Organizational Transformation: Survive or Thrive?

Posted by Matthew Thomas

An organization in survival mode often works against its own opportunity to thrive. The mindsets of survival involve fear, mistrust of outsiders (because those outside are threats to survival), internal focus, and past-orientation.

survival kit sardine can thinkgeek.comThese survival mindsets lead to risk aversion, rehashing the same strategies the organization has used before with (at least perceived) success, increased use of technical solutions to problems, and simultaneous personnel entrenchment and turnover. Often, they also lead to excessive celebration of minor successes as bellwethers of nascent turnarounds, and the redefinition of new failures as successes after the fact (without having learned from the failure).

What organizations in survival mode don’t realize is that in most cases, while outside conditions and circumstances have changed around them (while they have faithfully trooped on doing their thing), it is their responsibility to wrestle with those changing contexts and engage change, rather than to blame the outside changes (culture shift, government regulation, new competitor, new technology, etc.) for their lack of current organizational health. These organizations have either ignored shifts early in their existence, or drawn lines in the sand against them that require loss of face to allow a change of approach toward the particular change.

By the time the organization reaches survival mode, its chances of survival (let alone achieving new health and thriving) are severely diminished: but diminished primarily by the organization’s own culture, leadership capacity and funding capacity more than anything else.

Organizations in survival mode with the best chances of thriving once again appear to be those that have the human, financial and leadership resources to change from a survival-mode culture to a culture that engages adaptation as a means of finding a new way of being. This is why turnarounds are so difficult.

So what to do? There is much that can be done, and we will look at one option in this post. (Others will follow in other posts.)

One of the common symptoms of survival mode (even if it is not spoken of as such) is a refusal or incapacity of making difficult decisions. This often manifests as institutional paralysis or firing from the hip. The prescription is not to make big, complex, difficult decisions right away, if at all possible. The ideal approach allows the organization to practice decision-making in smaller, but still strategic ways, while developing measurements for success and failure in those decisions. As the organization becomes more accustomed to making decisions, a leader can increase the difficulty and complexity level, using the capacity for conflict resolution and measurement of success gained at the easier and less complex levels to grow the organization toward the capacity to make the bigger decisions.

In future posts we will examine other tools your organization can use to move from surviving to thriving. The 6 essential questions for strategic planning resource below can get you started today!



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Topics: Matthew Thomas, Design Group International, organizational development, thrive, survive, risk, adaptive leadership