Step into Antifragile Strategies
Posted on October 1, 2018 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, however, is everyday. It is the disruption that alters our comfortable norms. It causes performance to drop, reputation to suffer, and 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. He used it to describe structures that prosper under stress. It is a good way to think about change-agility on an organizational scale. It addresses the question, “how change-agile is my organization?”. 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 inflexible to change and have no adequate backup plan for failure. As a result, disruptive change drastically impacts workforce issues like retention and performance. This can cause the entire organization to flounder. A good example of a fragile organization would be a startup, who does not have the resources or bandwidth to effectively withstand disruption.
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. Any large, multifaceted corporation is a good example of a robust organization.
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/services are quality and their employees are healthier.
Applying Antifragility to 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 Policy and Practice
Decision making is values-aligned, but decision making power is decentralized.
Team leads and managers are granted enough decision making power to alter certain workplace norms. This is limited in scope, but includes team specific policies and procedures. To better ensure continual alignment with the corporate vision, these decisions are measured against corporate values (leadership training will help with this). They are then peer reviewed, after-the-fact, by other leaders. Be careful not to stifle this new decision-making power with gatekeepers.
2 Active Listening
Listening is considered more important than control, oversight, or behavior management.
Shop-floor employees are believed to be experts and innovators. They are a source of guidance to corporate leaders, who solicit input when making substantive decisions. Information from employees flows up continually, both through and bypassing managers. Filtering or altering this information is frowned upon, as the raw substance of the message is important.
3 Clear Memory
In many cases, transparency is preferred over confidentiality.
Employees and leaders have a shared perspective of the past, present, and future. This unity is established through transparency and memory.
- Transparency: Typically confidential issues like financial crisis, executive staff changes, and client fallouts are shared with employees. It is understandable to be cautious, but remember that employees will fill information gaps with rumors.
- Memory: Successes and failures are recorded for the future. These stories are recalled regularly to boost morale and discourage negative behaviors and enable the organization to benefit from memory.
4 Plan and Follow-through
It is better not to promise than to promise and not follow-through.
Managers have a commitment to follow-through every time. They also plan carefully before every commitment. Actions are time-bound, measurable, and attainable. Don’t underestimate the trust building value of keeping your word.
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.
Recommended Reading: Exit Interview Tips