Adapt or Fail: Responding to Organizational Crises

Now that I’ve introduced the concept of adaptive capacity, let’s talk about how to recognize when there’s a need for adaptation.

What makes adaptive change necessary? To put it simply, problems do. Problems don’t always have to carry negative connotations—opportunities often present just as many challenges as do setbacks. Problems throw organizations into a state of disequilibrium that requires leaders to adapt to new conditions by implementing change throughout the organization.

Often adaptive change occurs as a response to a crisis—an economic downturn, a new product that changes the market, a revolutionary technology, new government regulations, etc. In times of crisis, an organization must either adapt or fail.

Leading through adaptive change is one of the most difficult leadership tasks you’ll ever be faced with. As a result, it’s easy to avoid the work of adaptive change by engaging in what Eichholz refers to as “technical work”:

“Technical work is very different from adaptive work, indeed. Where in one there are clear answers and little uncertainty, in the other there are no clear answers and uncertainty can be very high. Where one involves no big choices, the other involves difficult choices and, therefore, losses. Where one is straightforward and is executed through precise instructions, the other is time-consuming and demands a lot of renegotiations of loyalties and power relations.”

It’s crucial that leaders confront adaptive change head-on rather than avoiding difficult realities by focusing on the day-to-day processes that keep an organization afloat. Rather than approaching change reactively, you can learn to approach it proactively.

This is where working with a coach and creating a coaching culture within your organization can be the difference between success and failure. Coaching is one of the most effective ways to facilitate adaptive change, especially if it comes from inside the organization rather than externally. Hiring a coach to consult with top management is a great start, but working with a coach to provide employees at all levels of management with coaching skills training is even better. This way, when the need for adaptive change arises, it is more likely to be recognized and addressed immediately rather than mid-crisis or after it’s too late to avoid a catastrophe.

If you think your organization could use some help becoming more adaptive, let’s have a conversation. You can reach me via my website, on Twitter and on LinkedIn. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic and talk about how an executive coach can help.

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