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Your Organization's Ability to Adapt is an Attribute, not an Accident

Updated: Nov 7, 2022

Written by CultureCon Guest Blogger and 2020 Speaker, Phillip Meade

Company Culture and change management

When COVID-19 spread across our globe, it created a pandemic unlike any known by most of the working world. The impact has been felt in terms of lost lives and major shifts in how we live and work. This unprecedented time has shone a light on organizations’ capacities to adapt and evolve. Leaders in organizations are working to reinvent the way they work and deliver services to survive. And the need to adapt doesn’t end with the discovery of a vaccine. As we emerge from the shutdown, the shifts will continue as we seek to create our new normal.

As companies begin to resume normal operations, organizational culture is more important than ever because in times of crisis, people look to their leaders and to their organizations, where they spend so much of their waking lives, for stability, guidance and reassurance. Companies with highly effective cultures will enjoy a significant competitive advantage due to their ability to quickly refocus employees and nimbly adapt to the environment.

We define highly effective cultures by three criteria - their ability to:

1. Cultivate high employee engagement

2. Positively impact the quality of employees’ lives

3. Drive business results through organizational performance

Organizations that create a positive force in the lives of their employees – by providing stability, reassurance, and inspiration – will be more successful, more productive and will rebound faster from this pandemic.

But there’s another often overlooked but important reason that culture is critical to recovery. As noted above, the dynamics surrounding this global pandemic are producing a greatly heightened need for the capacity to adapt. And for any company to not just survive but thrive, the people within the organization must be able to adapt faster than the environment. We summarize this by saying that the internal capacity to adapt must be greater than the external rate of change. Otherwise the company will always be playing catch up and will most likely fail or be taken over.

Change, or adaptation as we like to call it, only really occurs in one place: between the ears of human beings. The speed and extent to which they can understand, support, align to and behave in ways supporting the change dictates how quickly and fully the company can adapt. This is why the capacity to adapt is directly determined by the organization’s culture.

Organizational culture is the unseen force that guides human behavior within an organization. And since the capacity of an organization to adapt is based on human behavior, culture ultimately defines that capacity. Furthermore, the best cultures also support the self-awareness, self-accountability and self-acceptance of the individual, which increases their maturity and their capacity for change. The best organizational cultures work at both the individual and organizational level to catalyze the capacity to adapt.

But organizational culture is only one half of the equation. Fear is a natural human response to change and is often the greatest barrier that prevents organizations from being able to adapt to their environment. Fear is a multiplier for the already present cost of change perceived by individuals. There are personal costs associated with every change, both real and perceived, which form the basis for individual resistance. Understanding what your employees and stakeholders perceive as the cost of change is critical to overcome resistance.

The primary reason that change efforts fail is fear. That fear is often subconscious and represents a challenge to one’s self-concept in some meaningful way. Understanding how these fears are affecting people allows you, as a leader, to address the true issue at heart rather than wasting time and energy addressing symptoms or “smoke screens” that cover up their underlying fears.

We use this formula to help leaders design and implement a change that includes an understanding of their existing organizational culture.

(Culture) x (Leadership) > (Cost of change) x (Fear)

On the left side of the equation, the qualities of the culture are both created by and magnified by effective leadership, and together, they define the capacity for change that exists within your organization. The right side of the equation defines the cost of the change for the individuals involved and the underlying fears that the change is triggering. So, to thrive in today’s world it is imperative that your organization’s capacity to adapt is greater than the individual resistance.

The bottom line is that the ability for your organization to adapt isn’t an accident – it’s an attribute of how you have designed your culture.


About the Author:

Dr. Phillip T. Meade is the co-owner and COO of Gallaher Edge LLC – a consulting firm focused on applying the science of human behavior to create highly effective organizational cultures. He has a passion for creating superior organizational performance and is a dynamic speaker, consultant and trainer. Dr. Meade has worked with a wide variety of companies to transform them from the inside out by starting with the self and applying a systems view of the organization. He has also led teams and organizations for over 27 years, serving at various levels of leadership.

Following the Space Shuttle Columbia accident, Dr. Meade led the organizational and cultural changes necessary for return to flight at the Kennedy Space Center, employing innovative techniques to align organizational systems, processes and leadership behaviors to drive sustainable change. Under his leadership the organizational and cultural changes instituted were recognized as the benchmark for culture change. Dr. Meade has a Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering and Management Systems, holds 2 patents and has over 20 professional publications.

To learn more about your culture’s capacity to adapt, take our brief Missing Link Culture Assessment to get a custom report.


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