Are You Training for Airmanship (AKA Learning Agility)?

The ability to effectively frame and solve problems in the cockpit in a high stakes, rapidly unfolding situation is called “airmanship.” In leadership development, we call this learning agility.

Learning Agility in Action

With the first anniversary of the tragic Boeing 737 Max crash of Lion Air Flight 610 followed months later by Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 upon us, there is a new wave of coverage in the news. As families continue to demand answers and accountability and outside entities work to understand what went wrong, another line of inquiry is being explored that has implications for anyone who works in high-stakes environments.

While not the ultimate source of the disasters, some, such as journalist and former commercial airline pilot, William Langewiesche, question whether or not the pilots’ training prepared them to be effective in complex high stakes situations (2019).

The ability to effectively frame and solve problems in the cockpit in a rapidly unfolding situation is called “airmanship” (applied equally to men and women).

Its full meaning is difficult to convey. It includes a visceral sense of navigation, an operational understanding of weather and weather information, the ability to form mental maps of traffic flows, fluency in the nuance of radio communications and, especially, a deep appreciation for the interplay between energy, inertia and wings. Airplanes are living things. The best pilots do not sit in cockpits so much as strap them on (Langewiesche, 2019).

A recent analysis by the New York Times of available flight data and cockpit recordings of these doomed flights provide some evidence that the crews of both doomed flights may not have had, or were not able to access their capacity for “airmanship” when the stakes were highest. Langewiesche sounds an alarm for the flying public.

. . .  it is certain that thousands of similar crews are at work around the world, enduring as rote pilots and apparently safe, but only so long as conditions are routine (2019).

Many fields have variations on the term “airmanship.” For example, miners who have an intuitive connection to the state of a mine, and potential threats to their safety are said to have “pit sense.” (Kamouche, K. and Maguire, K., 2010) while Aboagye-Nimo, E and Raiden, A (2016) use the broader term “site-sense” to include any variety of settings in which the ability to access and apply tacit knowledge is essential to success.

For those of us working in or with organizations, the stakes may not always be life and death, but they are often urgent and high. To stay competitive leaders at all levels of the organization must be able to respond quickly and effectively to a wide range of unexpected events and information; they must be able to make decisions in the midst of uncertainty, and they must be able to rapidly make sense of complex and volatile situations. In short, they need to develop “airmanship.”

Airmanship Requires Learning Agility

At its most essential, airmanship and site-sense share the same underlying competence: the ability to learn and adapt in changing contexts. In leadership development, we refer to this competency as learning agility. In their study of more than 190 executives’ significant learning experiences, management researchers identified the key to success within a complex organization: the ability to manage something new without having to master it first (McCall, Lombardo and Morrison, 1988). Learning agility is not simply the ability to think on your feet, it is the ability to apply lessons learned in one context to another, often more complex, one situation.

The good news is that it is possible to develop learning agility, though it doesn’t happen without concerted and intentional effort.

The United States Navy manages to instill a sense of this in its fledgling fighter pilots by ramming them through rigorous classroom instruction and then requiring them to fly at bank angles without limits, including upside down. The same cannot be expected of airline pilots who never fly solo and whose entire experience consists of catering to passengers who flinch in mild turbulence, refer to “air pockets” in cocktail conversation and think they are near death if bank angles exceed 30 degrees. The problem exists for many American and European pilots, too. Unless they make extraordinary efforts — for instance, going out to fly aerobatics, fly sailplanes or wander among the airstrips of backcountry Idaho — they may never develop true airmanship no matter the length of their careers (Langewiesche, 2019).

Training for Learning Agility

Over the past several years working with a wide range of organizations to help them make the agility shift and build more adaptable teams and organizations, we have found a number of effective strategies to help leaders across the enterprise develop their learning agility competence, capacity, and confidence.

Each of the following can be integrated into formal or informal learning programs, as well as be used in coaching and mentoring for learning agility:

  • Seek and provide learning experiences that call for adaptation. Even if you are learning a new skill, it is important to build enough confidence that you can apply that skill in a variety of situations (high stakes, uncertainty, missing or changing information, etc.). In formal training, be sure to design into your program learning activities that have some complexity and not a single right answer. If you, yourself, are the learner or are mentoring others, be sure to seek out and encourage your mentees to look for these opportunities in their roles.
  • Experiment with scenario-based learning that requires that you/your learners communicate, collaborate, and coordinate with their Relational Web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources. We regularly design experiential learning opportunities like this for teams to develop these capacities. You can also use these learning strategies as ‘thought-experiments” for individual and team reflection and idea generation.
  • Become a Cognitive Apprentice. Coaching and mentoring are excellent ways to learn a new role, build confidence and self-awareness, and progress toward a host of personal and professional goals. Sometimes overlooked in coaching and other informal learning strategies is the value of understanding an expert’s way of framing problems and opportunities and determining a course of action. This modeling process is sometimes called a cognitive apprenticeship (Woolley, Norman N.; Jarvis, Yvonne, 2007). Learn to ask and help your learners probe for the thinking process that led to key decisions. Sometimes it can be as simple as asking questions like: “How did you zero in on __________ as the key issue?” or “How did you come to that decision?” Listen to the responses and for how experts question their own assumptions and process complex or competing narratives.
  • Do what scares you. Perhaps the best way for you to develop their competence, capacity, and confidence is to seek new opportunities outside of your comfort zone intentionally. The more comfortable you (and your learners) can become in uncomfortable, even scary, situations, the more likely you will be able to think and function clearly when the stakes are high.

No one is suggesting that developing airmanship or learning agility vindicates what appears to have been serious flaws in oversight and design of the Boeing 737 Max. However, these and other high stakes incidents remind us that at the center of every operational crisis, are human beings who must quickly assess the situation and tap their available resources to respond as quickly and effectively as possible.

