Three Factors That Influence Organisational Survivability And What To Do About It

How The Management Kata Help Organisational Survivability

When I tell you that the world is increasingly surprising us every day, this is probably not really something new that I am telling you. But have you ever taken the time to think about what this means for your organisation and in context to its survival capabilities?

How adaptive are you in terms of the conditions that change daily?

Are you able to change your products, services or manufacturing processes quickly to remain relevant to your customers? 

In the following article, I will discuss three factors that may challenge your organisation’s ability to survive and then offer you ways to improve necessary capabilities.

Factor 1 – The Ability To Adapt Quickly

If you find yourself thinking directly about a solution, you are probably one of those who like to get straight to work. But is that really advisable in a complex world? A look at the work of Dave Snowden, for example, reveals that linear and simple cause-effect relationships do not get us anywhere in high complexity. We may rather probe ourselves forward and respond to what we may learn along the way.

Toyota Kata And Cynefin
Toyota Kata maybe a path from Complex To Complicated

That said, we may also agree that the way we practised Taylorism is reaching its limits and that Waterfall Project Management may becoming a waste of time. Why?

Because we cannot plan in uncertainty unless we got a crystal ball. 

The effect of surprise

Before we are digging too deep into complexity, let´s rather jump back for a moment and start talking about surprises first.

What is a surprise, and what constitutes such a surprise?

Surprise is the state we find ourselves in when confronted with an unforeseen situation that catches us emotionally and to which we often react reflexively. Those reactions happen, for example, when we are close to the limits of our knowledge, make a hasty judgement and are subsequently proven wrong.

In the economic context, we speak of surprises that arise from the market pressure of our competition. A large part of this market pressure derives from new disruptive technologies emanating from start-ups. They are accompanied by an eruption and often suddenly push established organisations and products out of the market.

Comparing what we predict to happen with what really happened

"We should not be afraid of innovation. We should be afraid of innovation outside our company."

The invention spirit

What enables Start-Up´s to invent such disruptive technologies is the fact, that these organisations have to deal with surprises daily. Start-Up´s got no choice other than to adapt and constantly improve. So how well we deal with surprises is probably more a question of practice.

In established organisations that have long been sure of their markets and where certain paradigms of security, control, prosperity and comfort have settled in, the inventive spirit that is necessary today was usually put back in the bottle a long time ago.

Instead, we have traded the spirit for experts, specialisations, certifications and focus on core competencies. Something that today keeps many organisations from making the necessary daily change and generating new knowledge. Think for a moment of Blockbuster, Blackberry and Kodak. Whereas at Kodak, they were still trying to learn quickly, they could not unlearn to see everything from the angle of an analogue photography company.

Adaptability requires the courage and will to change

Let’s keep in mind that adaptability requires a whole portion of entrepreneurship because it takes courage and the will to change every day and to test new ideas for their functionality.

Whether established companies can succeed in such a transformation may be a question of whether they prepare to practise dealing with adaptability consciously.

You will find suggestions on this at the end of this article. Still, first, we need to talk about other factors that are directly dependent on each other to increase the survival capabilities of an organisation.

Factor 2 – The Available Skills To Overcome Challenges

So far, it seems, we stick to relying solely on pre-existing explicit knowledge, especially when it comes to defending our products in the market. Worse, it still seems that we believe that we can buy knowledge through certifications, belts and simple workshops. That we can purchase technology that is also available to our competitors and make the necessary leap forward. But do we actually see things as they are, or are we perhaps subject to an error?

Knowing something is not the same as actually being able to do it, let alone master it. To master something, you must first have practised it and only over time, and when we reflect on our actions with a self-critical eye, then knowledge can turn into new wisdom. If you only repeat what you have been doing for a long time, then no new and, above all, valuable new knowledge can arise.

"Valuable new knowledge can emerge when we focus on something that we have previously ignored"

Get inspired but avoid overconfidence.

Of course, we may be inspired along the way by what we see and read. Professional research, for example, investigates already known phenomena to discover new ones, but we are talking about science here. Something that is still insufficiently established in our organisational context.

Often, we have to deal with overzealous mechanistic implementations that fail, not least because of overconfidence.

If, for example, someone pretends to have understood what Lean is about after a few days seminar and a visit to a Toyota factory, and then goes straight into a top-down implementation of tools, I am justified in doubting competencies.

Overconfidence happens to everyone, of course.

