Responsiveness is more important than the plan

Where will you be in five years?
A question that many entrepreneurs, career tigers and top athletes ask themselves is: “Where do I want to be in five years’ time”? Asking this question will help you plan your future and take the necessary steps to get there. Or so is the assumption…

“Life got in the way”
Yet I know very few entrepreneurs who at any point have arrived at the place they had thought of for themselves five years earlier. There are always events and developments that influence the direction and the result – both positive and negative. Life came between them and their plans.

Relative value
Of course your organization has a vision. But that vision is not limited to time. It is about what can be improved in your market, how products and services can be marketed in distinctive ways, the possibilities of technology, new value propositions. And with that vision comes an ambition. Call it a mission: market leadership, most innovative company, best employer. You name it. It’s good to make that ambition “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Acceptabel, Realistic and Time-bound). This is your potential! And people will get excited about it. But the answer to the question “Where do you want the organization to be in five years’ time” has relative value. For example, if you are an ambitious hospitality entrepreneur who wanted to open your restaurant in the spring of 2020. Or someone who envisioned to open their online brand of consumer goods. In either case, the strategic plan doesn’t make much sense anymore – for one entrepreneur the COVID 19 outbreak could mean bankruptcy, the other one is growing faster than he had anticipated. In any case: for both entrepreneurs it means finding an answer to the circumstances and events now. In other words: it’s about being responsive. Either by changing your business model – delivering meals at home and setting up the processes and logistics for this – or invest in scaling up your operation and finding a solution to the financing problem that this creates.

The dot on the horizon versus now…
Entrepreneurial life is full of unexpected events and developments, opportunities and threats alike. But what is more important then? The best possible response to events and developments? Or sticking to that “dot on the horizon”? The answer, of course, is the best possible response right now. Because that’s what the future of your company hinges on!

Doing business in the present moment
No company can afford anything else: if reality “happens” to your company, responsiveness is required. Because you do business and manage it in the present moment. By responding to and anticipating change. By improving and innovating. And that takes you and your organization somewhere. Very often this is not at the predetermined end point. The journey turns out to be more important. And if you are able to look at it that way and take your organization along, the journey will also be a lot more fun and adventurous. Full of unexpected windfalls.

John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That does not apply to responsive organizations. They are of course inspired by their ambitions and strategy. But these are not set in stone. As Daniël Ropers, former Managing Director of Bol.com, put it: “Responding to change is really more important than following a plan!” (‘The Responsive Entreprise’, by Rini van Solingen en Vikram Kapoor, Publisher Boom, 2016).

A new perspective on management

A long time ago I attended a seminar on management. A partner of a well-known consultancy argued that managing is simple. He compared it to balancing a broomstick on the tip of your finger: the broomstick is constantly falling over. By paying attention to how the broomstick will fall and always making adjustments, it stays in balance. How hard can management be?

Managing for control
This story illustrates the (unconscious) beliefs behind traditional management: “if you do not (pro) actively control and adjust, there will be chaos.” Management gives instructions – what is to be done and how – and controls the output. Another important assumption is that the desired results will then “automatically” emerge from the process. And there is implicit distrust that teams can achieve the desired results autonomously: the broomstick will fall if it is not scrutinized all of the time.

For a long time this view worked fine: with apparently predictable and longterm growth, it was relatively easy to make a strategic plan, divide it into periodic schedules and use it to manage the organization.

Pulling the grass
But following such a process no longer automatically leads to the desired results. As discussed earlier, change processes often fail because employees are not taken along well enough in the movement that management aspires to: lack of support, insufficient focus and change capacity cause the most frictions. The result: insufficient agility and resilience and little pro-activity to external events and developments. The feeling that this creates among many managers is that they are busy “pulling the grass and hoping this will make it grow faster”. An exhausting and unsatisfying activity.

But grass cannot be forced. That applies to everything in nature, including humans. This in contrast to “things”, such as…well: a broomstick. Too much direction and control, driven by underlying mistrust, leads to stress. Burnouts as a result of work stress are now the most important occupational disease, possibly around the world. The way in which it an organization is managed plays an important role here.