While we cannot control or train for every possible situation, we can be more intentional training for airmanship and developing our own and other’s learning agility.

 

What other strategies do you use to develop your own and others’ learning agility?  

•••••••••••••

Aboagye-Nimo, E and Raiden, A (2016) Introducing Site Sense: Comparing Situated Knowledge in Construction to Coalmining. In: P W Chan and C J Neilson (Eds.) Proceedings of the 32nd Annual ARCOM Conference, 5-7 September 2016, Manchester, UK, Association of Researchers in Construction Management, Vol 1, 467-476.

Kamoche, K. and Maguire, K., 2011. Pit sense: Appropriation of practice-based knowledge in a UK coal mine. Human Relations, 64 (5), pp. 725-744.

Langewiesche, W. (2019, September 21, 2019). What really brought down the Boeing 737 Max? New York Times Sunday Magazine.

McCall, M. W., Lombardo, M. M., & Morrison, A. M. (1988). Lessons of experience: How successful executives develop on the job. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Woolley, Norman N.; Jarvis, Yvonne (January 2007). “Situated cognition and cognitive apprenticeship: A model for teaching and learning clinical skills in a technologically rich and authentic learning environment”. Nurse Education Today. 27 (1): 73–79.

 

Do You Have an Agile Mindset?

Agile Mindset

Assess and Adapt Your Outlook to Thrive When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Whether you have been charged with helping your leaders, team or organization become more agile, are in the process of adopting agile methodologies, or simply recognize the need to be more effective in the midst of change, the starting place is the same: developing and reinforcing your agile mindset.

In previous posts and my book, The Agility Shift I have described this mindset as one that relies less on planning and more on preparing. This shift doesn’t mean that we need to throw planning out the window altogether, but that we recognize that in rapidly changing contexts we must approach our work with a readiness to learn and adapt.

The Agility Shift Book

Training, no matter if we are working out, or planning the future of our organization, means pushing performance to the next level.

 

For many of us, this represents a significant shift in perspective and mindset. Below are a few characteristics of this shift, along with a new resource for you to assess your current state of mind and begin your own agility shift:

An agile mindset welcomes discoveries.

An agile mindset welcomes new discoveries as an opportunity to improve and refine the work at hand rather than seeing them as a threat to anyone’s original idea, plan, value, identity, status, ego or any other barrier that can get in the way of innovation.

An agile mindset expects iteration.

Of course, iteration is at the heart of each sprint cycle in agile methodologies because developers of new software, products and services know that each iteration is an opportunity to test and learn. You don’t need to implement an agile methodology to understand the value of testing and learning. When you expect to iterate, you can hold your ideas and plans lightly, be open to new information, and fail, learn and innovate faster.

An agile mindset is responsive, not reactive.

You know the difference between being reactive and responsive if you have ever said or done something you later regretted. Reactivity is often guided by a knee-jerk impulse based on fear, defensiveness and the hard-wiring of our reptilian brain. Responsiveness can take place in the same amount of time, but includes a level of self-awareness and awareness of available resources, along with a rapid assessment of the situation and ability to prioritize effective action (or in some cases, inaction).

Most of us can’t honestly claim to have an agile mindset 100% of the time, especially under stress or in the midst of a high stakes challenge or opportunity. The stressed or anxious brain tends to revert to its familiar ways of thinking (at best) or go into full flight, freeze, or flight mode (at worst). Neither mode is particularly effective when innovation is our goal. The good news is that all of us can learn to make an agility shift to an agile mindset, even if it is not our first response.

The Agility Shift Book

An Agile Mindset Starts with Awareness.

The first step to making this agility shift is to become more aware of what you are experiencing when things don’t go as planned or when you discover new disruptive information.

I am excited to announce that we have added a mindset segment to the Agility Shift Inventory (ASI) to help you with this first step: Awareness.

As before, the individual ASI is complimentary. If you have taken the ASI in the past, I recommend you take a few minutes to take our 2.0 version. This version includes:

  • New survey questions designed to inventory your current agile mindset state
  • An updated Generative Conversation and Catalyst Guide with explanations and coaching questions to improve your mindset for effective action.
  • A chance to update your answers from the last time you took the inventory (remember, your results are highly contextual, so if your work setting/situation has changed since you last took it, your results will likely change as well).

Of course, if you have never taken the ASI, this is the perfect time to take it to start your journey to improved agility and innovation.

 

 

 

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Leading Through VUCA

Leading Through Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity (VUCA)

Over the past few months, a number of companies have asked me to help their leaders lead in the midst of VUCA.  These organizations include a US-based company that is preparing for a possible, but not certain, merger and needs to continue to serve its customers, grow and innovate as it awaits approval. A European pharmaceutical company that is reorganizing to be even more responsive to the marketplace. A global financial services company that is adopting new technologies and leveraging AI to meet its increasingly tech-savvy customers’ expectations.

Most likely you are familiar with the acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity and was first used by the US Army War College to describe the contemporary battlefield. Today VUCA is widely used in the changing landscape of business.

 

For each of these above scenarios and many more, business success depends on the ability to compete in a rapidly changing climate.

The Agility Shift starts with expanding our understanding of what it means to be a leader.

 

Everybody is a Leader in a VUCA Environment

When things are changing rapidly, there is no time to run every challenge or opportunity up through the chain of command.

As I define in The Agility Shift, “an agile leader is anyone who spots a challenge or opportunity and effectively responds”. This definition expands the understanding of leadership from the command and control model of yesterday to one focused on communication, collaboration and coordination. No longer is leadership designated by your job title, compensation package or place in the org chart. In VUCA environments, everyone is a leader. Everyone must be empowered to act to serve the customer and the needs of the business.

