July 22, 2021 - Management


Leadership in Change and Uncertainty

Successful leadership requires navigating your organization through periods of change and uncertainty. Learn how to do this well, and you can adapt and thrive in any environment.

Bob Electro was the CEO of Electro Brothers Inc., a manufacturer and distributor of electronic components. After many successful years, the strategies and tactics that once worked well were failing. Bob’s trusted leadership team averaged 20 years of industry experience, yet their attempts at implementing new strategies were ineffective. Electro Brothers couldn’t adjust to the changes in customer demand and competition.

Over the past two years, revenue dropped 36% with no foreseeable solutions to their dilemma. Bob swallowed his pride and hired an organizational expert, RoughSeas Navigation. RoughSeas helped the leadership team create a flexible, adaptive culture to succeed in the change and uncertainty that they faced. This wasn’t a quick fix, but, within 18 months, revenue climbed 39%. Now the leadership team was more optimistic about the future than they’d been in years.

How to Succeed in Change and Uncertainty

Three traits are needed to succeed in change and uncertainty:

  1. Flexibility - the willingness to change or compromise
  2. Adaptability - the ability to successfully adjust to change
  3. Learnability - the ability to quickly acquire new knowledge and skills

When you combine these characteristics, you become a Flexible, Adaptive, Learning Organization—a FALO. A FALO is a business with a strong culture that provides a competitive edge in our unstable world. Look no further than the example of Electro Brothers Inc. to see the difference a shift towards a flexible, adaptive and learning work culture can make between growing a business and losing a business.

The FALO Formula

The FALO equation is: Flexibility + Learnability = Adaptability. This is like E=mc² for business.

Here’s a closer look:

You need a high-enough level of both traits to effectively adapt to change. How do you achieve a high level of flexibility and learnability? The answer is simple. Focus on changing the organization’s culture before changing the strategy.

Changing Business Culture for Adaptability

Culture is the habitual manner of behaving that’s considered acceptable in your organization. Since culture is a habit, it takes time, effort, and continuous reinforcement to be make lasting changes. Many leaders give up too soon. You need to be patient and persistent to create a new culture.

Changing a strategy is quick and easy in comparison. It allows you to feel like you’ve taken smart and decisive action to meet your objectives. But strategy needs to be executed properly to be effective. This requires a culture that supports the strategy. Have you ever asked people to do things differently to meet new strategic initiatives? Did you get any pushback? Did anyone keep doing things the old way due to their work habits?

Changing your culture requires personal adaptability from leaders. They need to set the example by moving out of their comfort zones into new ways of thinking and behaving. It’s imperative to set the example with your own actions first. If you tell your people to do things you’re not doing, your efforts will fail! This is the truth of organizational culture. Peter Drucker, the well-known management consultant said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast!” In truth, it eats strategy for lunch and dinner too!

In the 1990s, Louis Gerstner led IBM to one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in US history. Most experts said that IBM was crazy to hire Gerstner since he had no computer industry experience and thus lacked the necessary strategic knowledge. What did Gerstner do? He focused on changing the culture at IBM before addressing the strategy. In 2002, he shared two lessons with MBA students at Harvard Business School:

  1. “You don’t win with strategy,” and
  2. Culture is everything.”

Implementing the FALO Formula

Put flexibility + learnability = adaptability into action!

To increase Flexibility:

To increase Learnability:

An Adaptable Culture Leads to Growth

When you put the above principles into action you grow and develop as leaders and people. This drives a culture of growth and development with your employees. When your people develop, they help your organization adapt to change and uncertainty. They also stop requiring the constant direction, monitoring, and babysitting that draw your energy away from making your desired contribution.

Imagine what could happen if you adopt this approach in your organization!


About the author: Brad Wolff specializes in leadership development to increase productivity, profitability and engagement. 25 years in recruiting and retention taught him how leaders’ actions impact results with their people. Brad’s passion is making the science of human potential simple and practical to achieve greater success with less stress and more satisfaction. He’s a speaker and author of, People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. For more information please visit: www.PeopleMaximizers.com or email him at: bwolff@peoplemaximizers.com

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