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8 fundamental questions a leader needs to answer

If you were going to build a house, you'd make sure it had a solid foundation. Similarly, if you want to build a more adaptive organisation, you need to start by answering eight fundamental questions.

The following excerpt from The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within introduces the eight Adaptive Fundamentals and reveals why they are so critical to building a more adaptive organisation. These questions also provide the starting point from which to escape The Adaptive Dilemma described in my previous article.


EXPERIENCE HAS TAUGHT ME MANY THINGS. One of the most valuable lessons has been, that in order to successfully adapt to any change, you must begin by asking the right questions. Not only this, you must ask and answer them in the right order. This is true regardless of whether the change is big or small or affects us as individuals, our teams or our organisations.


Failure to answer the right questions is guaranteed to make the change harder than it needs to be, more costly, deliver a less valuable outcome and take a higher toll on your most valuable asset – your people.


Creating an organisation that is more adaptive than it is today is an organisational change and just like any other, it needs to start by answering the right questions. The irony is, of course, that in order to successfully transition from where your organisation is today, to where it needs to be, requires the same capability (i.e. being adaptive) that it is actually wanting to create. This makes creating The Adaptive Organisation one of the toughest changes of all and helps to explain why so few organisations succeed. It’s also why starting with what I call The Adaptive Fundamentals is critically important.


The Adaptive Fundamentals and why they matter


In order to successfully create The Adaptive Organisation, leaders need to develop clear answers to eight questions. Each question fulfils a specific purpose and clears a path for the change to follow (see below).

So now, let’s come back to you. Thinking about the eight questions I just described, take a moment to reflect on your own organisation.


  • How many of these questions have been satisfactorily answered?

  • If you asked five of your leadership colleagues, how consistent would their answers be with yours, or with each other’s?


What happens when The Adaptive Fundamentals are missing?


When doing the above exercise, if you answered ‘not many’ and ‘not very’, then the following scenario may sound familiar.


A mission-critical project fails. People run for cover and work frantically to show why the disaster wasn’t their fault. When the dust settles, the organisation decides that something has to change to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. It’s urgent! The Executive Team want results! However, instead of starting with The Adaptive Fundamentals, the organisation scrambles to find a solution.


Unfortunately, when an organisation attempts to become adaptive without first addressing The Adaptive Fundamentals, the journey goes something like this.


The initial conversations tend to run around in circles. Most stakeholders find it too theoretical because there is no commonly accepted language or reference point that enables people to connect, understand one another or talk in ‘concrete’ terms. Everyone has their own opinion as to what the answer should be.


Engaging stakeholders becomes a long, painful process. While on the surface people will say the organisation needs to be more adaptive, not everyone is convinced it offers tangible benefits. And, because progress is so slow, even those who start out as believers can find it all too hard and eventually lose interest. ‘Herding cats’ is an image that frequently comes to mind.


Eventually, the organisational approach fragments and stakeholders, fed-up with the apparent lack of progress, start to implement their own solutions. However, because there is no overall design, none of the solutions fit together and instead of making the organisation more adaptive, they make it less so.


I could go on but there’s no need. You’ve experienced this scenario first-hand, either in your own organisation or one you’ve previously encountered. It’s like a three-legged-race with a thousand people tied together but no one knows which leg they should start with. (Excerpt ends)


Turn thinking into action


So why not test it out? Ask five of your leadership colleagues to answer one or all of The Adaptive Fundamentals and see what they say.

If your colleagues consistently and confidently answer in the same way, your organisation is well positioned to become more adaptive. In fact, if this occurs, I'd expect your organisation to already be fairly adaptive compared to its peers.


Alternatively, if the eight Adaptive Fundamentals are met with blank looks, hesitation or inconsistent answers, then your organisation is probably missing the basic foundation it needs to become adaptive. And as I've described above, the chances are that change is therefore harder than it needs to be, more costly, delivers a less valuable outcome and takes a higher toll on your people. Further, if your organisation has attempted to become more adaptive in the past, the chances are that the outcome did not deliver The Adaptive Organisation that was promised.


So here's the good news. Once you've understood The Adaptive Fundamentals and started the conversation with other leaders in your organisation, you've taken the first step to initiating sustainable change. After all, it's often the first step that is the hardest.


I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts.


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About the author:


Kate Christiansen is an author, business leader and passionate change-advocate who has spent twenty years adapting organisations to major strategic change. Kate's latest book 'The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within' is now availableshows how to address The Adaptive Fundamentals and develop a customer-focused strategy that has the entire organisation behind it.

You may like to consider taking the online Adaptive Audit and using the tools and templates included with The Thrive Cycle: Unlock The Adaptive Organisation Within book. You'll create your organisation's Adaptive Profile, discover if it is a Surfer, Swimmer, Splasher or Sinker and develop an understanding of the Six Elements of Adaptive Success that determine its ability to evolve.

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