 

Which Aspect of VUCA Do You Prioritize?

To understand the leadership implications of VUCA, you need to identify which of the four characteristics are most relevant to your current situation. The matrix below, first proposed by Bennet and Lemoine (2014) may help begin to identify your leadership priorities:

Leading through VUCA

VUCA Examples

Ambiguity

  • Moving into a new market
  • Launching a new product, creating a new strategic alliance
  • Expanding beyond your core competencies
  • Big leadership or organizational changes

Complexity

  • Doing business in global markets
  • Multiple stakeholders with competing or shifting  priorities
  • Multiple brands, products, supply chains, distribution channels

Uncertainty

  • Competition is launching a new product/service and the impact on the market not known
  • Merger/Acquisition MAY be on the horizon
  • Proposed legislation/regulations MAY be adopted.

Volatility

  • Natural disaster
  • Supply chain disruption
  • Labor dispute
  • Technology breach
  • Geopolitical instability
  • PR/Ethics Scandal

Of course, each of the four characteristics of VUCA rarely happens in isolation. For example, you might be experiencing volatility and complexity at the same time (A sudden change in leadership at the same time as your competitor launches a new product).

Think about which of these examples and characteristics, or VUCA combinations, best describes the eco-system in which you do business.

Which VUCA characteristics are most relevant to the challenges and opportunities you are confronting in your organization? Department? Your role as a leader?

Make Shift Happen

Now that you have identified the characteristics of VUCA that are most relevant to your current situation and before you start thinking about specific strategies and tactics to be effective, it is time to make the mindset shift to ensure you are setting yourself up for success.

 

Mindset Shift: From Planning to Preparing

In stable contexts, we can rely on the tried and true practices of planning and analysis. When the future, not to mention the present, is uncertain and unpredictable, we must make a mindset shift toward preparing and enter a state of readiness.

Just as improv performers, athletes, and SWAT teams train and prepare for various high-stakes, high-stress scenarios, you can expand your capability and capacity to be effective when things don’t go as planned.

The best practices below fall into two key and interdependent categories: 1) People and talent development strategies and 2) Systems and processes. They are interdependent because you can have the best systems and processes in the world and if you have not developed your people to make the necessary mindset and skill set shift, you will be disappointed in their performance when it counts most.

Leading Through VUCA Best Practices

As you read the following best practices for leading through VUCA, pay particular attention to those that are within your span of control or influence.

Volatility

Characterized by an unpredictable, unstable situation, though not necessarily complicated. Information is available as events unfold.

  • Train for role elasticity and develop “generalizing specialists.”
  • Improve decision-speed
  • Build redundancy into your system and build slack into the supply chain
  • Leverage technology and alternative strategies to ensure continuous communication
  • Regularly train for various disruptions, and ID needed skills, knowledge, and talent
  • Tap your hi-potentials for temporary assignments

Uncertainty

Characterized by a lack of key actionable information, such as timing, duration, cause and effect.

  • Tap your Relational Web to:
    • Reduce uncertainty
    • Gather additional information and insight, including customer data, market analytics
    • Improve access to market insights via resources like slack and yammer
    • Reflect on and share experiences of successfully working through uncertainty
  • Identify the givens of the current situation and focus on what is within your span of control
  • Provide or seek career-pathing and “stay interviews” so you can identify people’s interests and strengths to keep them engaged
  • Implement agile performance appraisals and regularly provide feedback and acknowledge agile success

Complexity

Characterized by an overwhelming amount of information, interconnected or moving parts and relationships.

  • Improve communication, collaboration and coordination
  • Clarify decision-rights
  • Adapt organizational structure and expertise to match the complexity of the context
  • Identify people who have strengths and experience in dealing with complexity
  • Recruit and develop people who can thrive in complexity (See The Agility Shift, chapters 8-9).

Ambiguity

Characterized by a lack of information and precedent, making the ability to predict the impact of actions a challenge.

  • Create (some) clarity
  • Make space for interactions
  • Re-engage and recommit to your purpose
  • Understand and prioritize user needs
  • Focus on your MVP (Minimal Viable Product)
  • Practice rapid prototyping to fail faster and learn quicker
  • Experiment and pilot to discover what you don’t know
  • Make time to learn the lessons from experience and carry them forward

These ideas are not intended as a prescription for the issues and opportunities that are most pressing for you and your fellow agile leaders. They will help get the conversation started and lead to thoughtful strategic and tactical approaches that build your competence, capacity, and confidence to effectively lead through VUCA.

 

Bennett, J. and Lemoine, G., (2014) What VUCA Really Means for You, Harvard Business Review, January-February Issue.

 

Developing Agile Employees Who Can Thrive in the Age of VUCA

Relational WebWritten by Pamela Meyer, PhD

By now VUCA is common language for the Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity of business. The term originated at the US Army War College to describe the changing conditions on the battlefield, and its wider usage now serves as a call to action for all those who wish to be more agile and effective in an increasingly complex global world.

How should we prepare the workforce?

It would be a mistake to lump all aspects of VUCA together, as volatility calls for a different response than ambiguity. Yet, when it comes to developing employees who perform effectively in the midst of the unplanned and unexpected, there is a universal need to shift the way we prepare the workforce.

Most employee development strategies assume a stable future and that the skills and knowledge learned today can be readily applied to tomorrow’s conditions. VUCA challenges those assumptions and urgently calls for new approaches and strategies to develop employees at all levels of the organization who can learn and adapt in changing contexts—in other words, employees who are not only agile but are learning agile. Recent research on learning agility, as well as lessons from those preparing for such diverse roles as those on SWAT teams; and improv troupes, can guide us in developing a more agile workforce.