Organize for success
Every gardener knows that you can influence the soil, creating a fertile situation. Responsive organizations manage to create such a situation and let teams thrive. How do they do that?

First of all, autonomy is invested as much as possible with the employees in teams. People are more motivated when they can work together autonomously. That means a high degree of independence, decision-making authority and responsibility. The degree of autonomy or self-management can differ, depending on the culture and beliefs that live within the organization.

Trust
But isn’t it going to be chaos, as the broomstick metaphor predicts? On the contrary. Research into self-managing teams shows time and again that employees who determine how they do their work are more motivated, collaborate better and achieve better results. Provided there is clarity about the direction and goals. Creating that clarity, together with the team, is where the manager adds value.

The key here is trust. Trust is mutual, so you get what you give: people try their best not to shame it and are motivated by it.

Don’t control, create!
There is then still plenty to do for managers. But their role now is about creating the breeding ground for success – not about directing and controlling.

What are the ingredients? Clarity about the goals has already been mentioned – of course with sufficient support (70% of the teams do not agree with the goals of their management!). In addition: ensure that people come into their own! That means that they do what they want to do, what they can do and that they can focus on their work. Encourage good team dynamics (feedback). This means that every team is complete, and that it is clear to everyone what their role is and how it contributes to the goals of the team. Psychological safety is the most important ingredient here. This ensures that people share ideas, give their opinion, dare to make mistakes and celebrate successes together. This is the fertile ground for creativity and growth!

Give your team freedom in confidence.
Just like the gardener trusts nature to do its job. Will it always go well then? Of course not: usually something happens that is not foreseen. Which is exactly why you have a responsive team and where you can make the difference as a manager. By overseeing the situation and helping people to find an answer to (new) dilemmas together.

The world is far from predictable. And that’s one reason responsive teams are needed. Another reason is that people thrive when you tap into their intrinsic motivation and creativity. This requires managers who inspire employees with clear goals and then let them come into their own in a safe environment.

How to get moving – part two

Responsive organizations emphasize the need that every individual comes into his or her own. The blog ‘How to get moving – part one’ describes that, if this is the case, people do what they want to do and which matches their skills and potential. Further to that, the organization encourages them to work with focus on their tasks and regular feedback lets them know how well they are doing (these are the four elements known to bring people in a state of flow). The next step in creating a responsive organization is to develop the right teams dynamics, suited to the vision, mission and culture of the company. These are the conditions that effective teams need:

Psychological safety
Multiple studies have shown that effective and high-performing teams have one thing in common: people feel comfortable in the team, accepted for who they are. They experience psychological safety as a member of the team. Practically this means that people dare to speak up, disagree, come up with ideas and be open about their mistakes, because they understand and feel that the team ‘has got their back’. As a result, people feel fulfilled being part of the team and the team develops a continuous learning mode, in which people thrive.

Systemic team needs
Next to psychological safety, there are other basic ‘needs’, the so-called ‘systemic needs’, for every team to perform well. These are:

  • clarity about the team’s purpose and objectives;
  • understanding and acknowledgement of the events and history relevant to the team;
  • the team is complete – all necessary roles and functions are in place;
  • there is clarity about the order in the team;
  • people in the team experience a good balance of ‘give and take‘ in the team.

Often, when teams are not functioning well, one or more of these systemic needs appear not to be in place. For example: if at some point in time, a manager has suddenly left without proper explanation from upper management, this may cause the team dynamics to suffer in a way that will give any succeeding manager very little chance for success (which is why the second systemic need is important).

