Case Study: Practices of Highly Adaptive Organisations
As part of our research into what makes organisations truly adaptive, we conducted a series of research projects into organisations that have gone through significant change. Our first case study identifies one of the best examples (but by no means the only way) of creating effective change.
A rapidly growing online start-up experienced staff numbers increasing from 100 to 800 over a decade. Over this time, management was challenged with both stabilising and proceduralising the growing organisation while adapting quickly to the changing technology landscape. Three key challenges the organisation faced and how it addressed these are as follows:
1. Creating structures and processes that encourage the necessary agility
To support a collaborative and innovative culture, the office design was highly creative, and created a very relaxed, original environment. (Authors note – the lay out was the most memorable and impactful of any of the organisations we visited).
An organisational mantra became to challenge everything in order to improve. For processes that were working well, how could they work even better? To embed this, the organisation instigated innovation competitions and rewards. While the majority of innovation awards we have seen existed apart from the life of the rest of the organisation, these seemed to create a deeper level of engagement as they were taken seriously, were publicly acknowledged and were an expression of the company culture.
The organisation is also consistently focused on reducing bureaucracy and not allowing bureaucracy to spread. It constantly looks at ways of reinventing (such as restructures of how teams work together / structural reporting lines) and keeping agile. The focus is on ongoing renewal rather than a knee-jerk reaction to bad news.
2. Hiring the right people
When the organisation began, there was a clear mantra for hiring positive and good hearted people who want to work together, at the same time as hiring people with strong technical competence.
A significant learning for the organisation along the journey was that having the right technical competencies was not sufficient, particularly as the organisation changed rapidly. With such rapid growth people with mindsets and attributes towards supporting others and working collaboratively and with respect became essential. Over time the hiring practices focused more on the capacity to work with others and to adapt.
3. Keeping people actively motivated and engaged that they wanted to come to work
The organisation does have social events like Friday drinks, which are common to many less adaptive organisations. The difference was that the sociability and connectivity of people was not only nurtured during social activities, but during every workday.
At such a demanding pace of change, many people’s jobs outgrew the original incumbents. The organisation actively looked for more appropriate roles for such people who had the requisite mindsets and behaviours. The rapid growth meant there were many new roles and opportunities opening up to cater for this.
Like all organisations, people also move on. What is very different to most organisations is the respect with which former employees still hold the organisation. We have spoken to several former staff that have all expressed how much the CEO genuinely cared for the work force, and held with great integrity the importance of creating a great place to work.
In the face of rapid change and growth, creating an adaptive culture is essential in thriving. And this means instilling the mindsets, structures, and work practices to make this happen. And more than anything else that stood out for us in this case study was the authenticity and commitment of the senior executive to instilling this kind of culture.