to these with the help of HR, thus creating the culture of the way we do things here, that includes a lack of trust upwards, downwards and across, a preference therefore for standardisation across the board so we can settle down and maintain the status quo, leading to and creating the fear of change

heiko-fischer's picture

We are simply missing a framework. A constitution for work.

There is as of yet no agreed upon framework that offers open-minded leaders a responsible and practical path of transition from status quo to a more adaptive, humane and democratic model of management. One that holds up responsibly to create a culture enabling meaningful workplaces to emerge amidst the everyday humdrum of our overall economy and respective jobs.

The reasons are manyfold, the problem remains.

We need one. If only to disagree with it and adapt it, evolve it, customise it, individualise it, debate it, or simple to throw it away and construct another.

Something that starts a little something like:

"Human dignity is inviolable, as is the pursuit of happiness."

And always adds symbiotic elements of practicality, maybe in form of questions:

As a leader, take time every week to Manage by Wandering around your workplace aimlessly. Learn and remember the name of everyone you speak with. Ask something akin to the following questions:

"Do you feel contribute to a meaningful purpose?"
"How's your daughter?"
"Do you have what you need to give your best?"
"Did your son finish college?"
"Do you feel recognized for your contribution?"
"Do you get enough time with your family?"

We are missing a practical framework derived from a new constitution for the adaptive enterprise.

deb-seidman's picture

I think Keith has done a good job of categorizing. I winnowed it down a bit further:
* Short-term focus
* Leadership style (includes providing perspective, empowering, etc.)
* Organization structure/process (centralization, hierarchy, ossified processes)
* Self-interest/self-preservation (includes fear and lack of incentive)
* Culture (includes mindsets and behaviors)
* Internal focus (lack of insight into what is going on in the environment around us)

chris-grams's picture

Deb--this is very helpful, thank you. As I mentioned to Keith, I've been working on a synthesis blog post, and I think we came to some similar conclusions on several categories. Will look forward to your feedback when the post is up at the beginning of Sprint 1.3 next week!

william-eijkelkamp's picture

Fear to design an incomplete system or the drive to create a 100% perfect matching process.
(Pushing the "scientific management" approach to much, eliminating natural "social space/drive" in our processes wich make people grow in their capabilities.)

giuseppe-gerardo-ciarambino's picture

Yes, the change in the corporate mindset, understood as changes in the mentality of individuals as an approach to the system, is the most difficult to implement for a smart company.
-The thinking individual in the company reflects the way of thinking which individuals were induced at a social level.
-An individual can not have two mentalities one social and corporate.
How to do?
-Change the corporate mindset through the change of social attitudes?
-Change the mindset of society through the change of the corporate mentality?
I am reminded of Tony Blair's Singapore Speech on Stakeholder Economy in a context of Stakeholder Society.

I talked about 'enemies' as being a seven headed dragon and I am happy to see so many great post here in this phase, describing these 'heads', the 'groups' we are seeking. The only real thing, I think is missing is the impact of all these points on the one thing that binds them together, in a bad way that is.
For me, it's the sum of all these issues that all end up in poor decision taking.
Data, interactions between people or offices, bias, nepotism, selfisheness, greed, fear,hierarchy, command and controll, alienation, ... All add up to impacting decisions. Decisions that can get a company to adapt, to innovate, or to stay in that status-quo, 'hybernatic' state.
It's choices that get to these decisions and it's choices that we make poorly that keep us from excelling.
So having lists and groups or categories of 'enemies' is nice to have, and very inspiring, it's their influence on choices and decisions that is the common aspect, and for me that is the key element in all the themes/posts.

kubatova-jaroslava-kukelkova-adela's picture

In our opinion we can classify enemies of adaptability in several groups based on different factors:
1. Personal factors: fear, lack of skills, lack of courage
2. Relationship factors: lack of collective learning, negative vibes, mistrust
3. Organisational factors: on-going surveys, centralisation, dysfunctional structure
4. Hierarchy factors: excessive supervision, lack of empowerment, strong top-down management
5. Technical factors: negligence of social media, focus on technique rather than on people
We think that changes in people’s mind-sets and in relationships between co-workers are much more difficult than changes in organisational structure or technologies. Thus how to overcome the personal and relationship factors which decrease adaptability are the most important managerial question.

chris-grams's picture

Kubatova and Kukelkova--thank you for this! A very interesting way to slice the entries. I'm also intrigued by your assertion that the changes in people's mindsets and relationships are harder than structural or technology-related changes. Can you tell me more about that? Why do you think this is the case?

