A Model to Guide Organizational Adaptation
Authors: S.E. Cross
Publication Year: 2013
Journal: Proceedings of the 2013 IEEE International Technology Management Conference & 19th ICE Conference
Successful organizations anticipate the need to change. They do so with minimal effort and a focus on improving outcomes. This paper describes a systems-based approach by which organizations can become more adaptive and thus more agile, proactive, and innovative. The key idea is the alignment of vision and strategy, culture and beliefs, processes, plans, people, and desired outcomes. Such organizations have senior leadership that consistently and effectively communicate the vision and strategy (i.e., why the organization does what it does). The organization has a shared set of beliefs about why the vision and strategy are important. The organizational culture embraces innovative thought rather than rejecting such behavior. The resultant model is a codification of best practices based on a thorough review of the innovation, strategic management, leadership, and adaptive organization literature. The model was applied successfully in the transformation of a large, applied research organization.
Elaboration: Cross describes the development of a model based on a thorough review of the innovation, strategic management, leadership, and adaptive organization literature. This model is proposed to support continuous improvement towards greater organizational adaptation. Cross’ definition of adaptation is a rather general one: ‘the ability of an organization to modify its behaviors and actions in order to cope with change in its environment’. The key idea of Cross’ approach is the alignment of vision and strategy, culture and beliefs, processes, plans, people, and desired outcomes. This is shown in Cross’ model of an adaptive organization (Figure 1). Cross believes that when all aspects depicted in the model are aligned, it becomes possible for personnel within the organization – at all levels – to develop processes, plans, products, and services that are focused on achieving shared outcomes in a timely manner. Or, in other words, to be a highly adaptive organization. Further on, Cross presents a case study in which an organization made a transition from a rather static organization to a more adaptive one, using a phased approach. From this case study, Cross derived his Adaptation Maturity Model, which is depicted in Figure 2. The first step (from Level 1 to Level 2 in Figure 2) is to develop a shared vision which could be understood throughout the organization. The second step is to align processes and training with that vision. Employees at all levels are assigned more responsibility to take initiative to improve work processes and to express opinions about ways work is done that is not directly tied to desired outcomes. The next step is to make sure all employees understand how their work is directly related to the desired outcomes of the organization. After this, all mentioned organizational aspects are aligned, and the organization can pursue innovative programs without fear and with the full knowledge that finding new ways to improve products and processes is both expected and valued.
Relevance: While the proposed models do not any terms with the adaptive cycle model, Cross’ work has everything to do with it. It mainly has an effect on an organization’s speed and ability to go through certain steps of the adaptive cycle. When all the abovementioned organizational aspects are aligned and all employees share the same vision and goals, the organization is more able to adapt. For instance, when in a crisis, such an organization is better able to devise new combinations and exploit the best of them in a new business model, simply because all employees are able to adapt as required to achieve better outcomes.