workplace complexity through opportunties Mike Cardus

“Workplace complexity dwells in set(s) of options about what is possible rather than a set of options about what is probable.”  – Simple Habits for Complex Times

Sitting with a senior management team, we were talking about how to understand and prepare the company to work through workplace complexity and change, one of the managers said, “I think I know what the options are, what I cannot understand is how to decipher the opportunities that seem to be so ambiguous and numerous. Customers and staff are faced with multiple opportunities and the practices that worked in the past are no longer useful.” Heads nodded, and they looked at me, I sat down shaking my head and said, “I don’t know, and we need to discuss this.” We then went through the BOSCOEEL team coaching process. It helped to reframe the complex leadership from one of creating self-efficacy through achieving goals, to a method of developing leadership and team efficacy through learning within a process.

Workplace Complexity through opportunities of change

While reading through Talent Quarterly an article “Change is here. Now what?” Dave Ulrich shares a useful idea for understanding change and complexity within a VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) challenge. The article states a needed evolution of VUCA to DRET (discovery, risk, ecosystem, transparency).

Volatility to Discovery
  • Change requires discovery, which comes from reinventing, seeking a share of opportunity, and managing expectations of continual change.
Uncertainty to Risk
  • With the inability to predict the future comes a requirement to understand and manage risk. Managing risk includes increasing predictability, reducing variability, and creating control mechanisms.
Complexity to Ecosystem
  • Complexity is about confusing multiple streams of activity. Anticipating it means shifting to an ecosystem logic where the focus is on partnership, differentiated teams, paradox navigation, and networks.
Ambiguity to Transparency
  • Reality isn’t played out in public forums where access to information becomes ever more present. Because of this, we must sense structured and unstructured data to find trends.

Within the DRET structure the complexity of change is still present, and what I like is a slight reframe to opportunities, risk, and using an ecosystem concept to determine what is working to amplify and not working to dampen.

I went back to the senior management team and shared the VUCA to DRET idea, and they showed interest. Walking through the concepts:

  1. We identified and searched (using interviews and feedback from customers) what opportunities were present for the organization.
  2. From the opportunities, we estimated the risk-reward for each one. We spent most of our time discovering that the organization is OK with risk, and has a strong history of taking risks. This helped us to create some safe-to-fail experiments to understand better what about our risk projections may or may not make sense.
  3. While testing the risks we monitored through observation and daily feedback, what was happening in the marketplace and the feedback the organization was getting from customers. This ecosystem feedback began to change or morph the opportunities, and change the risk thinking. This morphing was exciting for the team because they were able to listen and determine what was working and not working in a shorter feedback time.
  4. Knowing that much of our data was coming from a structured method, we decided the unstructured data would come from short conversation that we called “temperature reads.” The management team directly brought up in informal discussions the changes and asked what the employees thought and for feedback from customers. In the weekly senior management meetings, they discussed the responses and continued to mix the structure and unstructured data in a way to understand changes to make.

The process above isn’t easy or precise, that is point. However workplace complexity is here to stay, and your reaction will cause the company, team or person to break and not recover … or develop antifragility and bend then come back stronger and smarter.


McDonald's logo

It worked for them.

“Our goal for team building was met, without question.”

– US Consumer and Business Insights, McDonald’s USA