The rules of business have changed significantly over the past decade. Many organisations are finding the structures and ways of working that used to serve them well are a poor fit for the new reality. Opportunities and competitors appear faster than ever before, and employees increasingly expect a seamless experience that supports their growth and performance. As a result, companies need to fundamentally rethink how they are organised so they can face new challenges and exploit new opportunities.

Think about the nature of your industry. Has it changed over the past few years? Chances are you have new competitors, are taking advantage of new tools and techniques, and have fast access to more data than ever before.

Helping the entire organisation become more adaptive

As digital disruption speeds ahead in all sectors, only businesses that are designed for adaptation will thrive. And only organisations ready to meet heightened employee expectations will be able to retain their best people and succeed in the war for talent.

The technology sector has been facing this head-on over recent years, and as a result has moved ahead of the pack in terms of adopting new ways of working and delivering highly engaging workplaces. Agile development models and tools are used to tackle uncertainty and complexity by delivering smaller packages of work that bring value to the business faster than traditional “big bang” project delivery, without losing sight of the long-term strategy.

The next wave – business agility – is about helping the entire organisation become adaptive and able to absorb and manage changes faster and more effectively.

This transition won’t be without challenges. Many areas of business operation will need to be reconsidered. For example, budget cycles are designed around predicting what will happen over the next year, and strategies try to predict outcomes three or more years ahead. A more adaptive organisation will require shorter cycles, with funding made available when it is needed rather than based on rigid projections that are quickly out of date and which can stifle innovation and experimentation.

Culture is critical

Harnessing the creativity, resilience and motivation of the organisation’s people is the key to enabling this sort of change. This requires a leadership style and behaviours that differ from the traditional director/manager archetype. Instead, leaders must empower autonomy in teams and instill people with a sense of purpose that inspires them to perform and adapt.

Becoming adaptive requires a culture shift and the adoption of a learning mind-set that is prepared to continuously test assumptions and experiment to discover improvements.

Being adaptive means turning your understanding of the business around. Instead of starting with products and services and how they are developed, begin with their ultimate reason for existing – your customer. This outside-in perspective, viewing decisions through different eyes, enables a focus on delivering outstanding customer experience.

Starting on the journey to adaptability

How does a company transform itself into this type of adaptable, agile organisation? Initially, it needs to clearly identify why it wants to transform, and what its prime transformation objectives are. This will guide and enable prioritisation of transformation activities. It is often useful to also assess business agility maturity and employee experience. With this understanding, organisations can utilise human-centred design approaches to develop a blueprint for their digital culture and ways of working. This then leads to developing an engaging employee experience.

Start with a small function, where value can be demonstrated, but keep the big picture in mind. Look for where you can deliver the greatest benefit in the shortest time.

Nature teaches us that the species most likely to survive are those with the ability to adapt to changing conditions. The same is true in business: Only organisations that are built to adapt to changing conditions will survive and thrive in the long term.