The next in our series of interviews asking a number of noted thought leaders for their views on a few basic but essential questions on Organizational Change.

In this article Dan Rose, co founder of The Moment, a growing consultancy specializing in Innovation Design, found time from one of his “days of three halves” to share some thoughts about organizational change and the future of leadership.

“the organization that you are in today is not going to be the one that is going to be thriving a few years from now”

Mike:
Hi Dan, can I ask you if you think that major change is going to be something which is pretty well inevitable, and essential to organizations around the world, both commercial and non-commercial?

Dan:
Yeah, I think the pace of change that we’re seeing in the world, whether it’s technological or social, is only increasing. Which means that the organization that you are in today is not going to be the one that is going to be thriving a few years from now. So it’s kind of a cliché, but the choice really is adapt or die.
That makes adaptation the core skill for organizations going forward, more than manufacturing or technical expertise. Those will still be necessary, but not sufficient.
The thing that will set organizations apart is the ability to sense change and adapt quickly.

Mike:
Right, that would seem to be borne out by an IBM report I read recently. It was actually from 2009, where they interviewed over 1500 CEOs and the one single factor that the majority of the CEOs identified as being most important for the future, was creativity. And that was 8 years ago now.

Dan:
Yeah, that’s definitely one way in which things are changing. In older economies or older models, the core focus was around repeatability or predictability. The most successful organizations were the ones that could produce the same results, both at a micro level, in terms of product and defect, and also in terms of the financials. This quarterly result, roughly the same. This amount of growth percentage, roughly the same, quarter over quarter.

But as that report alludes to, creativity is a skill that gives an organization or its people the ability to see the world from a new viewpoint, to be able to shift perspective. Then to take that new information and apply it to the organization working in new ways.

Mike:
Why do you think change is inevitable?

Dan:
I think it comes down to Moore’s Law which refers to the number of transistors in a given size of integrated circuit doubling every two years. That has pretty much happened but the same rate of change and development is applicable to a lot of what’s going on right now, whether it’s economic, social, demographic or geographic changes, a lot of them are fueled by the technological power and the computing power that we have. It’s possible to do all kinds of commerce and transactions in ways that we couldn’t imagine even 10 years ago.

So if you take a look at some of the surface stuff, like Amazon, and the disruption in retail, or at block chain technology and what that means for as yet untold numbers of industries, (the initial talk is around financial services, which makes sense) it’s apparent that there is the potential for massive disruption to entire business models.

Mike:
That’s a really good point. What part do you think that leaders changing their own mindset might play in being able to successfully adapt to such disruption?

Dan:
I think it comes down to servant leadership. I think the top down model of leadership is no longer adequate. It was assumed that the CEO had the most knowledge, the most insight, the most information in the room, and the capability of seeing the future. From that they would create an organization to support their vision of the future. I think those days are done. So what leadership looks like now I think, is the ability for the CEO to act like an attractor of talent, and a steward of that talent in pursuit of a shared goal.

So there’s the servant leadership element, where the role of that leader is to create the space and conditions for people to be creative, for people to explore, to be curious, to fail fast, and learn fast. And there’s so much complexity involved in many different types of knowledge and skills now required to make sense of the world, that CEOs and leaders of organizations have to hire people who are far smarter than they are on some or perhaps many, topics. That leadership style is going to be one that brings all of these diverse very skilled people together around a shared purpose, and stewards that. I think that’s the necessary new style of leadership in highly complex environments.

Mike:
Interesting. That’s actually something that I know you and your co-founders at the Moment are putting into practice, so it’s very clear that you’re walking your talk. How’s that working? I think things are going pretty well, right?

