Organisational Change Management Volume 2

Leadership as Learning

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Too many managers treat adaptive challenges as if they were technical problems

"...Many efforts to transform organisations through mergers and acquisitions, restructuring, re-engineering and strategy falter because managers fail to grasp the requirements of adaptive work. They make the classic error of treating adaptive challenges like technical problems that can be solved by tough-minded senior executives.

The implications of that error go to the heart of the work of leaders in organisations today. Leaders who are crafting strategy have access to the technical expertise and tools they need to calculate the benefits of a merger or restructuring, understand future trends and discontinuities, identify opportunities, map existing competencies, and identify the steering mechanisms to support their strategic direction. These tools and techniques are readily available within organisations and from a variety of consulting firms, and they are useful. Indeed in some cases..... seemingly good strategies fail to be implemented. And often the failure is misdiagnosed: we had a good strategy, but we couldn't execute it effectively.......The failure to do the necessary adaptive work during the steady development process is a symptom of senior managers' technical orientation. Managers frequently derive their solution to a problem and then try to sell it to some colleagues and bypass or sandbag others in the commitment-building process. Too often, leaders, their team and consultants fail to identify and tackle the adaptive dimensions of the challenge and ask themselves ‐ who needs to learn what to develop, understand, commit to and implement the strategy..."

HBR, 1998c


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