The CIPD’s Hackathon twitter account @CIPDhack recently tweeted followers asking “Rigid org structure, fear, hierarchy, centralisation – what are your enemies of adaptability?”
My response was to pose the question of whether they are enemies or in fact catalysts, and I want to use this brief post to expand on that question beyond the confines of 140 characters.
Adaptability is defined as the ability to change (or be changed) to fit changed circumstances. From this definition we can see that, as sentient beings alive to the possibility in any given situation, we can choose either to adapt to changing conditions or to submit to them. Stating that an inflexible organisation structure is an enemy to adaptability is a rather submissive approach. I would prefer to see such a factor as a catalyst for change. Of course, that catalyst can work in a number of different ways. It may be seen positively as a challenge to be overcome with either positive or negative outcomes. On the positive side this may manifest itself in a desire to break down the structure, becoming a more fluid and agile organisation. Taken negatively, a sub-culture may develop that sees people working around the obstacle outside of managerial oversight. At the submissive end of the scale we will see decreasing levels of employee satisfaction and trust.
All of which leads me to question whether the mission statement “ Hacking HR to build an adaptability advantage” carries the right emphasis. Many business functions seem to be perennially soul-searching, constantly on the hunt for relevance or a desire to be seen as strategic. It’s looking at problems in our organisations and saying if we change we can change the business. Would it not be better to seek ways to address those perceived enemies, building on our inherent strengths?
Perhaps a better mission statement would read “HR: Hacking business to embed fluidity and adaptability in organisations”.