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We all need fancy footwork in today’s ring

Exploring a better way to achieve successful change

When the boxer Mike Tyson was asked about an opponent’s fight plan he said, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. He could have been talking about transformation plans.

Who, at the beginning of 2019, had factored a global pandemic into their plan? Who, at the beginning of 2022 predicted years of conflict in Europe? Who predicted or was prepared for the supply chain upheaval?

And who, as recently as mid-2022, predicted and planned for the arrival of ChatGPT? Some are saying the influence of artificial intelligence will be greater than the advent of the world wide web. The speed of development alone is frightening.

And then there is climate change. All around the world, extraordinary weather events are occurring. In Australia, we have just had record-breaking fires and floods. Only a handful of people were predicting them, but even fewer were prepared for them. No one predicted the $10 iceberg lettuce.

We don’t seem to be very good at making predictions. And too often our big plans are being punched in the mouth.

Moreover, there are changes occurring within organisations too that would have been hard to predict, like hybrid work arrangements, ESG developments and cybersecurity breaches – although in the case of breaches, it is becoming, simply a matter of when. There are also slow-burning issues like social licence and other causes, where no one can say for certain what may happen, but if the #MeToo movement is any guide, we know a cause can go from a slow burn to an inferno in an instant.

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity are rising.

It’s no wonder that one of the most fashionable acronyms in use these days is VUCA, which wraps up volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity.

VUCA was introduced in the late 1980s by American leadership scholars and quickly adopted by the US military to help rethink the environment that was emerging after the Cold War.

The world seems infinitely more complex and uncertain today than it did back in the 1980s. Yet, in practical terms, very few organisations have changed the way they do things to take account of the prevailing VUCA conditions.

Today, many organisations are continuing to plan and embark on enterprise-scale transformation projects, often spanning years. They do so knowing that many such plans are doomed to fail, and many are going to under-deliver on vital measures. Indeed, many will take organisations to a place they no longer want to go or develop capabilities that, by the time they are delivered, are entirely useless.

It seems that organisations persist with these large-scale transformation plans simply because they assume that large means substantial, and substantial means valuable. But is this true?

Success leaves clues.

Perhaps we also persist because we have not had an alternative model. Until now.

At Portland, we are increasingly using a highly conscious adaptive model to guide organisational change - and clients are seeing the rewards. This is a model that is highly aware of changes in the environment. It is a model where organisations are required to think of responsiveness and flexibility as core competencies.

Transformation occurs, but it does not take place according to a rigid, locked-in master plan – one that often rolls on irrespective of change occurring around it.

Rather, the adaptive model has clear objectives and strategic intent, but at a tactical level, it is emergent, not predetermined. It is developed and delivered in a dynamic way, thus ensuring it continues to be aligned with both organisational objectives and the changing environment.

Another feature of this adaptive model is that it is multi-faceted, and it can adapt quickly to many areas of procurement activity. Going further, it consciously allows for future adaptive capabilities to be built in.

There is no army of suits. No monument builders either.

It does not make the lengthy time commitments required by traditional transformation projects. Quite the opposite. It is designed to be nimble: open to the need to change further if need be. It is also much more cost-effective.

It is not Agile or another project management methodology, as these are approaches that are not always suited to procurement. Nonetheless, because of the model’s situational and strategic awareness, it means design and delivery occur in an integrated and cohesive way.

Application of the adaptive model includes rethinking all major components of an organisation’s structure. But again, these are not mammoth tasks requiring long-term commitments. Rather, we are mainly talking about changes in mindset and behaviour.

How the adaptive model applies to people, processes, technology, and infrastructure will be discussed soon. In the meantime, you might want to start noting what limits your ability to adapt.

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