Rather than develop competence and confidence to execute a set plan or follow a script, agile individuals train to be effective in the midst of the unexpected and unplanned developments and are prepared to adjust in rapidly changing conditions. For most businesses and their employees, this represents a significant shift, one I have come to call the Agility Shift. It begins with a shift in mindset and follows through to a shift in how employees make decisions and the actions they take.

 

The Agility Shift

For film crews, SWAT, and improv teams very little of their ability to think on their feet comes from classroom training or their formal credentials. They develop their agility competence and confidence in hands-on and often high-stakes situations. Similarly, helping employees develop their agility competence and confidence requires a shift away from traditional approaches that rely primarily on pre-planned curricula, delivered via a range of onsite or online channels toward more informal learning strategies, where 70-90% of workplace learning takes place (Kim, Hagedorn, and Collins et al., 2001).

Below I highlight six of the most impactful shifts you and your learning and talent development team can make below:

1. Shift From Planning to Preparing

Most business schools and training programs are effective in helping people analyze data, develop and execute a plan. They are less successful in helping them quickly turn unexpected challenges into opportunities, or improvise with available resources. VUCA conditions require a shift away from an over-reliance on the plan, to one that focuses on preparing employees to think on their feet and be confident in their ability to respond to the unexpected.

Improvisers don’t rehearse, because of course, there is nothing to re-hear, but they do regularly get together to workout by playing games and improvising new scenes. SWAT teams similarly prepare for hundreds of scenarios, which not only expands their repertoire of responses but also their individual and team confidence when they encounter the completely unexpected.

2. Shift From Information to Interactions

In my work with organizations, I discovered that the agility shift also requires employees who can quickly tap their web of relationships and resources, or their “Relational Web,” to respond to new challenges and opportunities. Information is, of course, still valuable; its value, however, is realized through the interactions between and among employees as they make sense of what is happening, and then decide, and take action based on their sense-making. Researchers Beckey and Okhuysen’s study of film crews shows the value of the Relational Web, which includes awareness of available resources, a social-professional network, as well as past experience. On a film shoot, time is money. With hundreds of variables on any given day, from the weather to equipment failure to illness, everyone on the crew must be prepared to adapt, switch roles, and make optimal use of available resources. The time to discover and build this Relational Web is not in the midst of a crisis but through their day-to-day interactions.

3. Shift From Command and Control to Communication, Coordination, and Collaboration

This third component of the agility shift has significant implications for employee development, and even organizational structure. Agile teams and organizations do not miss opportunities or slow their response time because they are waiting for approval, or waiting for someone with the correct job description to become available. Like their improvising counterparts in the theater, they communicate, coordinate and collaborate in the present moment. This means shifting the focus of employee development from narrowly defined skills and knowledge to creating what IT consultant Scott Ambler calls “generalizing specialists” (2014) who can communicate, collaborate, and coordinate whenever and with whomever to respond to unpredictable challenges and opportunities as they arise.

4. Share Responsibility for Learning and Employee Development

In addition to the mindset and strategy shift described above, the agility shift also requires that the responsibility for learning and employee development be shared across organizational roles, especially by the employees themselves. This means helping employees become more learning agile. Just as healthy people don’t abdicate responsibility for their wellness because they have access to doctors, we don’t want our employees to give up responsibility for their learning and growth because the company offers training resources.

Learning agile employees take responsibility for their own learning. They are not only effective at thinking on their feet, but they are also able to quickly tap their prior experience to be successful in new and unfamiliar situations. This ability first gained the attention of Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo, and Ann Morrison in the late 80s when they studied the significant learning experiences of more than 190 executives. They found that the key to success within a complex organization was the ability to manage something new without having to master it first (McCall, Morgan, and Lombardo, 1988). Learning agility is now widely cited as a critical success factor for long-term leadership success (De Meuse, Dai, and Hallenbeck, 2010).

5. Shift From Formal to Informal Development Strategies

Coach employees to seek out stretch opportunities. Studies of successful executives highlight the value of taking on new roles that stretch employees outside of their comfort zone. These can include expanded responsibilities, a broader scope of current responsibilities (e.g., from managing a team to a full department, or a distributed global team) and/or working in a new culture.

6. Shift From Planning and Analysis to Rapid Prototyping

You don’t need to be a software developer to experiment with some of the concepts of agile methodology. Many organizations, such as Ericsson, are using lessons from agile methodologies throughout their organization to shorten product development time and increase profits.

Rather than develop a detailed plan up front, agile developers collaborate with their customers (who may be internal) to agree on the objectives and prioritize product features. They then move into action in short work cycles to get working versions of the product (idea, project) into the hands of the customer or end-user as soon as possible to test, setting in motion an action-feedback cycle that greatly reduces the implementation time.

Shifting your employee development strategies must include a shift in how and what you recognize and reward. The best success indicator for the agile employee is not only whether or not they meet their sales goals or implemented the strategic plan effectively, but it is also how effective they are when things didn’t go as planned, or when they are thrown into a new situation with little or no preparation. By including indicators of agile performance in your evaluation and recognition programs, you will reinforce the mindset and behavior shift needed for success in a VUCA world.

The ideas in this article are adapted from my latest book The Agility Shift: Creating Agile Leaders, Teams and Organizations.

 

Ambler, Scott W. (2014). Generalizing specialists: Improving your IT career skills. Agile Modeling. Retrieved November 19, 2014, 2014, from http://agilemodeling.com/essays/generalizingSpecialists.htm

Bennett, Nathan, & Lemoine, G. James. (2014). What VUCA really means for you. Harvard Business Review, 92(1/2), 27.