If systemic needs are not met, they will be the root cause of symptoms like too many changes in team management or relatively high levels of sick leave. Resolving the root cause will help find solutions to these symptoms – fighting them does not. For example: if employee turnover is relatively high, companies may be tempted to initiate an employer branding campaign, with the purpose to increase employee retention. However, the root cause may be in one of the systemic needs. For example, there may be a lack of clarity in (team)purpose which causes a lack of motivation (the first systemic need). In such a case, the remedy is in engaging the people involved and develop a compelling purpose and clear (team)objectives. This would be the proper and lasting solution in this example. The envisioned employer branding campaign would not, because it would be initiated with the wrong motive, and hence risk to realize adverse effects.

Autonomy
Self-realization is an individual need. It is also a need among teams. Therefore, successful teams function in certain autonomy. Not only for this reason, there is also a practical reason: centralized decision making is in many cases no longer effective if an organization aims to be responsive. So a certain level team autonomy – up to complete self-organization – is necessary.

Therefore, effective teams have clear arrangements how they work together. These arrangements deal with the way decision making takes place, the work is divided etc. They also contain conflict resolution mechanisms.

Putting the conditions in place
The conditions as described here cannot be put in place overnight. First of all, the organization needs to define how they will work for them. Secondly, it is a continuous process that requires constant evaluation and adjustment, so the dynamics will fit the organization. In other words: the organization finds it own flow. Once the desired team dynamics are in place, they require continuous monitoring, feedback and interaction (coaching, adjustments), to ensure the teams’ performance remains at the desired levels.

How To Get Moving – part one

Moving As One is about setting up your organization for success and creating coherence so it will respond effectively to its environment.

Good vibes
Let’s assume you and your management team have defined the Vision and Mission for your organization. They describe why your company is in this world and what it aims to achieve. It is concise, inspiring and memorable. You have shared it with your organization and stakeholders and  the feedback is excellent: you notice that the new vision and mission create positive vibes. You have hit a sweet spot…now what?

How to get moving…
The question for many executives then, is how to get their organization moving and build a responsive organization. As with all walks of life, this starts with the first steps and these had better be right.

Make people thrive

Clarity
The ‘how’ for creating a responsive organization starts at the level of each and every employee. As everybody in the organization is part of a team, alignment starts with clarity for every team: how do they contribute to the vision, mission and objectives of the organization. What is their primary function and what are its objectives? 

This seems obvious. Yet many teams experience a lack of clarity to this regard. That is because people often struggle to understand the bigger picture and how their team can deal with the challenges at hand. For example: in times of turmoil and changes, sales departments may struggle with the question what product-market combinations they should prioritize and why. If leadership doesn’t help to get that clear, the sales professionals will find it difficult to move as one and be effective. Here’s a role for leadership to help make that clear, so the team can make effective decisions.

People in the right place
In sports, one player who doesn’t play well can drag the team down. In companies it is the same, even though you can’t always notice it on the spot. So first you want to ensure that every individual comes into his or her own. That is because you want every person to contribute to the best of his/her abilities and potential. To do this, you need to know to what extent each person is set up right for their job. This comes down to answering these four questions:

  1. are people doing what they want to do? This is about aligning personal objectives and purpose with those of the team and the entire organization. People who are unhappy with what they are doing increase organizational friction and stress levels.
  2. are they doing what they can do? In other words, do their skills, abilities, and  potential match their work? You don’t want to challenge them too little, as it will bore them. Neither do you want to over-challenge them: it creates too much stress. People need to be challenged just right, so they are inspired and energized to stretch themselves.
  3. does the organization enable them to focus on their job. This seems an obvious statement, yet in many organizations people get distracted all the time. E.g. too much of a meeting-culture or constantly changing priorities prevent people from working with dedication.
  4. does everybody know how they are doing, and how they can progress and learn? Feedback should be continuous and not confined to an annual appraisal session. It should be motivational and constructive: motivate people with their achievements and inspire them to learn from things that have not gone according to plan. 

It’s a scientific fact that people come in a state of flow if they do what they want to do and can do, have the opportunity to dedicate themselves to it and understand how well they are doing. That’s why specifically these four questions need to be addressed.