Dan:
Yeah, things are going well at our organization, for sure. It’s definitely not without its challenges though, because we’ve stepped into this space, with the approach of doing what I just described.
We have a whole bunch of smart people who are really good at what they do, and who in many ways, are far smarter than the founders. So, our role is to shepherd that. And that has it’s challenges, because there are moments where the team is rightfully looking to ask for answers to certain fundamental questions around the organization, such as: where do we want to go? what do we want to do? what do we want to be? So we do want to put that back out to the team, and say to them, “Well, what does the future look like? What should we be doing? What is the right thing for us to be putting out into the world, in terms of our craft and our practice?” At the same time we need to balance that with providing the right degree of inspiration for them to explore the answers to some of those tough questions, and then find the middle ground of developing strategy, product offerings, and what we want to be for our clients. So the aim is a combination of the founders setting some direction, balanced with the fact that we’ve purposely brought in a bunch of really smart people who can help us figure that out. Finding that balance is the leadership challenge. We’re just a small team. We’re only 10, 11 people. So once that gets up to 5,000 people, clearly that would look different.

Mike:
Right. Can I ask you what the terms values and higher purpose mean to you? I hear them being spoken about in this context quite a lot, in terms of organizational change. What do you think of those terms, and do you see them as being core to the development of successful and fulfilling organizations?

Dan:
I think when we talk about the purpose of an organization, we are really asking the question what is the value that we can bring to the world? What do we want the future of the world to be? And how do we help make that happen? What’s our role in that?
I think that in order to find fulfillment, passion, and energy for the work, there needs to be a blending of the personal and professional elements of purpose. So when people come in to do their work, they are feeling energized by it.
We try to make that expression of the purpose quite definite in that we ask our people, “What is the change, or what is the world that you want to see? And are we together on that shared journey to make the world a better place?”
Then we bring that to our clients, and we ask them to express or to shape what world they want to live in, or to articulate it if it hasn’t been articulated yet. In order to help us collectively figure out what is the right strategy. The we develop with them the work that needs to get done, in order for that purpose to be expressed well.
And in a world that’s so complex, and constantly changing, having that more long lasting expression can be helpful, because it means that your business can change quickly, or your product offering can change quickly. It gives you the ability to be nimble in what you are doing out in the world. Because if your purpose is steady, then it provides that North Star point of stability that makes it easier to change.

Mike:
Right. How about values in an organization? I’m thinking that I’ve seen lots of organizations where a lot of value statements get circulated, but it doesn’t necessarily have that much impact.

Dan:
I do think that leaders in organizations, ( and I don’t necessarily mean top of the hierarchy leadership) do have to live the values of the organization. There’s the notion of espoused values, and lived values. The espoused values are the ones that get printed out on a poster and put up on the wall, and they usually say the same sort of thing, like, we’re going to be innovative, we’re going to be courageous, open etc. It’s well documented how different these values can be from the values in action. So the role of leadership is to actually live credible and achievable values on a day to day basis.

Mike:
Do you think that means that it’s necessary, when you’re looking at values, to actually craft them in a way which makes them liveable, rather than impossible statements of perfection?

Dan:
Yeah, I think they should be tangible and relevant. If the organization is one that is meant to be creative, and that’s the role that organization plays, then the values can be quite specific. You can have a value that says, we make space for each other to make mistakes. That’s something that we embrace in the company.
We also give each other time to process information. So we don’t expect an answer right away, but we expect that people will thoughtfully engage in questions.
Anyone in a team or organization needs to be free to identify when those values aren’t being lived. And then, have honest conversations about that. So, we are open to reviewing whether what we are saying that we value, actually appears in how we work together.
And if it isn’t, then we either talk about how we change our behavior as a team and how we work together, or we acknowledge that the values that we’re espousing, aren’t actually how things get done around here. So, it’s time to change that.

Mike:
Interesting. Thanks. So you’re co-founder of this increasingly successful innovation design consultancy, the Moment. You’re the father of a four year old daughter, who you cite as a significant mentor. That must be busy and challenging, varied and fun kind of life. Would you like to give us a brief summary of what a day might hold for you, directly?