De Meuse, Kenneth P., Dai, Guangrong, & Hallenbeck, George S. (2010). Learning agility: A construct whose time has come. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 62(2), 119-130. doi: 10.1037/a0019988

Kim, K., Hagedorn, Collins, Williamson, J., & Chapman, C. (2004). Participation in Adult Education and Lifelong Learning: 2000–01. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

McCall, Morgan W., Lombardo, Michael M., & Morrison, Ann M. (1988). Lessons of experience: How successful executives develop on the job. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Mitchinson, Adam, & Morris, Robert (2012). Learning about learning agility. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership, Teachers College Columbia University.

Tap the Agile Power of Your Relational Web

Tap the Agile Power of Your Relational Web

By Pamela Meyer, PhD with contributions from Nick Freiling, Director of PeopleFish

Over the past two years, we have collected and analyzed almost 1,000 Agility Shift Inventories (ASI) from people working in organizations large and small, across industries and nations. Each individual who takes the ASI receives a snapshot of their current agility capacity and opportunities, based on their answers. They also receive our complimentary Agility Shift Catalyst and Conversation Guide, that provides a series of reflective questions and action steps to help them begin to make their own individual agility shift.

While individuals are using their results to expand their own agility competence, capacity and confidence, we have been aggregating and analyzing the anonymized results looking for additional trends and actionable insights to help our clients reach their business goals.

Our Surprising/Not so Surprising Finding

One of the first things that caught our attention was how significant a role an individual’s Relational Web plays as a predictor of their overall agility. If you are new to the six dynamics of The Agility Shift, the Relational Web is your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or when a new opportunity emerges.

Understanding the Dynamics of Your Relational Web

The Relational Web is woven into each of the other five dynamics of agility and is at the center of the Agility Shift model, for a reason. All of my prior research and experience helping organizations become more agile and innovative showed a link between the size and diversity of the Relational Web to individuals, teams and the entire organization’s ability to be agile.

We were surprised and excited by additional correlations we found between an individual’s Relational Web and other agility-enhancing behaviors. For example, those who report intentionally making and building connections that expand their Relational Web are also significantly more likely to practice other key behaviors linked to overall agility. These include evaluating the diversity of relationships to ensure access to multiple perspectives, effectively making sense and meaning of what is happening when things don’t go as planned, and intentionally becoming aware of new resources in the environment.

The graphic below highlights some of the most interesting and actionable correlations.

These findings align with other recent research, such as the Google study of 180 of their teams, in which they found that the most successful teams had leaders with the largest and most diverse social networks (one aspect of the Relational Web). These leaders were also intentional about making and building their connections by doing things like regularly rotating who they ate lunch with.

We have long known of the importance of networking for career success. Our latest findings highlight the value of consistently and intentionally weaving a dynamic Relational Web for sustained agility.

So What? Turning Insight into Action

Whether you are a sole practitioner, individual contributor, or a leader with hundreds of reports there are things you can do to turn these latest insights into positive action:

Expand your awareness and access to available resources. Attend (or organize) meet and greets for new colleagues. Learn about emerging technologies or other relevant developments in your environment.

Build meaningful connections with other people. This goes beyond sending and accepting LinkedIn invites. It means understanding the value of building connections that are founded on more than their transactional or operational value.

Participate in informal networks and affinity groups. Whether in a focused Community of Practice or simply a community, you can connect and build relationships and share resources with others who share your passion for continuous growth and learning.

Review your on-boarding experience with the RW in mind—does it help people discover who does what, become familiar with available resources, build relationships?

Seek and provide opportunities to expand your/your employees Relational Web and organize/participate in:

  • Volunteer projects
  • Job shadowing/mentoring programs
  • Recreational activities
  • Off-sites
  • Industry, vendor or practice-area conferences
  • Lunch & Learns

In coming weeks, I will share more actionable insights from our research. In the meantime, I invite you to inventory your own agility capacity by setting aside a few minutes to take the complimentary Agility Shift Inventory.

We have also developed a Team version of the ASI designed to give your entire team or department actionable insights for building on their strengths to improve agility and overall business results. Our clients find this resource particularly valuable to jumpstart agility, or to help their team lay the foundation for success whether they are adopting agile project management methodology, or simply wanting to improve overall success. Click here to learn more about the Team ASI, or contact us here.

How Fit Is Your Business Part 3: Balance

How Fit is Your Business? Part 3: Balance

In Part 2 of this series, we discovered that in business, FLEXIBILITY provides the ability to use core strengths to adapt and respond effectively to both challenges and opportunities. BALANCE, the focus of Part 3 of my “How Fit is Your Business?” series, plays a key role in identifying and leveraging those opportunities.

 Does your organization have access to a diverse network of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources to respond to opportunities and challenges as they arise?

With the Winter Olympics upon us, I am appreciating more than ever how balance is necessary for success in all competitive sports. Just watch Mikeala Shiffrin dance through a slalom course, or Nathan Chen leap into another quadruple jump on ice, landing perfectly on one foot, and you will see what I mean. You would be hard-pressed to name a sport where balance was not a key success factor.

Dynamic Balance in Action

Author, Practicing Dynamic Balance

We understand balance, in physical terms, as not just the ability to maintain equilibrium and focus, but to regain balance during the countless times it will be disrupted. For me, as a Masters Alpine Racer, slalom offers the greatest opportunity to practice this aspect of balance. It is the most technical of the alpine events, as the gates are set the closest together, requiring high-speed shifts in direction and balance. The event is sometimes referred to as “a series of linked recoveries”.  The skiers that excel are not necessarily those who never lose their balance, but those that master the art of recovering it.

