Workplace Rights

Weekly (11/1/09)

Topic of the Week  Bend But Don't Break... How to make your organization more adaptive

Making our organizations more flexible:

• DO share responsibility
• DO reward independent judgment
• DO keep learning
• DON’T disregard the elephant in the room.

Your Rant: Is it possible to get an organization to be more flexible?

911 Repair,

It’s tough enough to make your organization more nimble, but it’s especially difficult during tough times. Fear tends to make everyone freeze up. Which reminds me of a father in Lexington, NE, who bailed out his son from jail after he’d been picked up for a DUI. The police officer at the station warned dad that he also appeared to have had too much to drink. Dad got in his pickup with his son anyway and was immediately arrested for a DUI.

Dad needed to set a much better example for his son, unfortunately many bosses fall into this same trap. No matter what you say, employees watch your actions. What message do you send to your employees in terms of energy, creativity and integrity? I’ve included three Do’s and one Don’t to get everyone focused on being more adaptive and more flexible at work. For more, check out “The Practice of Adaptive Leadership by Heifetz, (Harvard, 2009).

DO share responsibility. Many bosses like to sit alone in their office and solve their organization’s challenges. There is only one problem, employees are often much closer to what’s actually going on in the trenches. That’s why it’s important for each of us to take the time to learn what’s really going on and to cast the net widely for possible solutions. Not only will you get more creative solutions, I guarantee that you’ll find that your employees drop fewer problems in your lap, because they’ll have the tools and inclination to better solve their own problems.

DO reward independent judgment. I’ve heard many bosses say that when two people agree, one is unnecessary. But I’ve seldom seen a boss take that philosophy into the workplace. Let’s face it, we like when people agree with us because it reinforces our position. But it also tends to limit the amount of solutions we’re willing to consider. Encourage people to challenge your ideas and you’ll find yourself surrounded by an exciting new range of possibilities.

DO keep learning. It’s impossible to not eat a big slice of humble pie at work today when you think about how quickly technology, competitors and the marketplace can change. We all have to keep humble and keep learning. I think it’s important to learn who your top customers are and to get closer to them. Shop where they shop, spend time where they spend time and learn what their hopes and fears are.

DON’T disregard the elephant in the room. I’ve yet to be in a business situation where there weren’t a bunch of elephants, you know, as in 800-pound elephants. The issues that everyone sees, but people don’t face up to. A few possible elephants? What if we lose our biggest customer to a competitor? Or what if we suddenly lose a number of key employees?

Follow these tips and you’ll be drunk on the possibilities as your organization gets more flexible.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning If you have a question for Bob, contact him via


Thought of the Week

"Nothing in the world is more flexible and yielding than water. Yet when it attacks the firm and the strong, none can withstand it, because they have no way to change it. So the flexible overcome the adamant, the yielding overcome the forceful. Everyone knows this, but no one can do it."

–Lao Tzu

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