Understand where every person is
If each person is ‘mapped’ along these parameters, e.g. by their team leaders, it automatically improves the interaction among your organization. That is because such mapping can only occur if people connect with and understand one another. You will find out whether people feel they are in the right place or not. It gives you an opportunity to understand how you can help them in their ambitions, aligned with the company vision and mission.

Team dynamics
Creating clarity for each team and assessing to what extent everyone is in the right role are the first and necessary steps in actively creating a responsive organization.

Once the teams are complete and everyone’s roles are clear, it’s time to look at the team dynamics. Which is what next week’s blog will be about. 

Workshop The Art of Moving As One

There is a growing need among business leaders for insights and inspiration on how their company could become Responsive and organize for success. Our Workshop ‘ The Art Of Moving As One’ does just that.

The Art Of Moving As One is a modular workshop that could be brought to your organization either as an interactive presentation of 60 – 90 minutes or as a full four-hour workshop that includes break-out sessions and sharing of insights and inspiration among the participants.

The program of the workshop will be tailored to your organization’s specific situation and needs. It takes the participants through the following topics:

Part I: Management As We Know It

  1. Conventional ways of organizing and managing. How do they work? What are their assumptions and starting points?
  2. Why and how have these ways of organizing and managing arisen? Here we deep-dive into the last 3,000 years of cultural history to explain how unconscious imprints influence us throughout our existence and build organizations built on fear, competition and impulses to control.
  3. Why are these conventional ways of organizing and managing less and less effective? What are the symptoms? Why do they cause employees to generally be non-engaged? How does it hamper change for the better?

Part II Why is change so difficult?
Roughly 70% of transformations fail. Whether we’d look at Mergers and Acquisitions, Cultural Change Programs, large ICT investments, Infrastructure projects – the majority fall dramatically short or fails all together. This part of the workshop explains why change is so hard – if not impossible – to manage. We do this on two levels: that of the individual and that of the group or team.

Part III How could we organize for success?

  1. This part starts with inspiring examples of organizations that have taken the leap and Have become Responsive. Organization that are coherent in their development, learning and growth, because the adapt almost organically to their environment while at the same time delivering according to their vision and purpose.
  2. What are their characteristics, how do they collaborate, decide, lead, resolve dilemmas?
  3. The foundation: vision, mission and unique potential. Although most organizations do have visions and missions, in most cases they are not used for what they are meant to and, hence, are not powerful: to provide a clear direction and strong energy to the stakeholders involved and to hold a compelling appeal to (future) employees and (prospective) customers. Unfortunately, the potential of authentic visions and unique missions is often underestimated which leads most of them to be no more than correct but generic statements that do not generate much of a stir among its stakeholders.
  4. How to build such an organization? This section discusses starting points and natural principles that help individuals and teams find their flow and come into their own. A straightforward model, peppered with surprising and inspiring examples.

The workshop holds many examples and case-studies (successes, failures, in- and out-of-the-box), history, society and science and has continuous interaction with the audience.

Knowing What To Do

As we discussed on the page ‘Get Moving’, there are specific factors that inhibit coherence in organizations. In order for our plans to succeed, we need to organize for success. This comes down to making sure there is alignment and focus. We also want to ensure that the required effort can be pulled off by the team.

Insights
How do we gain insight in these parameters to the extent that  everybody knows where they are now and what needs to be done next? In essence we want to have insights like:

  • ‘John has too much on his plate. We need to sit with him and understand how we can help him.’
  • ‘Team B is well aligned with the company objectives, but they are not aligned among themselves on their priorities. Let’s get together and resolve this first.’
  • ‘The Business Development Team is moving too fast on lead generation, since ICT isn’t ready for the CRM rollout, yet. We should  align them with ICT and alter their priorities for the coming quarter’.

Ask everyone involved
How do we arrive at these insights? We do so by asking all the people involved. By asking we engage people in the movement we want to create.

As an example, let us assume management wants to improve the  effectiveness of one or more teams. For the sake of this example, we use six priorities that management deems relevant. Three priorities for individuals to thrive in their team and three for team effectiveness:

Individual:

  1. To what extent are your personal objectives taken into account in your work?
  2. To what extent is it known which skills and talents you want to develop?
  3. How do you deal with deadlines?