What Does Balance Look Like in Your Organization?

By using the fitness metaphor, we can move beyond purely metric-based approaches to balance, such as Balanced Scorecard, the strategic and performance management system, and inspire fresh thinking and practices.

In this post, I highlight three key aspects of organizational balance.

  • Stability: Identifying gaps in your Relational Web
  • Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities
  • Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

Stability: Identifying Gaps in your Relational Web

One of the keys to sustained business success is implementing management practices, systems, and processes that balance Flexibility and Stability. Both are essential, though many leaders mistake stability for control when, in fact, stability is dynamic (just watch one of the Olympic mogul competitions to see what I mean).

Rather than being static, balance is the ability to make countless adjustments and adaptations while maintaining focus on a clear vision or goal.

One of the most effective ways to ensure the capacity to make those adjustments while making forward progress is to weave a robust Relational Web. Like the spider web that inspires it, your Relational Web has the capacity to expand and strengthen as conditions require. It consists of your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources that you need to be able to tap at a moment’s notice when things don’t go as planned or when a new opportunity emerges.

While your web is more than your social network, it includes it, and for good reason. A recent study of 180 teams at Google found that the most productive had leaders with the largest and most diverse social networks. How did they build those networks? One notable strategy was to consistently rotate their lunch partners.

Too often, we stay within our comfort zone socially, or tend to stay within familiar experiences. Comfort is wonderful in reinforcing and confirming our value, but it does little to expose us to new knowledge, perspectives or resources.

Learn How to Identify Gaps in Your Relational Web

Identify the gaps in your Relational Web to ensure that you have the balance to be effective when things don’t go as planned. Take a few minutes to consider if you have ready resources for when you need to:

  • Create a solution for, or resolve an unfamiliar customer issue
  • Learn a new technology
  • Make sense of a complex situation (business, interpersonal, political/governmental, other)
  • Deal with a difficult interpersonal/cross-cultural situation
  • Pursue a new idea or opportunity
  • Understand a change in business strategy
  • Change course in response to a market, regulatory or other external shift

Very likely, if you thought about specific people and resources you might tap for each occurrence, you discovered some gaps in your Relational Web, or found that the same names popped up more than once. Identifying the gaps in your Relational Web is the first step to expanding and strengthening it for more stability. You can find more ideas and strategies to do just this in The Agility Shift.

Reflection: Identifying Growth Opportunities

This series began with an invitation and guide to reflect on your organization’s Strengths. This practice is both energizing and Strength-building, as the reflection process itself can help amplify your assets and inspire leaders at all levels of your organization to

The Agility Shift Book

Training, no matter if we are working out, or planning the future of our organization, means pushing performance to the next level.

live into them more fully. Often, a renewed appreciation for your strengths as individual leaders, teams and as an organization as a whole is enough to inspire innovative solutions to previously vexing issues.

Strength reflections can also lead to the discovery of new growth opportunities. For example, as you reflect on recent successes and look ahead to your aspirations to the year ahead, consider:

  • What new strategic alliances or partnerships could help you reach your goals?
  • What new learning approaches or resources will be needed?
  • What new skills, knowledge and talent will you need to foster internally or externally?
  • What leadership qualities do you want to recognize and reinforce? How will you do that in a way that positively builds on your culture?

These are just a few reflections that can lead to generative ideas and action for more Balance in the year ahead. Athletes and businesses alike must regularly shift their development focus based on current needs and long-term goals. Expect this to be a dynamic process. For example, in any given time period you may need to shift your focus from strength to flexibility, or from endurance (the topic of Part Five in our series) or to balance, itself.

 

Quality of Life: Making Time for Work, Play and Rest

It’s not balanced if it’s not sustainable. As innovators, we are all biased towards action. This can be our blessing and our curse. Balance is as much about effective resting and playing, as it is about effective action.

I have written extensively about the need to create space (literal, social, psychological, emotional and metaphorical) for play in my book, From Workplace to Playspace. Playspace is the space for the play of new ideas, for people to play new roles, for improvised play and for more play in the system. It is not necessarily about the “funny hats and games” kind of play, though I admit to being a fan of spontaneous silliness in the right context. Playspace is essential for any agile system. If there is no room for play, there is no room for responding effectively to the unexpected because both require space to maneuver.

Play and playspace also provide an opportunity to rejuvenate, which we all need to stay in balance!

No System Can Sustain Itself Without Rest

There is no shortage of research cataloging the diminishing returns of overworking.  When we are regularly pushed beyond capacity, our minds, bodies, and spirits lose their ability to be effective, let alone to be creative and agile. Balance includes a healthy dose of rest to off-set all of that activity. The occasional all-hands-on-deck marathon in response to a crisis or opportunity is to be expected. If it becomes business as usual, expect to see a drop off in productivity and innovation, not to mention in the engagement and retention of your top talent.

It may be tempting to concentrate all of your organizational fitness strategy on activity because that is when it feels like things are really getting done (and who doesn’t love getting things done?!). However, sustainable success includes balancing all of that action with Rest and Play as part of your organizational fitness strategy.

In the next post of this series, I will explore the fourth “fit” business indicator: Speed and Mobility. 

Agile Organizations Are Fit Organizations – How Fit is Your Business?

How Fit is Your Business?

Halloween, Thanksgiving, Holiday Parties, oh my! The fall and winter months are truly an indulgent time of year.

Really it’s no wonder that by New Year’s Eve “getting fit” is often the first thing on our minds!

As a result, many of us, make time to check in on personal health and well-being. I’ve found that it’s   effective to ask similar questions about our businesses and organizations.  You likely have  a vision, a mission, and proven values but is your organization truly fit for the year ahead?

