Adaptability and commitment are not mutually exclusive concepts. When used in tandem, adaptability and commitment are symbiotic and ensure a holistic management approach. By way of example, Quinn (1996) recounted the experience of an executive who endured three layoffs in very close succession. He questioned his long-term status and was immobilized by his colleagues and staff moroseness. He adapted to the situation and began to actively engage his co-workers in initiatives for change. He successfully helped lead a re-visioning for the company and greatly improved morale. Though there was a lag period in this executives adaption, he choose to adjust and re-commit his efforts to his organization and “no longer [felt] an externally determined response to his environment” (Quinn, 1996 p. 8) whilst enjoying an increased commitment to the organization.2011) describes adaptability as, “…listening to and heeding customers. We adapt by delegating authority, often to teams operating at the lowest levels of the organization. We adapt by tracking, responding to, and even encouraging the development of disruptive technologies” ( p. 2). This definition takes an individual or situational perspective of adaptability rather than through the larger organizational lens.
Stability is often conflated with commitment. Leana and Barry (2000) note, “a stable, skilled workforce also can provide a firm with a competitive advantage that is not easily imitated“(p. 753). Furthermore, Leana and Barry (2000) describe stability as “…a cornerstone of the study of individual differences in organizational behavior” (p. 756). Is it not much more difficult to play corporate espionage with a dynamic, committed environment than an expected one?
Organizational ApathyNeedless to say, Covid-19 has accelerated for some, created for others, and unearthed for still others transitional changes causing a global lurch of adaptability and recommitment. We are collectively striving for a stable workforce. Rather than succumbing to moroseness or organizational apathy, the collective will hopefully rise to the occasion and...
For some, like the executive in Quinn (1996) they are temporarily experiencing emotional inertia, fight or flight, whilst going through the motions of their job managing the discombobulated, often frenetic, uncertain priority initiatives which are soon reprioritized.
Quinn (1996) describes one manifestation of organizational “slow death” as,
…[people] often choose the destructive alternative of staying very busy. It may not be effective behavior, but it has the effect of a good narcotic. It diverts attention from the real issue and temporarily saves them from having to tackle and resolve the actual problem (p. 20).
Similarly, Wheatley (2006) discusses “institutional death” caused from equilibrial stasis. Wheatley (2006) describes managers as thermostats in flux trying to maintain their ecosystem in a prescribed fashion rather than embrace chaos as a vital part of the environment. I would argue much of the time we engineer complexity by virtue of our pathological need for redundancy, benchmarks, and metrics. We interpret this contrived complexity as chaos and fail to see the creative options available.
Chaos sounds like an ugly word; a failure of stability. In actuality, equilibrium is a “slow death” with mechanical constructs and expected solutions. As Stephen Hawkins observed, “change is”. Arguably one can get too much of a good thing and the pendulum can swing to the extreme. In an individual or an organization’s quest for change, leaders can instill a cloud of chaos rather than empowering acceptance and collaboration of complexity.
Plsek and Wilson (2001) build on Wheatley’s ecosystem analogy and suggest a generative dynamic through disequilibrium whereby “…valuable, new, and unpredictable capabilities…” are produced through all the actors. Leaders must have a vision for the future while being cognizant of the past and appreciating current attitudes. Leaders must avoid organizational “garbage cans” where solutions are an undisciplined mash up of internal and external problems.
Heskett, J. (2011). So we adapt. What's the downside? Harvard Business School Working Knowledge. http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6763.html
Leana, C., & Barry, B. (2000). Stability and change as simultaneous experiences in organizational life. Academy of Management Review, 25(4), 753-759.
Plsek, P. E., & Wilson, T. (2001). Complexity science: Complexity, leadership, and management in healthcare organisations. British Medical Journal, 323(7315), 746-749. doi: 10.1136/bmj.323.7315.746
Quinn, R. E. (1996). Deep change: Discovering the leader within. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Wheatley, M. J. (2006). Change, stability, and renewal: The paradoxes of self-organizing systems Leadership and the new science: Discovering order in a choatic world (3rd ed., pp. 75-90). Williston, VT: Berrett-Koehler.