The difference is whether we are willing to trade the tip of hubris for some humility and hard knowledge work.

What Toyota gets right and we get wrong

As far as our Lean efforts are concerned, very few have gone beyond copying artefacts. Often enough, the drive has been to maximise profits quickly as possible. But under the bonnet is what Toyota is all about. The development of its employees. A difference that actually makes a difference.

For decades, Toyota has been developing knowledge workers daily so that everyone, every day, can exchange old knowledge for new knowledge. In the long run, this is what contributed to the high density of problem-solving skills in this company, which is not only incredibly adaptive but, more importantly, has been successful for decades.

[Read Toyota´s Code Of Conduct And Get Inspired]

Go beyond improvement projects

If we want to improve our survival capabilities sustainably, we need to go far beyond sporadic improvement projects, Lean departments, return of investment and quick profits. Instead, it may need to be more about how we develop people, which suggests that it also needs to be about our leadership style.

However, when we talk about leadership, we are also talking about the framework conditions that can make such success possible.

Factor 3 – The Framework Provided By Management

In this context, I understand framework conditions as the minimum prerequisites created by a management system and viewed from the outside to ensure that strategy development, the development of employees, and the achievement of breakthrough goals come about.

These are the circumstances and conditions that we can only believe will work. Whether they work depends on how often we reflect together because we can only observe results at this level retrospectively. This means that we have to experiment with frameworks, examine them with the help of scientific thinking and do empiric studies of our own approach.

A new way of thinking and acting

If adaptability and innovation are essential it is time to practise more scientific behaviour.

If we project this onto a production system, it also means that leaders need to take greater responsibility for increasing the problem-solving abilities of all employees. Managers, supervisors (you name it) will need to drive continuous improvement daily and function as orientation towards breakthroughs.

As the way forward in uncertainty is unclear and undetermined, action item lists and implementation mode will need to be replaced by an open solution approach. Employees are free to explore and discover new possibilities through experimentation and coaching.

How you can make this work is presented in the following five interrelated suggestions.

5 Interrelated Suggestions Going Forward

1. Create A Challenge Generator

A challenge generator is a momentum generator driven by the long-term vision of your organisation that pushes the whole organisation to go far beyond today’s performance. This generator allows new knowledge to emerge from the fact that there is no known way to succeed. This means that to make progress, your organisation can only grope ahead experimentally.

Such a challenge generator must never run out of steam, of course, and must always strive for the next innovation. By the way, this does not mean that an organisation cannot continue to improve their delivery capabilities and products—quite the opposite.

Imagine A Challenge

Imagine you are a furniture company that produces custom-made wardrobes. Until now, you may not have been able to respond quickly to customer requests. The production of an individual piece of furniture takes weeks.

How about Your wardrobe tomorrow

Don’t you think that many stones in the company have to be turned over several times to achieve this? How great must your employees’ pride in their performance as soon as the first customers can have their wardrobe delivered the very next day by reaching this Challenge?

2. Ask For The Current Condition Daily

If you have already experienced crises, then you are well aware of how to handle them. Ask every day about the current status, not just at the end of the week, every three days or at a performance management meeting.

If you show presence every day and ask about the current condition and toward the Challenge, everyone automatically starts to focus on the Challenge instead of just dealing with the day-to-day business.

Also, you should know that the identification of this Current Condition is also, at the same time, the basis for an agreement on the Next Target Condition.

3. Increase Focus Through A Next Target Condition

Once you have grasped the Current Condition, develop the Next Target Condition. A Target Condition describes what needs to be done next to get closer to your Challenge. But be careful; Target Conditions actually describe the state and the characteristics of your processes and are not simple outcome targets.

4. Identify Obstacles And Experiment Forward

Now that you have provided orientation to both the big Challenge and the Next Target Condition, identify Obstacles that you suspect stand between you and achieving that Next Target Condition. Searching for Obstacles is not about filling lists with assumptions but about experimenting quickly with ONE Obstacle.

Choose an Obstacle, formulate a hypothesis, test it and learn more about this Obstacle. But be careful; you will undoubtedly be in for a surprise or two.

5. Anchor Across All Levels

Of course, no one works on these challenges alone. Start to practice the Improvement and Coaching Kata, then add the Management Kata to form a cross-hierarchy network of Improvers and Coaches.