Health and Fitness is the Key

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease” (2006).  Fitness is variously characterized as a healthy balance of strength, flexibility, balance (at least for most athletes), speed and/or mobility, and endurance.  It turns out, these same characteristics lead to fit organizations!

Many day-to-day business responsibilities and operations are routine, but in order to be prepared for the unexpected and unplanned, we must constantly scan the environment for new opportunities and challenges.  

Keeping Your Business “Fit” Will Keep

Your Moves Agile!  

Get Well. Stay Well.

The connection between individual and organizational health is more than a metaphor. All you need to do is think of a time when you let your own health and well-being practices slip. Perhaps you were in a stressful period of work, or recent travels disrupted your exercise routine and healthy eating habits.

While we might be able to ride out such a disruption for a short time, we all know that longer stretches can create bad habits and take a toll.  In the long term, attending to our health and fitness prevents illness, injury, and maintains mental and emotional health.

In other words, we might be able to maintain our performance over a short stretch—to meet a project deadline, respond to a crisis, or get through a significant disruption—but our capacity to perform long-term demands requires constant attention to our organizational fitness, just as does our personal health and fitness does.

The Common Denominator is Performance!

 

Over the next few weeks I will share more about how these five key indicators describe athletic, as well as workplace success and how, as we kick off a new year with positive intentions and new possibilities, you can attend to both. In previous posts, I refer to these as intentional practices.

From Personal Fitness to Organizational Fitness

In the graphic above I introduce a few ways each of the dimensions of physical fitness extend to organizational fitness.

Each of the fitness indicators are interrelated. If you have ever witnessed someone  spend all of their time in the weight lifting section of the gym, you know what I mean. This is actually where the term muscle-bound comes from.

Focusing only on strength can literally bind your joints and your ability to have a full range of motion. Consequently, strength and flexibility enhance each other. Stretching the muscles actually allows for access to the power of the whole length of the muscle fiber. Shorter muscles, mean less strength and a smaller range of motion. While only focusing on flexibility without strength can lead to a total lack of stability.

 

Translate this to the capacity of individual leaders, teams and even entire organizations and the same is true. Only focusing on one or two core competencies without continuously staying relevant to the changing needs and opportunities in the market limits your ultimate competitive strength. At the same time, being overly responsive to changes in the market without attention to your core strengths can quickly lead to organizational instability.

In the coming weeks, I will take a closer look at each of these dimensions of fitness and link them to more Make Shift Happen practices to help you improve your organizational fitness and reach your business goals.

 

 Let’s Make Shift Happen in 2018!

Why You Should Say Yes to Those Holiday Party Invitations

Why You Should Say Yes to Those Holiday Party Invitations

This time of year many of us experience some mix of angst and overwhelm when we receive invitations to attend yet another holiday party. If you are an introvert, like me (I know this comes as a surprise to anyone who has heard me speak or lead workshops), and find such large group social interactions a bit stressful, here is my advice: Say, yes!

Many of you know that the first lesson of improvisation is to say, “yes, and . . .” This means accepting every offer and agreeing to build on it because every invitation likely holds an unexpected opportunity.

Whether the decision to go feels exciting or laborious, remember that a holiday party is a new opportunity to strengthen and engage your Relational Web and you should take it!

A study of 180 teams at google found that the most productive employees intentionally build the largest networks. How? By regularly rotating their dining partners!

Holiday parties are a unique opportunity to maintain and create relationships because they are a natural time to connect, share resources and learn about others. At a recent HR association holiday party, I met a Boston University alum, my undergrad alma mater, and rediscovered a whole new opportunity for expanding my Relational Web via the alumni network.

In the spirit of saying, “Yes and…”

Here are six steps to building your Relational Web this season:

    1. Be Intentional – Setting down the hot cocoa and warm blanket to go to a holiday party shows you are being intentional about  building your relationships. Do you have some gaps in your Relational Web that need filling in? Maybe you are looking for an executive coach to recommend to a client or additional marketing resources. Remember, those that are successful don’t leave their agility to chance
    2. Reconnect – Holiday parties provide a casual atmosphere to reconnect with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances. Start by seeking out familiar faces and find out what they are most proud of or excited about in their work or other areas of their life this past year. This will set the stage for you to expand out of your comfort zone and meet new people.
    3. Extend Your Reach –  If you started with a familiar face, ask them who they think you should meet to expand and diversify your Relational Web, or even better, who else might benefit from connecting to others in your network. Be bold and warmly, introduce yourself to those you don’t know. My experience is that most people are relieved that someone new is joining their conversation, or rescuing them from standing solo by the miniature quiche table.
    4. Share Your Passion, then Listen   Be enthusiastic. Talking about what you enjoy is often contagious and will open up the conversation. Some of my favorite non-work topics are skiing (though be careful of showing too much interest!), recent travel adventures and the latest developments in arts and culture. Be sure your enthusiasm doesn’t hi-jack the conversation. Share just enough to give others a chance to share theirs.
    5. Exchange Ideas  Not all resources are tangible. Festive settings offer a unique opportunity for free-flowing dialogue.  Find out what others are excited about or working on and offer to connect them to skills, knowledge, talent and other resources in your Relational Web.
    6. Remember to Follow Up –  Did you thank the host or organizer, or follow up with your new connections with the promised link to an article you mentioned or that tour guide from your recent trip to Athens? Establishing yourself as a reliable resource is the first step to expanding your own resources.

Remember, the time to weave your web of skills, knowledge, talent, and resources is NOT when the unexpected challenge or opportunity hits, but day in and day out. Those upcoming holiday parties are ready-made for this. Say, “Yes!” and start weaving!

