I’ve encountered many business leaders who are really good at adopting the business concept or the business model that is the “flavour of the month.” Blue ocean strategy, balanced scorecard model, circular economy practices, corporate social responsibility, environmental, social and governance framework….the list goes on and on. Often, all of the corporate energy is consumed with adopting the said concept or model. Achieving the desired endgame is another story.
If nothing else, the pandemic showed us that speed matters, when survival is at stake. Many businesses adopted payment solutions almost overnight to protect their revenue streams. “Work from home” and its more nomadic cousin, “work from anywhere,” were adopted speedily to ensure that virtual business doors remained open. Shifting, as in adoption, happened.
Adaptation is the ability to sustain an improvement or innovation, over time, until the shift is normalized into a normative state or situation.
The problem though, was that adoption rates waxed over time, those rates were not sustained by businesses, to the point where there was full adaptation to a new state.
Adaptation is the ability to sustain an improvement or innovation, over time, until the shift is normalized into a normative state or situation. Many of the innovations born during the pandemic, while having demonstrated measurable benefits, have now been outmoded by less creative and in many instances, the original systems they were built to replace. In other words, adaptation didn’t take root.
A significant difference between adoption and adaptation, is that the former can be often a bolt-on exercise, whilst the latter is more of a built-in exercise. The former represents a layering over what exists, whilst the latter requires harmonized integration with what exists (or a redesign of what exists, to accommodate integration).
A significant difference between adoption and adaptation, is that the former can be often a bolt-on exercise, whilst the latter is more of a built-in exercise.
It’s a big challenge for some businesses to adapt to a new system, process or state. It requires clarity on the look and feel of the new state, a strategy that connects intention to result, an effective communication strategy and solid expertise in managing change effectively.
I believe that generally, when a business is considering adaptation, sufficient thought, effort and time should be assigned to clarifying the new look and feel of the new landing point. My experience has been that businesses don’t spend enough time and energy on this exercise. Additionally, the strategy for end-to-end connection should be informed by consideration of how the entire business will be impacted. Some strategies miss this end-to-end feature and instead, have a default focus on selected functional areas, like frontline, information technology, or procurement, depending on what is indicated by the gap analysis. Next up would be the change management effort that needs to be multi-pronged in its design, since every business is an ecosystem. Of course, implementing a solid communication strategy to build buy-in and opting-in within the employee population is critical.
I believe that generally, when a business is considering adaptation, sufficient thought, effort and time should be assigned to clarifying the new look and feel of the new landing point.
In my line of work, when a service transformation intervention is underway, both adoption and adaptation have to be integrated into the transformative journey. Adoption starts with the introduction of the new standards and new approaches that will define the new footprint. This adoption phase champions the sign-on commitment of the employee population to welcome the new state and to be accountable for owning its role in driving and supporting success.
Next comes the adaptation phase and yes, you would be correct if you’re thinking that this is where the fun begins. This phase, which includes the re-synchronizing of moving parts, while managing the transition through the many tiers of adaptation and integration, is both gratifying and supremely challenging. It is at this stage that business upheaval is at its peak, because the old way is yielding to the new way, with the latter being cast, more often than not, into a culture that will pose some level of resistance to change. The level of resistance to change depends heavily on the effort invested in preparing the business for change.
Additionally, the strategy for end-to-end connection should be informed by consideration of how the entire business will be impacted.
Through my continual interactions with senior executives, I am struck by the “thinness” of change management skills that exists at the top of the business hierarchy. The ability to navigate a business through successive change and adaptation milestones, is one of the most critical skills that is demanded of today’s leaders.
We don’t need to debate that navigating the tension between accelerated disruption and maintaining perpetual relevance, will possibly keep business leaders up at night. What may need some debating however, is where a business is prepared to locate itself on the “adapt or die” spectrum.