How do you cultivate adaptable people and unleash their capabilities on a
volatile world without losing control?
Philippe Masson explains
Is there such a thing as an ideal company? Probably not. But, as in nature,
some are better suited to their environments than others. And today’s volatile
environment is certainly not what it was even a few years ago when the new
economy was booming. At Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, our recent experiences
suggest that those enterprises which are most adaptable are the ones best able
to cope with this volatility.
Achieving superior performance
By observing what a few high performers have achieved, we have concluded
that truly adaptive enterprises exhibit three fundamental qualities which set
– Instinct: an ability to read even weak signals early, and to react
quickly, such as credit card innovator Capital One which tests new products on
the market every day
– Agility: coping with events such as demand fluctuations by combining and
recombining capabilities within their ecosystem. Dell Computers is good example
– Intelligence: learning from past experience. After a difficult return to growth
following the Gulf War, Marriott Hotels reacted to the World Trade Center
disaster by mobilising their entire organisation for recovery within a few
weeks – instead of slashing costs from the top.
All have mastered the art of cultivating adaptive people – individuals who
share a common purpose, seek to help others, are sensitive to their
environment, and stand ready to exercise initiative and take risks.
Cultivating adaptive behaviours through People Management Practices
As employee behaviour is shaped by the key events in their working
lifecycles, so HR executives have a vital role to play in building people
management practices – from recruitment to ‘off-boarding’.
Like most consulting companies, Cap Gemini Ernst & Young recruits for
skills and behaviours rather than job-specific knowledge. Combined with diverse
targeting, a strong on-boarding process, and dynamic management of mobility,
this makes for a richer blend of talents.
Our people work for an organisational entity such as the Finance Sector in
France, but they belong to a ‘profession’ such as strategic and business
consulting, or technology. Their choice of career tracks and their performance
assessment criteria depend on their profession and their role. Our consultants
have a choice between becoming content specialists or managing client
engagements and evolving towards a broader account executive role.
Clearly, HR directors have a major role to play in shaping the people
management practices that foster adaptive behaviours. But they need to operate
in an environment that empowers people.
Empowering people through adaptive organisation models and adaptive IT
While most companies today still entertain some pockets of hierarchy, where
life is controlled by job descriptions and reporting lines, many have evolved
to a more modular structure with responsibilities delegated to business units
and consistency achieved through transverse management processes.
The most adaptive phase in this evolution is the shift towards a networked
organisation model in which teams are the most important organisational
entities and people are connected through communities of interest.
Besides project teams where people spend most of their time, communities
such as ‘technology architects’ or ‘engagement managers’ provide our employees
with a natural family in which to share knowledge and collaborate on client
work with fellow-professionals.
The technology architects community, for example, was instrumental in
nurturing our approach to adaptive IT architecture, which has subsequently
become a market standard. The other key ingredient in this empowerment formula
is IT. Adaptive IT provides the connectivity and flexibility which employees
need to operate in networks and to respond to events.
But adaptiveness is not a panacea. Empowering even talented people can
result in disasters if they are not properly guided. Building a sound
organisation in the adaptive world is a matter of judgement about the right
balance between initiative and risk-taking, empowerment and guidance.
And adaptive enterprise is also critical once an employee decides to leave.
Such enterprises also support their employees at that point by maintaining
strong relationships with the alumni community.
Do you recognise the need to cultivate more adaptive people in
A first step might be to revisit your approach to performance
– Do you assess and reward individual performance on the basis
of demonstrated behaviours as opposed exclusively to results against targets?
– Have you agreed on a model of the capabilities expected of
people in your organisation – from shared attributes reflecting the corporate
culture to role-specific competencies?
– Do your employees have a clear understanding of their career
options and their development plans?
If the answer is ‘no’ to any of these questions, then
performance management might be a good starting point.
About the author
Philippe Masson is global leader of
the Strategic Consulting Profession at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young.