I was thrilled to host an event featuring Actionable Consulting’s Founder Chris Taylor, speaking about The Engaged Organization: Thriving in Change through 21st Century Collaboration. I got the chance to talk with leaders and managers in enterprise organizations about the problems they were facing in transforming their businesses. And of course, I was happy to hear from our speaker. He is one of the most knowledgeable experts around on the subject at hand.
Since the event, I’ve received many requests for a summary or video of the event. Attendees wanted to reflect further on what Mr. Taylor had to say. (I also wanted to show the presentation off for the first time, to those who expressed interest but weren’t able to make it). I’m pleased to now be able to present both.
Our video from the event is ready for you to use as a resource and conversation starter any time. But I also wanted to go over some of what was discussed, in the main presentation as well as the Q&A interactions.
As I lay out these observations over this and future articles, please do feel free to get in touch. This is a conversation, not a monologue!
Engaged organizations lesson 1. Success comes from failure
“I started Actionable in 2008… and it started in failure,” Taylor said. It followed the death of a once-successful agency that fell on hard times. When he could finally have enough distance from the fall to start forensically examining the broken pieces, he was partly looking for someone to blame – but also, realistically, looking for what went wrong.
The point being: if you’re going to carry out organizational change (or create a new business with the idea of adapting to a fast-changing market), you need to look at what hasn’t worked in the past. Very often, our failures, by an efficient process of elimination, can give us an idea of what is more likely to work in the future.
One of the biggest things I love about Chris Taylor (and which helped convince me that Actionable Consultations would be of great value for clients who use my services)? I know his insights come from personal experience. He has operated a business through good times and bad. His observations come not just from his workmanlike and dedicated reading of 1,000 or more business books. He’s been through it – and that gives him the credibility for all that you hear afterwards.
Engaged organizations lesson 2. Action must follow learning
“Ideas are only valuable when applied,” Taylor said not too far into his presentation. It reminded me of a similar sentiment from Albert Einstein: “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”
As I mentioned above, when trying to undertake organizational change, you want to look at what has worked (and especially at what hasn’t worked) in the past. Some of that will come from reading, watching videos or other kinds of learning. But at some point, you’ve got to put all of that learning and vision into practice (which has been my motto and Priority Solutions’ tagline for as long as I can remember).
A little later, Taylor talks about data greed (ie. collecting more and more data without necessarily having a plan for how to use it). Data and planning are critical. But when you’re trying to develop hard or soft business skills across departments or an entire organization, action has to be at the heart of what you’re doing.
Engaged organizations lesson 3. We’re operating in a VUCA landscape
It’s a weird acronym, I know. Still, we’re living in a VUCA business ecosystem (no matter what your business is): Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous.
“When we had the ability to stay ahead of technology changes… senior leadership could say show me three years of historical (data) and we’ll see if this works or not,” Taylor said. “We had the capacity to get ahead of technology, embrace change, control it and put a box around it.” That doesn’t apply today, when new apps and processes are allowing companies that are early adopters to disrupt the competition in mere weeks and months. We need to be more nimble, now.
As Taylor points out, the skillset required for this kind of environment is changed in these last few years than for traditional businesses built over the last century or so. As robots and AI increasingly take over mundane business tasks, we can devote our people to more creative (and potentially, profit-busting) work.
So, in an uncertain ecosystem, you need people who can embrace mystery, not fear it. Companies as a whole need to look at mystery as an opportunity and spend their R&D dollars accordingly. “When individual employees in a company are engaged in solving mysteries in support of the company they work for, they light up,” he said. He’s right. I see that in companies I work with all the time (after just a few weeks, or even a few days, of having the right people and processes in place).
Engaged organizations lesson 4. Give (and get) a sense of purpose
“If you have 5 children entering the workforce, there’s a good change that three of them will actually not like what they do,” Taylor said, pointing to one recent study showing that as many as 70 percent of employees are not feeling a connection between themselves and the work they were hired to do. Left unchecked that’s a disaster waiting to happen (At the very least, organizations will have a tough time training and keeping leaders into the future).
“Someone is engaged in their work when they have the ability and willingness to go above and beyond their job description,” he said.
Taylor had a lot to say throughout the presentation about how to make that engagement happen, but I thought one point he made was particularly important: Employees need to actually care about the organizational objectives of the company they work for and get into a sense of aligned purpose.
Every company wants to make money – but if the only reason you’re in business is to make money, then you’re not tapping into people’s passions.
How often have you glanced at a company’s mission on their “About US” page or listened to it in a commercial and thought, “That just seems pretty generic.” Or aspirational, without being grounded in reality. Sometimes, a mission can be completely out of date, not really in tune with their current products and services. Sometimes, no mission is apparent at all.
This isn’t just something new that millennial hires need, either. It’s a very human thing to want to be part of something bigger, perhaps even part of a grand plan. We get meaning in our lives from our work. The savvy company leader that knows how to tap into that need can motivate a workforce to do more than just work long (and possibly needless) hours: they’ll get them to take risks, push their limits and ultimately help move the needle for whatever the company needs to accomplish. But that mission has to be clear, right from the start.
I’ll be looking at the other half of Taylor’s talk on organizational change in my next article, but I wanted to give you a bit of a breather. More importantly, I don’t want to throw too much at you at once, because as I said near the top of this bit, I want to have a conversation. I’ll check my comments on LinkedIn. Looking forward to seeing your feedback for this and the next part.