Adapt or die. It works in nature, so
why not in business? Asks Carolyn Nimmy
HR has seen trying times over the last two decades. Since the mid-1980s, we
have lived with a proverbial pendulum that swung first from an era of
‘right-sizing’, where employees were treated like interchangeable parts in the
cog of a re-engineered corporate machine, to one of intense ‘talent battles’
where human assets were viewed as prized ‘booty’ in the business wars for
market and mind-share. One can only wonder what will come next.
Today many industries face a more volatile situation than ever. We know
change is a constant that should be embraced. But stability and predictability
are no longer reasonable assumptions and CEOs are struggling to get their
organisations to adapt to a competitive environment. And, again, it is
incumbent upon HR to change and adapt in support.
"Biology has been solving hard combinatorial optimisation problems for
3.8 billion years. Maybe we should pay attention to how it does it" –
Stuart Kauffman, At Home in the Universe
Since the dawn of time, adaptation has been the key to species’ survival.
This principle of nature also applies to business. Research carried out by Cap
Gemini, Ernst & Young’s Centre for Business Innovation shows that we could
learn more from nature and use these lessons to create the adaptive enterprise
that can evolve to win in a fast changing volatile landscape.
Cap Gemini’s six principles of adaptive enterprises, which can be applied to
HR as well as to the rest of a business, are:
– Enable self-organisation
– Recombine to reinvent
– Make boundaries permeable
– Close feedback loops
– Apply selective pressure
– Live at the edge of chaos
In times like these, liberating prudent risk is a necessity of success.
Managers need a few simple rules for behaviour and then they can give people
freedom of action. Talent dislikes bureaucracy. Turn the organisation upside
down, fit the processes to enable the individual to "just get on and
do". Do not tolerate misaligned behaviours, be a role model, build and
support a culture that allows experimentation.
Recombine to reinvent
Doing more with less is the reality of a volatile economic climate. But less
can really be more through the power of recombining existing ingredients. Do
not tolerate the "not invented here" syndrome, instead, reward those
that recombine to reinvent.
Make boundaries permeable
The birth of the Internet opened markets and created transparencies for
consumers. While many dotcoms boomed and busted, the conditions they created in
many cases still remain. Forward-thinking businesses can take advantage of
boundaries rather than see them as barriers to progress.
Ensure key performance indicators do not create silos; encourage and teach
people to create and maintain their networks – especially parallel networks.
Encourage and promote diversity – of people, of ideas, ways of doing things.
Use technology – build systems and processes that move e-learning to
networked learning. This will give the ability to build upon knowledge via an
interactive learning process – creating value and innovation.
Close feedback loops
What gets measured gets done. Take a look at what you measure – apart from
financial measures, are you measuring the intangibles which today can account
for over a third of the company value? Examples of such intangibles include
brand, leadership capability, ability to attract and retain talent.
Be transparent. Get feedback from employees, customers, partners and
competitors to make sure your HR philosophy meets the needs of your market.
Apply selective pressure
Create and maintain a high performance culture, in good and bad times, and
always aggressively manage poor performers. Demand continuous improvement and
innovation. Strive for more, and do not be satisfied – but reward excellence.
Bring in new blood – do not allow stagnation; always look to raise standards.
Live at the edge of chaos
Keep highly connected to the external environment. Do not be inwardly
focused. Respond quickly. You need to break to create; sometimes even if it is
not broken you still need to fix it.
"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of
thinking we were at when we created them" – Albert Einstein
Perhaps by using these six principles to look at things differently we may
better align HR to the business. We may reap benefits – by doing even more with
less though the power of recombination and through enabling innovation by
freeing talent from bureaucracy. We could be well on the way to having that
adaptive enterprise – which like an organism is connected to its environment
and evolves accordingly to survive and win.
Carolyn Nimmy is global director, people relationship management, at Cap
Gemini Ernst & Young