3 Antifragile Strategies
Last updated on March 19, 2020 by Jonathan Mills
Our corporate norm is to treasure stability. We call it “business as usual”, we fight for it, and most change management efforts aim to reach it as efficiently as possible. Moments of stability, however, are few and far between and it costs a great deal to maintain. Change is everyday. It is the disruption that alters our comfortable norms and it can cause performance to drop, reputation to suffer, or organizations to flounder. That is why change-agility is so critical. The ability to roll with the punches is the difference between a success and failure; but what does that look like at an organizational level?
Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire. You want to be the fire and wish for the wind.
– Nassim Taleb, Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU
The concept of “antifragile” was first coined by Nassim Taleb as he used it to describe structures that prosper under stress. It is a good way to think about change-agility on a large scale or to define the ideal lag metric. Performance is divided into three distinct groups: fragile, robust, and antifragile. These categories are powerfully telling, given that most organizations fit into the first two, less desirable groups. Very few are members of the third, although obtaining even partial antifragility yields substantial benefits.
For the fragile organization, change has the effect of disrupting “business as usual”. These organizations are brittle to change and have no adequate backup plan for failure. As a result, disruptive change drastically impacts workforce issues like retention and performance by elevating uncertainty and workplace aggression. This can cause the entire organization to flounder. These structures tend to be larger and more mature, having lost their ability to pivot and their desire for adventure.
If the fragile organization is a twig, then the robust organization is a bundle. They are just as inflexible as their fragile counterparts and change can break the strand. Disruption will likely aggravate attrition, reputation, client relationships, and overall productivity; but a diverse portfolio protects against utter failure. Large, multifaceted corporations tend to be robust (Johnson & Johnson, GE, 3M).
The antifragile organization has turned change into a productive force. Rather than be damaged by disruption they learn, adapt, and create momentum. They are flexible, but supported by structures that harness change to yield innovation. Their products and services are quality and their employees are healthier.
We are wandering where the wild wind blows
We are happy here ’cause the wild wind knows what we are
– “Orphans, Kingdoms” by Brooke Fraser
Startups, as an example, are often antifragile because they tend to have few members and few rules, with charismatic leadership. It is easier for them to pivot when disruption occurs. They should not take this for granted, however. The ease in being antifragile is organic for a startup. Holding onto this ability as they grow requires having a good strategy as they adopt layers of management, hire employees, comply with new laws, and compete against mid-sized firms.
Creating Antifragile Culture
Corporate culture remains a source of disruption for the average organization, affected daily by employee family life, politics, economy, religion, and workplace interactions. Despite this fact, many organizations hold rigid expectations for behavior and assumptions about work-life, a standard that leaves them fragile and vulnerable to change. But what if we could craft an organization that reacted positively to cultural change? Instead of being focused on maintaining consistency, it would thrive on continual learning, mindfulness, and adaptation. It would experience all of the benefits of a stable workforce plus the addition of continual improvement. Retention, reputation, and referrals would all maintain and then improve. Innovation, skills, and mastery would follow suit, as would service performance, product quality, and client relationships.
What follows are four strategies to start the process of creating an antifragile culture. This is only a starting point, but even a little progress toward antifragility will yield great benefits.
1 Adaptive Team Metrics
Goal setting is values-aligned, but decentralized.
Grant teams enough power and resources to define some of their own lead and lag metrics. This is limited in scope to team specific behaviors and results. By giving them more autonomy, teams can harness change more quickly and effectively.
Because of the inherent risk in decentralized control, require that team metrics are aligned with corporate strategy, vision, and values. The line-of-sight will help teams understand how to design metrics that feed the larger purpose and strategy of the organization.
2 Active Listening
Listening is considered more important than control, oversight, or behavior management.
Adopt the belief that shop-floor employees are experts and innovators. Build pathways for leadership to solicit input and guidance from them when making broad-sweeping decisions. Information from employees will flow up continually, both through and bypassing managers.
Filtering or altering this information should be frowned upon because the raw substance of the message is important. Intermediaries should, however, help collate feedback and identify patterns. Focus groups, surveys, “walkabouts”, and scrum groups are all good vehicles.
3 Clear Memory
In many cases, transparency is preferred over confidentiality.
Be as transparent as you can about difficult changes and events. Take a critical look at what you tend to keep confidential and determine if your motivation for doing so is fear. Take an honest measurement of the risk, and if you can share, do. Healthy transparency will make it easier for your employees to trust you during times of change.
- Transparency: Typically confidential issues like financial crises, executive staff changes, and client fallout can be shared with employees. It is understandable to be cautious, but remember that employees will fill information gaps with rumors.
- Memory: Record successes and failures for the future. Recall these stories frequently to boost morale and discourage negative behaviors, enabling the organization to benefit from a shared memory.
Creating an antifragile culture will help turn disruptive change into a positive, productive experience. This is the future of change management; but it is a long-term effort. Let Corporate Culture Specialist collaborate with you, because we want to see you succeed. Schedule a call, or visit our blog for additional insights.
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