Dan:
Well, she definitely is an inspiration, that’s for sure. I admire that there’s so much that she hasn’t seen yet, and there’s so much for her that’s new. So that beginner’s mindset when she’s asking all kinds of interesting questions, is something that I find inspirational, for sure.
I travel quite a bit for work, so there are days where I don’t always get to see her, because I’m away. We try and spend some time on Face-time or other high-bandwidth communication channels. I do try and really be present with her when it’s outside of work hours.
And I get down at her level as much as I can, trying to see the world as she sees it and be empathetic. So I try to spend a lot of time on the floor, or slightly above the floor, which is where she spends most of her days. She’s only, you know, a couple feet tall. I try and gain her perspective, and imagine what she must be thinking.

Mike:
How about the rest of your day, a typical day? What would that be like?

Dan:
That’s an interesting combination of working in the business and working on the business. It can be a big challenge when we’re doing innovation work for a client, which takes a lot of brainpower, which is great. You get to dive into it. But that does means that there are things going on around the business that I can’t make time for, in three or four hour chunks let’s say.
So there’s zooming into the client projects, and then zooming back out to take a look at the day to day of the operation. That’s definitely an interesting challenge that we often have to navigate, making brain space to do our best work for the clients, but also making time to handle some of the details of running the business.

In addition there’s the element of thinking about innovation from our own perspective. So there are times in the day when I also need to apply that same amount of brainpower to think about the future of the organization, or what we’re doing with a particular strategic challenge. It’s almost like there are three halves to a day. There’s half working on client stuff, half working on our own innovation, or our strategy as an organization, and half working on the more day to day, nuts and bolts of the organization. I know the math doesn’t really add up.

Mike:
That’s a pretty good answer. I like that. A day of three halves.

Dan:
Life as a business owner.

Mike:
If there’s one piece of advice that you would give to organizations wanting to move towards being a new and more complete kind of organization, something maybe like, but not necessarily limited to or bound by the idea of Teal, what would it be?

Dan:
I would say it would be embrace vulnerability. I think one thing that really allows us to thrive as a team of 10 to 12 people, is that we are free to bring our best and or worst selves to the office every day. So as a result, overall, we get the very best work out of people, and we get the very best passionate leaning into the business. And what that means is, that people are free to have bad days, as well. When they check out a few hours early, and say, “You know what, I’m just not my best self today. I’ve got something going on,” that’s okay. It’s not just okay, it’s encouraged. We want that. Yeah, I would say, embrace the vulnerability of yourself and of your people, and the result will be a very, very strong team, that is collectively capable of tackling complex challenges.

Mike:
Really interesting. Very good point. And finally, I’d like to ask you, what question have I missed? What should I have asked that I haven’t?

Dan:
I think there’s been some research done on this before, but continue to dig into the idea of “middle management”. So one thing we hear quite often in our work is, senior leadership, the executives of an organization, really want to change. They see the current status quo is not going to meet the needs of their organization going forward. And you hear the same thing at the staff level, they’re also seeing the need for change. Yet the organization has trouble changing, even though the top wants it, and the staff want it. But there’s this level of middle management that evolved to play a particular kind of role that may have been appropriate in the industrial age. I’m curious to know what the role of middle management looks like in the organizations of the future? 
I think there is a role, for the most part for everybody. But, it seems like there’s this phenomenon of the middle of an organization (assuming that organization is shaped roughly like a pyramid) that is just frozen, or hamstrung.

Mike:
It just isn’t flexible enough to deal with the complexity of the new environment?

Dan:
I think there’s just tension between wanting to change, and wanting to remain predictable. It’s “middle management”, that gets caught in that, in terms of how their incentives work, the culture, and how information gets shared up and down organizations. If you don’t have enough information, because you are in the middle, then it makes it difficult to imagine what a future might look like, if you don’t have a broader view of the organization then you can end up frozen, paralyzed.

Mike:
That’s great. Thanks so much for making the time to share those perceptions.

Originally posted on Medium.com