Team:

  1. To what extent does the team have objectives?
  2. To what extent is there a clear division of roles, responsibilities and tasks in the team?
  3. Does the team meet to discuss status and progress?

There either is a natural order in these priorities, or an order should be set. E.g. for the individuals we could agree that their personal objectives should be reckoned with first. On team level: without objectives there is no need to have a team. Et cetera.

For the purpose of engaging everybody involved, we ask everybody about these priorities. Since we want to gain specific insights for concrete actions, we ask for facts or verifiable behavior. In the questions we incorporate the maturity levels that we have in mind for the team and our organization. Last, but not least, we ask people for the status now and the status they want to have arrived at in the near future, for example six months from now.

A typical question would look like this example: 

Note that we can work with up to five maturity levels, however three appears to be the most practical number to work with.

According to the person in this example, there are team objectives and they have been shared. However, he thinks the team should step up in the coming six months by making it clear how his role contributes to the team objectives – the highest maturity level in this example.

Every person in the team can indicate where he or she is at, and where he/she wants to be six months from now (or two or three, depending on the rhythm you want the change to occur at). Now we can have an aggregate understanding where the individuals and team are and what needs to be done, for example: 

  • ‘Within the team there is little alignment on the priorities to work on.’
  • ‘Suzy has reached the highest maturity level in dealing with.’ deadlines. She can share her expertise with John, who is lagging.’
  • ‘There is clarity on the team objectives, yet the division of roles is not fully clear.’

How to lead and on what
By getting this information, leadership now gets a grip on how to lead and on what. For example if the team is well aligned on their priorities, but not in agreement with leadership’s priorities, leadership should take a different action compared to when the team does agree with them. In the latter case, there is no need to hold back: everybody is on the same song sheet so let’s move forward! In the former case there is a need for clear communication. Maybe there is a conflict that needs resolution!

Engage everyone involved 
In order to engage everyone, we actually ask everyone involved. All of them? Yes. But wouldn’t it be cumbersome and time consuming to get  all the answers and process them? Not if you use Artificial Intelligence, let algorithms do that work and present you the dashboard, on all levels of granularity – in real-time! 

The Praioritize platform, developed by our partner Transparency Lab,  does all that. It automates all the tasks involved in measuring and reporting on the change progress. You don’t need to wait until all responses are in and you don’t need people to process responses – the platform does all that in real-time, through 360º input from every person involved. The platform gives insight on levels of agreement and calculates priorities to work on for the organization, the teams and all individuals. Management of course ultimately decides on these priorities, and is supported by the platform in knowing whether the effort required is feasible and the capacity in the team is sufficient.

Knowing what to do…
In case of this example, the plan and priorities for Team A in the coming six months could now be assessed as follows:

  1. Personal objectives of everybody discussed and documented (highest maturity level 3).
  2. Development of skills and talents of everybody discussed with manager (maturity level 2).
  3. Team objectives: clear and documented and for everybody involved it is clear how their role contributes to the objectives (maturity level 3).

Note that of the six priorities dealt with in the questionnaire management has chosen three to focus on in the coming period. That is because, based on the algorithms of the Praioritize platform they know that this is a feasible amount of priorities (focus), the effort of which can be borne by the team and there is sufficient capacity within the team to pull this off.

Dashboards on every level
The platform provides dashboards on every level. This means that every individual has access to the information relevant to his/her performance (where am I, what do I need to do next?, who can help me?), every team leader has insight on team level and the board of management has a comprehensive overview, including insights on how teams are progressing together.

Why change management often fails

Responsive organizations are better able to adapt successfully or anticipate developments in their environment. If you want build such an organization, it is important to understand why conventional change management often fails, as we discussed in one of our other blogs.

Organize for succes
In many change projects, companies do not organize well enough for success. By that we do not mean organization charts, KPI’s, reporting lines or meeting schedules. These are usually well in place. Maybe sometimes a little too much.

