Flexibility, Agility, Innovation (Part 2)

Last month we discussed how The Leadership Circle can be used to create a more innovative, flexible, and agile leadership culture in an organization. This Leadership Quarterly discusses Part Two on this topic–a case study example of how The Leadership Culture Survey describes precisely what is needed for a specific organization to be more agile, flexible, and innovative.

A Case Study in Brief

I was recently asked to consult with the senior team of a large global company with revenues in excess of $10 billion. I was introduced to this team by one of the consulting organizations that uses The Leadership Circle assessments. They had just conducted our Leadership Culture Survey with the top three levels of this organization. They asked me to sit in on the survey feedback and interpret the results with the senior management team. I knew very little about the organization and so I confined my comments to what I saw in the numbers outlined in brief below.

The Leadership Culture Survey Organizational Report Graphic for the top 80 managers in this organization is displayed in Figure 1. A complete description of the Leadership Culture Survey is beyond the scope of this article; however, a brief introduction will aid in understanding how the results in this case served to initiate a very powerful discussion about the organization’s ability to agilely and flexibly innovate.

Figure 1: Leadership Culture Survey Organizational Summary Report Graphic

Figure 1: Leadership Culture Survey Organizational Summary Report Graphic

The Leadership Culture survey measures 31 dimensions of an organization’s leadership culture. These 31 dimensions are grouped into eight Summary Dimensions and are displayed in Figure 1. The survey measures both the current culture (the culture you have) and the envisioned culture (the one you want) on each of these dimensions. With a brief look at the results displayed in Figure 1, it becomes obvious that the current depiction of the Leadership Culture (in green) is very different from the desired/optimal Culture (the Red Line).  The current leadership culture is slightly more Reactive than Creative (a 45 percentile culture overall, just below the norm for leadership cultures measured with this assessment), while the optimal culture is described as very Creative (a nearly top 10 percentile, high performing culture). Clearly this senior management team is saying that in order for their business to thrive, they need to make a significant shift in they way they are leading the business—from Reactive to Creative.

To understand the story of how these results relate to innovation, flexibility and agility, we need to look deeper into the data—at highest and lowest sub-dimensions measured in the survey. In the Leadership Culture Survey report, the 31 sub-dimensions are sorted from highest percentile score to lowest. I have selected out the top and bottom of these lists to elucidate the key patterns in the results. A simple look at the data tells a very clear and compelling story that has everything to do with this organization’s flexibility, agility and innovativeness. These results are listed in Table 1 and Table 2.

The strongest influences in the current leadership culture of this organization (top left of Table 1) suggest an overly conservative, cautious, bureaucratic, and even passive culture. The driving energy is to go along to get along (Belonging) and not rock the boat. This cautious culture may be driven by a top-down, aggressive, if not arrogant, influence on this leadership team. What is most missing from the leadership culture of this organization (bottom left of Table 1) is a clear and bold vision of its future, and vision that is being translated into a customer focused strategy. In addition, this organization lacks well-refined systems for executing on those strategies. In short, the senior members of this organization are saying that they are too cautious and conservative to be sustainable.

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In the column on the right of Table 1 is the envisioned culture. This column describes quite precisely what the senior leaders in this organization know they need to move toward (upper right of column) in order to establish and sustain high performance. They need what is at the bottom of the list on the left. In other words, they know they need to take the weakest elements in their leadership culture and turn them into strengths. They need to become a bold (not conservative) purpose and vision driven organization. They need to get good at working as a team to develop strategy. They need to design or refine their systems for executing on the strategy expeditiously. They need to develop the capability to be courageous, honest, and direct with each other in order to make the tough decisions that will move those strategies forward. In order to do all this, they need to significantly reduce the conservative, bureaucratic thinking that is currently driving the organization. They also need to reduce the arrogant and critical way that they engage one another in order to have the kinds of conversation that will allow them to work together effectively (notice that these elements move from the top of their current culture list on the left to the bottom of the optimal culture list on the right).

Table 2 summarizes the biggest gaps for this organization between their current leadership culture and their optimal leadership culture. If they can close these gaps, they will be well on their way toward being a flexible, agile, and innovative organization.

[table id=14 /]

The simple, yet powerful views displayed above (which come out a more extensive Leadership Culture Survey report) provided windows into the secret conversation that this leadership team was having with itself—the conversation that had not yet made it to the meeting rooms. As the top management team explored together the implications of these results, they naturally moved into a conversation about their business that they had been wanting to have, but, for one reason or another, could not. They were able to acknowledge that the patterns in the data accurately described the unsustainable way they were leading and that they needed to become much more creative, innovative, bold, strategic, and agile. After the meeting they commented that it was one of the best meetings they had ever had as a senior management team and the CEO took me aside and thanked my saying, “I have been trying to tee this conversation up for some time. Now we are in it.”

This example shows how the rich assortment of well-researched Creative Leadership Competencies and Reactive Leadership Styles combine in the Leadership Circle assessments to establish a very clear picture of how this (or any) leadership team can create a culture that, by any measure, would be characterized as flexible, agile and innovative.

This is the second of a three-part series on how the Leadership Circle can be used to create a more innovative, flexible, and agile leadership culture in an organization. The previous Leadership Quarterly included Part One on this topic – an introduction into Flexibility, Agility, and Innovation, and how these three qualities are essential in a leader, despite not appearing explicitly on The Leadership Circle Profile. The next Leadership Quarterly will contain Part Three, which explores how The Leadership Circle assessments are designed to embed this higher-order capability into the consciousness of the Leadership system of the organization—to enhance the complexity-of-mind of the leader, and the organization’s leadership system, to be well matched to the complexity of business challenges.


Douglas Day

Author Douglas Day

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