Toyota Kata Culture And Management Kanta
Learning Loops through Management Kata Inspired by Toyota Kata Culture (Gerardo Aulinger & Mike Rother), and Toyota Kata Practice Guide (Mike Rother)

Through this type of learning network, you increase the likelihood that;

  • Your employees’ problem-solving skills will increase
  • Your teams become more adaptive in dealing with change
  • Your organisation will generate new insights and knowledge daily
  • You will succeed in overcoming major challenges
  • You can make innovation happen
  • Your whole system begins to reflect more regularly
  • New opportunities for improvement emerge
  • Staff members, who may have had innovative ideas for a long time, can examine their ideas for their functionality

Learning Organisation And Improvement Culture

If you have not been aware of it so far, you are now at a point where I would call it a learning organisation. And since you are now also working on improving your processes and procedures every day, you are about to embed behaviours in your organisation where we can talk about a real improvement culture.

Of course, you may continue to use Lean tools and other methods. In fact, you will probably find that many of the tools and methodologies are rooting back to this kind of scientific thinking which will have an impact on their effectiveness.

Tip: You can read more about the Management Kata which is based on the work of Gerardo Aulinger and the experiments of Mike Rother in this book.

Conclusion

Coping with surprises is a matter of experience and practice. If we want to bring our inventive spirit back into our company, we need to change the way we approach our goals and put people at the centre of our efforts.

We will need to learn how to mobilize ignorance in order to create more new knowledge and therefore need more problem-solving capabilities and less centralised islands of experts.

Ignorance Mobilisation - Knowledge Threshold - Toyota Kata
Model of Knowledge and Ignorance Mobilization Dynamics In Science - Gaudet Routledge International - Handbook of Ignorance Studies - page 321

To create more problem-solving capabilities, we need a management system that is continuously challenging the organisation to go far beyond day to day business and sporadic improvement projects.

A way to achieve this is by practising more scientific behaviour across the entire organisation. Practising the Starter Kata and shaping an environment for shared learning with help of the Management Kata. 

 

What do you think?

Now I would, of course, like to know what you think are important factors for organisations to consider in context to their survivability capabilities? 

Consider sharing in the comment section below.

If you got any questions, don’t hesitate to get in contact and I would be happy to support you in achieving your challenges. 

Until then,

Dominik Ortelt.

When I tell you that the world is increasingly surprising us every day, this is probably not really something new that I am telling you. But have you ever taken the time to think about what this means for your organisation and in context to its survival capabilities?

How adaptive are you in terms of the conditions that change daily?

Are you able to change your products, services or manufacturing processes quickly to remain relevant to your customers? 

In the following article, I will discuss three factors that may challenge your organisation’s ability to survive and then offer you ways to improve necessary capabilities.

Factor 1 – The Ability To Adapt Quickly

If you find yourself thinking directly about a solution, you are probably one of those who like to get straight to work. But is that really advisable in a complex world? A look at the work of Dave Snowden, for example, reveals that linear and simple cause-effect relationships do not get us anywhere in high complexity. We may rather probe ourselves forward and respond to what we may learn along the way.

Toyota Kata And Cynefin
Toyota Kata maybe a path from Complex To Complicated

That said, we may also agree that the way we practised Taylorism is reaching its limits and that Waterfall Project Management may becoming a waste of time. Why?

Because we cannot plan in uncertainty unless we got a crystal ball. 

The effect of surprise

Before we are digging too deep into complexity, let´s rather jump back for a moment and start talking about surprises first.

What is a surprise, and what constitutes such a surprise?

Surprise is the state we find ourselves in when confronted with an unforeseen situation that catches us emotionally and to which we often react reflexively. Those reactions happen, for example, when we are close to the limits of our knowledge, make a hasty judgement and are subsequently proven wrong.

In the economic context, we speak of surprises that arise from the market pressure of our competition. A large part of this market pressure derives from new disruptive technologies emanating from start-ups. They are accompanied by an eruption and often suddenly push established organisations and products out of the market.

Comparing what we predict to happen with what really happened

"We should not be afraid of innovation. We should be afraid of innovation outside our company."

The invention spirit

What enables Start-Up´s to invent such disruptive technologies is the fact, that these organisations have to deal with surprises daily. Start-Up´s got no choice other than to adapt and constantly improve. So how well we deal with surprises is probably more a question of practice.

In established organisations that have long been sure of their markets and where certain paradigms of security, control, prosperity and comfort have settled in, the inventive spirit that is necessary today was usually put back in the bottle a long time ago.