Many companies do not adequately tap into the human ability to change.

No, we mean that the plans take insufficient account of people and their  relationships. For example: are people energized by the company’s strategy or change plan? Does everyone do what he or she wants to do – and does that match their abilities? Is there sufficient agreement – or ‘buy-in’ – on the goals and priorities? Is there enough focus, or is the number of priorities so great that no focus is possible? And do the teams involved have sufficient capacity to realize the change? 

Friction
Common sense tells us, that agreement, focus and capacity are prerequisites for successful change. And it is clear that, when these factors are not addressed well in the process there will be too much friction. Friction exists within organizations as well as between organizations and their environment. A certain amount of friction is good – it leads to resolutions and innovations. But too much of it creates resistance, frustration and lack of progress. This is the case in the far majority of change initiatives. It prevents companies to tap into the human ability to (contribute to) change.

Understand blockages to change
This was demonstrated by the Artificial Intelligence specialists of Praioritize, led by Dr. J.M. van de Poll (See: van de Poll, J. M. (2018). Ambition patterns in strategic decision-making). They have conducted a global study among more than 4.000 teams. Part of the study was to find out how teams score on the factors of agreement, focus and capacity to change. The results are quite revealing.

Agreement
On the one hand the study measured the agreement among the teams of the respondents with regard to their priorities (from low to high). On the other hand the study measured the teams’ agreement with the objectives that were set by upper management (low to high):

Most teams have insufficient agreement on priorities

Seventy percent of the 4.000 teams does not agree with the company’s objectives (!), and 40% of the teams do not agree among themselves. How will that bring about coherence in the organization?

Ambitions
Another factor that was measured was the ambition or focus level of the teams. For this, the study looked at the number of priorities the team wanted to improve (the width of improvement) and by how much they wanted to improve them (the depth). Again, the results of the study offer a surprising insight:

Most teams choose too many priorities in change projects

Only 3% the teams have a clear overview of a limited number of improvement points that they want to improve significantly – on the road to progress. The other 97% of teams either pile too much on their plate – wanting to improve too much at the same time or they have no ambition (improve a few points just a little).

Effort
An organization could agree on highly ambitious objectives, but what if the organization is not up to the required effort? The next image illustrates that only in 20% of the teams, the team can easily meet the required effort. In the other 80%, the effort is either (too) high or unevenly distributed among team member:

The effort required for teams is usually (too) high, or not evenly distributed among team members

Capacity
Last but certainly not least: we could all agree that there must be capacity to change in the team. Capacity can be defined along two dimensions: two what extent are people working on non-priorities and to what extent are they already scoring the objective on actual priorities? As with agreement, focus and effort, the research has revealed that the majority of teams has the tendency to ‘bite off more than they can chew’:

Capacity is another factor in change management that is generally overlooked

Take the basics into account…
Change is hard when there is lack of consensus and lack of focus. It is also hard when there is consensus and focus, but the required effort is unevenly divided among the team or does not match the capacity of the organization at all. As the results of the Praioritize study demonstrate, the far majority of change programs start off at the wrong foot and fail to take into account the basic managerial factors that enable organizations to move as one and accomplish change for the better. 

Why is a responsive organization necessary?

The way many companies are managed and organized is based on management models developed from the mid-20th century. Those models are, in turn, based on organizational development during the industrial revolution. In the traditional management view, a strategy is established by the management of the organization and the organization then implements this strategy.

The strategy becomes a multi-year plan and is divided into clear sections of a month or a quarter, so that the results can be used to regularly check whether the company is still on track.

Management in a predictable world

If the results are not satisfactory, the operation is adjusted to realize the strategy. Perhaps people need to be replaced, we need to talk to suppliers again, review the organizational structure…

What such organizational models, often implicitly, assume is that the strategy is correct. If the results are not according to plan, the implementation must be adjusted.