kubatova-jaroslava-kukelkova-adela's picture

Thank you for your reaction Chris! Our opinion that changes in people's mindsets and relationships are harder than structural or technology-related changes is based on our experience.
Managers can decide about a structural or technology-related change in authoritative way. But we can not change people’s “inner program” and make them accept positively the change. People naturally tend to stay in their comfort zone, where they can manage things they know in the way they are used to.
When a change is announced, people can feel fear, anger and discomfort. What they tend to do? To resist. Not to accept the change. From the managerial point of view particularly the resistance of knowledge workers can be dangerous, because it can be barely noticeable, however, its consequences can be fatal (they stop using or sharing their knowledge or they can even misuse their knowledge).
People usually are not willing to admit that they have some barrier in their minds. But people realize it for example during some team-building or development activities. After these activities we can hear them saying: I have realized that my colleague is not so bad and we can cooperate well, or I realized that the only real obstacle was my brain. Thus when establishing a change we have to help people to cope with it and accept it.

stefan-blobelt's picture

Dear Kubatova & Kukelkova - great comment and insights!
Theres one more thing I think that is essential to be taken into consideration as well - most of the time the arguments concerning change resistance are directed at fear, anger, discomfort and the like. What I have found out is that people heavily resist change efforts if the change violates their value system and/or threatens their sense of purpose regarding what they should do. Therefore, change resistance is not only a matter of mastering additional efforts and overcoming feelings of anger, anxiety and fear but also of how the new reality corresponds to one's "SELF!" Change has a lot to do with identity, self-protection, and individual purpose.

fiona-savage's picture

“People don't resist change. They resist being changed.” ― Peter M. Senge

With hierarchical management and a top down process as indicted above, Is it hierarchical management that are not willing to admit that they have some barrier in their minds to change? The command and control style of management describe above, results in employee resistance to change as also described. At best command and control gains complies from employees and at worst gets active disengagement.

There are some great susses stories such as Semco in Brazil they moved away from top down management 25 years ago and have happy engaged employees and sustainable companies .

Fun quote:
"Semco has no official structure. It has no organizational chart. There's no business plan or company strategy, no two-year or five-year plan, no goal or mission statement, no long-term budget. The company often does not have a fixed CEO. There are no vice presidents or chief officers for information technology or operations. There are no standards or practices. There's no human resources department. There are no career plans, no job descriptions or employee contracts. No one approves reports or expense accounts. Supervision or monitoring of workers is rare indeed... Most important, success is not measured only in profit and growth." - Ricardo Semler

mugil-manivannan's picture

* Fear - risk,stress,scandal,
* Individual's responsiveness - leadership,hierarchy, mindsets and behaviours,inflexibility,lack of trust & Skills, command and control, training & coaching, SKILL,HR
* Social Diversity - culture,feminine,homogeneity

keith-gulliver's picture

I've attempted to identify the main themes emerging from the Hackathon Sprint 1.1 which you can see below. I've taken the 'headline text' from each entry and mapped that against each of the themes I've identified. It's not perfect and I'm sure it will need some adjustments. However, I offer it up for others to comment on and work with. I hope it helps.

Rigid organizational structures
Transaction Cost
Centralisation to manage trust actually creates mistrust
Hierarchy and specialisation
Functional hierarchical organisations
Outdated Organizational O/S
Too few, and too large, organizational units
Hierarchy paralysis
[Fear], Rigidity and [Homogeneity]

Control-freaks at the top
Centralized decision-making
How Leaders and Managers see their purpose
Ossified management processes
No Apologies
A disenfranchised front line
Lack of clarity
A disconnect between day-to-day operational activities and the overall strategy
Management from top to bottom
Adapting to what, exactly ... ?
We think adaptation like an on-off process
power vs empowerment
Invisible leadership
The leadership ideology of me, money and more
You can't manage and control adaptability
Decision-making "process"
Listening to other perspectives, including HR
Fordism Lives In The Hearts of Men
Think too much
Manager's boundedness of mind.
The widespread stupidity required by the scientific management