Instead, we have traded the spirit for experts, specialisations, certifications and focus on core competencies. Something that today keeps many organisations from making the necessary daily change and generating new knowledge. Think for a moment of Blockbuster, Blackberry and Kodak. Whereas at Kodak, they were still trying to learn quickly, they could not unlearn to see everything from the angle of an analogue photography company.

Adaptability requires the courage and will to change

Let’s keep in mind that adaptability requires a whole portion of entrepreneurship because it takes courage and the will to change every day and to test new ideas for their functionality.

Whether established companies can succeed in such a transformation may be a question of whether they prepare to practise dealing with adaptability consciously.

You will find suggestions on this at the end of this article. Still, first, we need to talk about other factors that are directly dependent on each other to increase the survival capabilities of an organisation.

Factor 2 – The Available Skills To Overcome Challenges

So far, it seems, we stick to relying solely on pre-existing explicit knowledge, especially when it comes to defending our products in the market. Worse, it still seems that we believe that we can buy knowledge through certifications, belts and simple workshops. That we can purchase technology that is also available to our competitors and make the necessary leap forward. But do we actually see things as they are, or are we perhaps subject to an error?

Knowing something is not the same as actually being able to do it, let alone master it. To master something, you must first have practised it and only over time, and when we reflect on our actions with a self-critical eye, then knowledge can turn into new wisdom. If you only repeat what you have been doing for a long time, then no new and, above all, valuable new knowledge can arise.

"Valuable new knowledge can emerge when we focus on something that we have previously ignored"

Get inspired but avoid overconfidence.

Of course, we may be inspired along the way by what we see and read. Professional research, for example, investigates already known phenomena to discover new ones, but we are talking about science here. Something that is still insufficiently established in our organisational context.

Often, we have to deal with overzealous mechanistic implementations that fail, not least because of overconfidence.

If, for example, someone pretends to have understood what Lean is about after a few days seminar and a visit to a Toyota factory, and then goes straight into a top-down implementation of tools, I am justified in doubting competencies.

Overconfidence happens to everyone, of course.

The difference is whether we are willing to trade the tip of hubris for some humility and hard knowledge work.

What Toyota gets right and we get wrong

As far as our Lean efforts are concerned, very few have gone beyond copying artefacts. Often enough, the drive has been to maximise profits quickly as possible. But under the bonnet is what Toyota is all about. The development of its employees. A difference that actually makes a difference.

For decades, Toyota has been developing knowledge workers daily so that everyone, every day, can exchange old knowledge for new knowledge. In the long run, this is what contributed to the high density of problem-solving skills in this company, which is not only incredibly adaptive but, more importantly, has been successful for decades.

[Read Toyota´s Code Of Conduct And Get Inspired]

Go beyond improvement projects

If we want to improve our survival capabilities sustainably, we need to go far beyond sporadic improvement projects, Lean departments, return of investment and quick profits. Instead, it may need to be more about how we develop people, which suggests that it also needs to be about our leadership style.

However, when we talk about leadership, we are also talking about the framework conditions that can make such success possible.

Factor 3 – The Framework Provided By Management

In this context, I understand framework conditions as the minimum prerequisites created by a management system and viewed from the outside to ensure that strategy development, the development of employees, and the achievement of breakthrough goals come about.

These are the circumstances and conditions that we can only believe will work. Whether they work depends on how often we reflect together because we can only observe results at this level retrospectively. This means that we have to experiment with frameworks, examine them with the help of scientific thinking and do empiric studies of our own approach.

A new way of thinking and acting

If adaptability and innovation are essential it is time to practise more scientific behaviour.

If we project this onto a production system, it also means that leaders need to take greater responsibility for increasing the problem-solving abilities of all employees. Managers, supervisors (you name it) will need to drive continuous improvement daily and function as orientation towards breakthroughs.

As the way forward in uncertainty is unclear and undetermined, action item lists and implementation mode will need to be replaced by an open solution approach. Employees are free to explore and discover new possibilities through experimentation and coaching.

How you can make this work is presented in the following five interrelated suggestions.

5 Interrelated Suggestions Going Forward

1. Create A Challenge Generator

A challenge generator is a momentum generator driven by the long-term vision of your organisation that pushes the whole organisation to go far beyond today’s performance. This generator allows new knowledge to emerge from the fact that there is no known way to succeed. This means that to make progress, your organisation can only grope ahead experimentally.