Direct & Control
We could call this the “Direct & Control” system: the strategy is determined by the board. The organization is instructed and periodically checked whether the implementation of the strategy is going according to plan.

This way of organizing will encounter few problems, as long as the economy and the markets in which your company operates develop and grow predictably. If there are not too many “disruptive” events, you compete with your competitors for the favor of your customers. A fun and exciting game.

Why this is no longer sufficient
Our world is in motion on all fronts, probably more intense, fiercer and more global than ever: geopolitical dynamics, (macro)economic unpredictability and global events (pandemics, terrorism) challenge companies to find answers to new issues and dilemmas. Many sectors are disrupted because new competitors can operate smarter, faster, more agile and cheaper with the help of technology.

Companies need to mobilize all their capabilities and creativity to anticipate these changes and realize their ambitions. This requires more self-management in operations. Because traditionally managed organizations make little or no use of this ability, they are less able to respond quickly and in a timely manner, let alone anticipate, in the complex dynamics of strategic issues that confront them.

From “Direct & Control” to “Sense & Respond”
In responsive organizations, change takes place in an organic way. For them, the strategy is not the unshakable plan to be executed by the organization. Steve Jobs, the legendary founder of Apple, spoke about this when he said, “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and then tell them what to to , We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.”

Responsive organizations are better capable of responding to developments and events

Responsive organizations are highly aware of their potential and have a convincing vision and powerful ambition. Their way of organizing and managing ensures that employees are inspired to get moving and shape developments together. The interaction of people in these organizations is more important than the plans. Operation and strategy are closely intertwined and the connection between people is stronger. Autonomy is invested as low as possible in the organization.

As a result, responsive organizations are better able to anticipate and respond to developments and events in their environment. They are more sensitive to them and use more creativity to solve their problems. As a result, they learn, develop and grow faster.

Would you like to know more about responsive organizations?
Do you want to learn how you can transform your organization to become (more) responsive? Download our free whitepaper Responsive Organizations here and discover how your organization can become more agile, happier and more successful.

What is a responsive organization?

Responsive organizations are organizations in which change takes place in a natural, organic way. And successfully. Because responsive organizations know how to involve people in their ambitions. They have a strong awareness of the potential for the markets they serve and the economic “ecosystem” of which they are a part.

Why considering your ecosystem matters
All players in an ecosystem need each other to some extent. No company can thrive alone. The position of a company stretches beyond the relationship with its customers. Its position in the entire ecosystem, which includes suppliers, financiers and society, is more relevant to consider. The quality and support of your suppliers, for example, determine the quality and distinctiveness of your products and services. It is relevant that your company engages suppliers with its ambitions. This contributes to innovations and solutions to problems your customers encounter. Another example is the social acceptance for the behavior of your company which is relevant to the reputation of your brand. Your actions, and the motives behind them, will always be discounted by society – and may even be magnified on social media …

Imagination
Responsive organizations have a strong imagination about their potential. In addition, they are so well connected with their environment (customers, suppliers and the rest of the ecosystem) that they sense very well how they can develop that potential, step by step.

Based on their awareness and imagination, responsive organizations are organized in such a way that development and growth are driven by the employees. Change is inspired, not managed and growth emerges ‘from the inside-out’.  This is caused by a strong connection among the people involved and the outside world, inspired by leadership.

Vision and Mission

Responsive Organizations are able to adapt naturally and effectively to changing market circumstances and unexpected events. Not only that, they also are better able to anticipate market needs and lead the way in the business ecosystem that they are part of. 

Where do you start in developing such a responsive organization? How do you create such energy and engagement among people that they start to move, and contribute, in coherence? 

Responsive Organizations generally have three fundamental characteristics  that provide the energy and direction for their evolution and growth: they have a strong awareness about their place and added value in their market and the ecosystem they are part of. They combine this awareness with strong imagination about the possibilities they have. Because they are very well connected with their customers and other stakeholders in their ecosystem, they have an excellent understanding how they can develop their potential, step by step.