Are you looking for more ways to improve your Agility? Take the complimentary Agility Shift Inventory Today!

The Agility Shift Inventory (ASI) offers individual leaders, teams and entire organizations an opportunity to become more aware of the state of agility in their current context. This awareness is the first step in beginning a generative conversation and receiving guidance about where your energy and resources will be most effectively spent to improve business performance.

#MondayMotivation – Keeping Your Team Agile in the Fourth Quarter

#MondayMotivation – Keeping Your Team Agile in the Fourth Quarter

 #MondayMotivation two tiny little words that really hit home on a morning in December. With 4th quarter coming to a close the year’s end is certainly not all holiday parties and gift exchanges. For many of us, it means motivating our team to work long hours, reviewing a year’s worth of data, and creating plans for the year ahead.

 

How do we stay motivated to get the job done with pine scented, green and red distractions on every corner?

One way is to spend time thinking about what your team or business has done well over the last year. Create a list of strengths and achievements, and make time to celebrate and brainstorm how you can build on your success. Want more ideas?  Try downloading one of my favorite agile team meeting activities.

 

The new year is a great time for team development.

When planning for next year, consider agile teams can learn, adapt, and innovate in the midst of change all while using their available resources. How responsive is your team? How prepared are they to handle the uncertainty and or complexities of the New Year?

As you begin to answer these questions, consider there is now compelling research to support the business case for making agility a strategic priority for organizations across a diverse range of industries and roles. 

How Do We Grow Agility?  

  • Continuous Learning   Assessment and often re-assessment will provide your team with regular information and the time to regroup and adjust.
  • Fluid Communication –  Open channels of communication across all job functions and levels of authority.
  • All In Context –  Create an environment where teams feel empowered to respond in the moment.

To learn more read my blog Three Lessons From (and for) Agile Teams or reach out via the contact form below.

Now Accepting 2018 Engagements.  Book by December 29 to assure 2017 fees! 

Meyer Creativity Associates designs and delivers custom programs to develop your workgroup, department, or entire organization’s competence, capacity and confidence for innovating, learning and positively responding to change.  

          Our list of services and approaches includes:

Contact Pamela About Working With/Speaking to Your Team?

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Do What Scares You

After a busy fall working with leaders in a wonderful range of organizations here and abroad, I am waxing my skis and getting ready to head to ski racing camp in Colorado tomorrow.

This will be my third year in a row. I blocked the dates and sent in my deposit as soon as camp was announced—not because it is comfortable or even fun, at times it is, but the real reason I started going and continue go is because it scares me.

Followers of my sporadic blog posts know that I returned to ski racing, a somewhat delusional passion from my Iowa youth (I seriously thought I could be a contender!), after a birthday that ended in “0”. I skied every chance I could as a teenager—park district bus trip to Wisconsin (I’m on it!), University of Iowa ski trip to Colorado that they foolishly opened up to area high school kids (I went on it!), weekend trips with my parents to Midwest resorts and the occasional Colorado ski vacation (I planned the rest of my life around it).

The Racing Bug

Somewhere along the way, I got bit by the racing bug and also starting racing in as many Midwest USSA division races as I could get to, which included road trips to Minneapolis to race at Buck Hill, long before Lindsay Vonn was born!

Coming back to skiing and ski racing when most of my friends have long since hung up their long underwear has taken a lot more commitment. When I was younger, it was easy to round up a group of adventurers willing to give it a go—many clad in their Iowa overalls.

These days, it is much harder for me to find friends who want to head down the hill on two waxed planks, let alone into the cold. It was this challenge that led me to explore more organized ski activities, including racing clubs and camps.

With a great recommendation from a friend and former ski instructor, I found my way to Dave Gregory’s Peak Performance Ski Camp that he holds each November at Copper Mountain and summers at Mount Hood, Oregon.

Now, as I pack up for my third trip, I have a little better idea of what to expect, and yet, the apprehension has not lifted. Did I train well enough? You can never be too fit for racing. Will I crash? No question. Will I get hurt? Always a possibility. I still go because it still stretches me. It still scares me—not in a “why again am I jumping out of this airplane?” way—but in a way that pushes me out of my comfort zone, physically, socially, mentally.

Accepting the Challenge

This year it took, even more, commitment and intentionality as I had major surgery over the summer and had to make a concerted effort to recover, rebuild my strength and confidence. It has given me even greater respect for athletes such as Lindsay Vonn who have had countless setbacks in their careers and yet come back, again and again. They make the effort and put in the work to return to peak performance, even when they have every invitation to use the latest injury to make a graceful exit from the competition.

My experience in life and especially these last few years, helping leaders, teams and organizations become more agile is that doing what scares you is where the learning is.

Getting Out of the Comfort Zone

Being a little (and sometimes a lot) out of my comfort zone is where the growth and where new confidence is built. One of our race coaches says, “If you never crash, you aren’t trying something new. You aren’t learning!”

I have realized I can’t very well travel the world talking  about The Agility Shift and helping leaders be more effective in the midst of the unknown, if I am not challenging myself to do the same.

This post is for leaders who are charged with helping your team, department or organization become or sustain your competitiveness in volatile conditions, and for those of you who see the value of becoming more comfortable being uncomfortable in your life and work.

As we move into the holiday season, which is often associated with cocooning, being cozy with friends and family (which is a wonderful way to recharge our spirits), I invite you to also look for the opportunities that lie ahead that scare you. It doesn’t have to be ski racing, or even a physical challenge. Maybe it is just accepting an unexpected invitation before you start over-thinking it, go ahead and say, “yes!” sign up, and jump in. Maybe I’ll see you there!

What are you doing/might you do that scares you?