A 'can't do' attitude
Metric Over-Reliance & Social Technology
Cultural Variation
Over Regulation
A Blame Culture
The non-experimental culture
Common Expectations And Culture - What You Give Is What You Get
The belief in outdated metaphors
No mistakes, no slack culture and policies
Systemic Denial
Cultural deep-seated structured approach to change
Bias tied to old paradigms - blocks our ability to see potential
Change Competence
Limiting mindset
Deny the opportunity
[NOT] valuing behaviours that strengthen adaptability
The excuse culture
It's all about mindset
Cracking the cultural crust
Risk Averse Culture
It's the mindset
Hunter vs. Gatherer Culture
Dream and live the dream

Lack of purpose
A lack of trust inside organisations
Inability to Learn from Failure
Staying in response mode instead of scouting mode
Organizational Arthritis (Lack of Flexibility)
Credible confidence, the lack of!
[Lack of] Creativity and Innovation
Lack of confidence in the administration
IQ low in key business.
Management and Senior Leadership Lack Women Leaders

ISO Standards
Wild Standardization
Standardization & rules
[Fear, Rigidity] and Homogeneity
Wild Standardization 2

Reward mechanisms credit the status quo, not change
Self preservation
Caught in a trap.
When innovation actually prohibits adaptability
Institutionalised - 'That's not the way we do things round here'
'If it ain't broke'
Out dated practice
Future is not a continuity of the past.
We love homoeostasis!

Addiction to Core Revenue Streams, Short Term Profits and Short Term Thinking
Habit of Control
The need to be right all the time (demanding the perfect plan that does not exist)
Rationalization of Wrong by Employees
Resistance against disruption (wouldn't you?!)

Fear of failure
Little Courage
Even small threats pack a punch!
Emotional rescue
Fear, [Rigidity and Homogeneity]
Fear of getting lost

Fear of Failure & HR's Role
Myopic and archaic view of Learning and Development
Short term approach to learning
Lack of skills
Get the learning out of the L&D department
Simplicity, Complexity & the Arduous Journey to Mastery
Enterprise adaptability cannot successfully start with HR and L&D

An inability to deal with environmental complexity
No collective reality
Lack of a competitive advantage
perspective = ?
Broken Feedback Channels - Sustainability Analogy

The seven headed dragon, slayer needed
Fullback Dive Hiring
The Gremlin
Enemies of the Adaptability emerge from a mix of aspects
Focus as Algebra not Calculus


stephanie-sharma's picture

Keith, Really nice synthesis! I think the "lack-ofs" could go fall under some others (i.e. culture, leadership, etc.) to fine-tune this smaller category. I also wonder if behavior and fear fall under a mind-set grouping. I could also seem of the latter categories under "practices" as a sub-set to "organizational". Just for some ideas. I know this segment ended yesterday. Good good work!

chris-grams's picture

Keith, thanks so much for making the time investment to go through the entries and provide this synthesis. I've been working on a blog post where I'm trying to focus in on 10-12 key themes, and the way you've organized this was extremely helpful to me as I processed the entries! And thanks for all of your great contributions to the hackathon so far!

giuseppe-gerardo-ciarambino's picture

Keith great work, thank you.
Would be interesting to put it all in a fishbone diagram, prioritizing the keys and subkeys that lead to a lack of adaptability company...

I agree with Giuseppe. Helpful / useful work, Keith. Thanks.

I look at it as an equation:-

Vision Communication
____________ X ____________ = Agility

Structure Collaboration

Its time to "open source" the thinking across business to unlock the innovation and knowledge at its core. Leadership's focus in the future should be on harvesting that collective input, prioritising findings and facilitating collaboration.

martin-sutherland's picture

1. A high (emotional/financial/mental) investment in the status quo by individuals, functions and businesses that benefit from the keeping things the same
2. An aversion to the (emotional/financial/career) risks associated with promoting change that are reinforced by reward and recognition systems.
3. An inflexibility in the (mental/structural/business) models that embed the status quo by directing the flow of resources (information/money/time/technology)
4. The difficulty of designing a message that can unify (individuals/functions/businesses) and gain commitment to change because of the diversity of motives, intentions and needs.

Apologies for all the /'s but the same principles are applicable, they just vary by stakeholder, scale, nature and complexity.

chris-grams's picture

Martin, thanks for sharing these observations. I like the way you've simplified things down to 1) high investment in the status quo 2) aversion to risk associated with change 3) inflexible models 4) lack of unified purpose. These are clearly four of the critical things that prevent organizations from being more adaptable. Your clarity on this has been really helpful as we've been thinking through how to synthesize the results of Sprint 1.1 + 1.2--thank you!