The word ‘ready’ has at least 4 meanings in any dictionary:
1. Prepared or available for service, action, or progress.
2. Mentally disposed; willing.
3. Likely or about to do something.
4. Prompt in apprehending or reacting.
Our state of readiness in the organization is about all of the above. In ‘change management’ it is ‘change-ability’ instead of ‘change methods’. In military terms (and the term is very military) it means several levels of preparation for action. The US military, for example, has its Defence Readiness Condition (DEFCON) codified at 5 levels.
For us, in the organization, a ‘state of readiness’ has four drivers:
- Capacity for Rapid Reaction and Rapid Reconfiguration (RRR)
- Clarity on your ‘social algorithms’ (your ‘non-negotiable behaviours’).
- Built-in reboot systems; ability to declare inflection points when there is no crisis, and jump up to a next level of possibilities
- Renounce adaptation, robustness and even ‘flexibility’ in favour of that ‘taking any opportunity to do things you think you could not do before’ (Rahm Emanuel). And that may include scary reinvention.
All the above could be possibly understood under a generic label of agility, but the term has become too commoditised to pretend we all know what we are taking about. State of readiness is a platform, a structural and behavioural set that does not pre-empt a particular future. In fact, anybody who plans for a precise future will never succeed.
Let’s tackle (1), the RRR: Capacity for Rapid Reaction, which includes Rapid Reconfiguration. The stiffness of many organizations is alarming. Even for those which would not consider themselves stiff. The key to ‘reconfiguration’ is to have built in enough capacity to re-shuffle, re-organize and change gears structurally (a) without making a fuss and (b) without decreasing performance.
I have articulated my concept of a ‘Lego-Jigsaw’ dilemma before. In a nutshell, jigsaws are not reconfigurable. You have a piece missing, you have a hole, full stop. Also, you can’t use the same pieces that build a Magic Kingdom castle to create a Call of Duty street shooting puzzle. These are two jigsaws, not one. The Magic Kingdom or the Call of Duty. Pick one. Legos however are largely reconfigurable. It takes very little to dismantle the tractor and use the same pieces to produce a boat.
Many organizations are jigsaws: a set of inflexible and non-transferable pieces that, in reorganization mode, may require full scraping and buying of a new one. Many reorganizations, restructuring and rightsizing of the immediate past have naively intended to produce a ‘smaller and leaner jigsaw’ by taking out pieces here and there. These organizations have achieved gruyere cheese status with lots of holes and funny smells. They don’t work. An agile, slim and leaner company is not a big one without some pieces. The future is not a jigsaw. The future is Lego. But we recruit for jigsaws, and manage the precise fitting of the pieces in the organization chart.
Let me tackle the next driver tomorrow: over-emphasise the focus on your ‘social algorithms’, that is your non-negotiable behaviour.