Such a challenge generator must never run out of steam, of course, and must always strive for the next innovation. By the way, this does not mean that an organisation cannot continue to improve their delivery capabilities and products—quite the opposite.

Imagine A Challenge

Imagine you are a furniture company that produces custom-made wardrobes. Until now, you may not have been able to respond quickly to customer requests. The production of an individual piece of furniture takes weeks.

How about Your wardrobe tomorrow

Don’t you think that many stones in the company have to be turned over several times to achieve this? How great must your employees’ pride in their performance as soon as the first customers can have their wardrobe delivered the very next day by reaching this Challenge?

2. Ask For The Current Condition Daily

If you have already experienced crises, then you are well aware of how to handle them. Ask every day about the current status, not just at the end of the week, every three days or at a performance management meeting.

If you show presence every day and ask about the current condition and toward the Challenge, everyone automatically starts to focus on the Challenge instead of just dealing with the day-to-day business.

Also, you should know that the identification of this Current Condition is also, at the same time, the basis for an agreement on the Next Target Condition.

3. Increase Focus Through A Next Target Condition

Once you have grasped the Current Condition, develop the Next Target Condition. A Target Condition describes what needs to be done next to get closer to your Challenge. But be careful; Target Conditions actually describe the state and the characteristics of your processes and are not simple outcome targets.

4. Identify Obstacles And Experiment Forward

Now that you have provided orientation to both the big Challenge and the Next Target Condition, identify Obstacles that you suspect stand between you and achieving that Next Target Condition. Searching for Obstacles is not about filling lists with assumptions but about experimenting quickly with ONE Obstacle.

Choose an Obstacle, formulate a hypothesis, test it and learn more about this Obstacle. But be careful; you will undoubtedly be in for a surprise or two.

5. Anchor Across All Levels

Of course, no one works on these challenges alone. Start to practice the Improvement and Coaching Kata, then add the Management Kata to form a cross-hierarchy network of Improvers and Coaches.

Toyota Kata Culture And Management Kanta
Learning Loops through Management Kata Inspired by Toyota Kata Culture (Gerardo Aulinger & Mike Rother), and Toyota Kata Practice Guide (Mike Rother)

Through this type of learning network, you increase the likelihood that;

  • Your employees’ problem-solving skills will increase
  • Your teams become more adaptive in dealing with change
  • Your organisation will generate new insights and knowledge daily
  • You will succeed in overcoming major challenges
  • You can make innovation happen
  • Your whole system begins to reflect more regularly
  • New opportunities for improvement emerge
  • Staff members, who may have had innovative ideas for a long time, can examine their ideas for their functionality

Learning Organisation And Improvement Culture

If you have not been aware of it so far, you are now at a point where I would call it a learning organisation. And since you are now also working on improving your processes and procedures every day, you are about to embed behaviours in your organisation where we can talk about a real improvement culture.

Of course, you may continue to use Lean tools and other methods. In fact, you will probably find that many of the tools and methodologies are rooting back to this kind of scientific thinking which will have an impact on their effectiveness.

Tip: You can read more about the Management Kata which is based on the work of Gerardo Aulinger and the experiments of Mike Rother in this book.

Conclusion

Coping with surprises is a matter of experience and practice. If we want to bring our inventive spirit back into our company, we need to change the way we approach our goals and put people at the centre of our efforts.

We will need to learn how to mobilize ignorance in order to create more new knowledge and therefore need more problem-solving capabilities and less centralised islands of experts.

Ignorance Mobilisation - Knowledge Threshold - Toyota Kata
Model of Knowledge and Ignorance Mobilization Dynamics In Science - Gaudet Routledge International - Handbook of Ignorance Studies - page 321

To create more problem-solving capabilities, we need a management system that is continuously challenging the organisation to go far beyond day to day business and sporadic improvement projects.

A way to achieve this is by practising more scientific behaviour across the entire organisation. Practising the Starter Kata and shaping an environment for shared learning with help of the Management Kata. 

 

What do you think?

Now I would, of course, like to know what you think are important factors for organisations to consider in context to their survivability capabilities? 

Consider sharing in the comment section below.

If you got any questions, don’t hesitate to get in contact and I would be happy to support you in achieving your challenges. 

Until then,

Dominik Ortelt.

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