The articulation of such awareness and imagination is most relevant if you want your company to become responsive: this is what attracts the right people to your company and draws customers to the brand of your products and services. So it had better be exciting and inspiring!

The awareness and imagination is where differentiation starts. They can be captured in your company’s ‘Vision and Mission’. Unfortunately, their value is generally underestimated. 

Test it for yourself: visit the websites of five competitors in your market. Read their vision and mission statements. How many of them feel genuine, authentic, strong and compelling? How many can you remember after having read them? Which ones feel like the directors have articulated something they could all agree on – ‘defined by committee’ – and hence have come up with something that does resemble the company, but lacks ‘soul’, let alone has energy? Even worse: the same visions and missions could easily apply to any other company in the same business. How many ‘visions’ and ‘missions’ truly energize and make you relate to the company in question? 

To add to the fun, anonymize these statements and have a little quiz with your colleagues: who can guess correctly which vision and mission belong to which competitor? Chances are nobody gets it 100% right. In other words: most competitors look alike. If that’s the case, price competition will be strong and margins will be low, because it is the only difference the customers could see.

Case in point
One of the best-known examples that hit a huge sweetspot is President Kennedy’s mission to ‘put a man on the moon’ in the nineteensixties. The energy that was fueled by this idea was so strong and compelling that it  unified a nation in ambition, confidence and hope for a better future. The foundation for this mission was of course the United States Space Program. Behind the mission was the vision that the other superpower of that time, the Sovjet Union, had to be defeated – not only in the Cold War did the USA want to express supremacy, but also in other domains, such as the Space Race. This vision of space dominance fueled the direction of the space race, and was made specific in the desire to ‘put a man on the moon’. The direction and energy united the American people and gave rise to the birth and growth of a tremendous industry. 

A similar appeal is made by Elon Musks mission to put people on Mars – the idea is so compelling that investors willingly step in, even though it will take a while before the idea comes true. 

A clear vision demonstrates a strong awareness within a company of its added value and potential in the markets it serves and the ecosystem it is part of. The ecosystem is probably equally important as the customers, because the entire industry’s ecosystem creates the cumulative value in that industry. No supplier can deliver all the technology, creativity and expertise entirely alone. So the stronger your position in your industry’s ecosystem is, the more possibilities you are able to create.

So the vision provides direction for the development of the company. It should be clear, concise and heartfelt. Examples of such visions are: ‘all humans have access to healthy food’, ‘affordable health care is possible for everyone’, ‘muffins can taste much better’. 

Subsequent to the vision, the mission provides the energy that fuels the motion of the company. The mission could also be named the ‘purpose’, the ‘central idea’ or the ‘why’ of the company. When we take the aforementioned visions as example, the accompanying missions could be something like this:

VisionMission
All humans have access to healthy food.Organic food in every supermarket at competitive prices.
Good health care can be accessible for everyone.Online health care insurance, affordable for everyone.
Muffins can taste much better than they do everywhere.Be acknowledged to have the best tasting muffin in the world.
Powerful visions and missions are clear, compelling and easy to remember.


Please note that with these visions and missions there is no misunderstanding about the direction and purpose of these companies. Everybody can remember them and will quickly feel whether they relate to them or not. They also imply what this means for the company’s place and role in its ecosystem. 

Let’s take the example of the muffin baker as an example: if you are that passionate about making the best tasting muffins in the world, at what lengths would you go? How would you engage your employees and lead them? Do you just source the cheapest flour? Or do you engage in discussions with flour producers with regard to their baking quality, the resulting texture? How will you engage them, and other suppliers, on how taste could be improved all of the time? How, then, does the mission reflect in your commercial audience? How do you relate to them, use their feedback, set up user groups? What are the possibilities for apps, big data? What role will you play in the bakery industry at large? What tone will you set? And how do you view your role in society? Could you help people in new ways and thus give something back?

A clear vision and powerful mission open up a whole world of possibilities for your company and they will strengthen its overall position. They get people to move with and for your company and make it more responsive.