The making of an agile corporation…

This is the story of what it took for one huge company to transform its leadership and ways of working.

Why is this of interest to me?

It’s another of the “imaginal cells” that are emerging in this time when we see ever-more clearly that old systems are no longer working. As I mentioned in my post on Metamorphosis, I’ve been on the lookout for examples of different ways of thinking and the experiments that are testing these new paradigms.

The first was Doughnut Economics. In that post, we heard economist Kate Raworth describe her vision for an economic model that ensures sufficiency for all without exceeding the limits of what earth can provide. In April 2020, Amsterdam became a Doughnut City. I’ve just received further information about the application of this model for our post-pandemic future…

 In June, the city council of Copenhagen committed to turning  into a Doughnut City—a good life for all within planetary boundaries. Dozens of other cities and towns worldwide have been in touch with Kate Raworth, economist and author of Doughnut Economics, to indicate they are also interested. These commitments demonstrate very exciting and bold examples of leadership in how we can transform the crisis of the pandemic into an opportunity for human renewal.

Leading for agility…

Today’s imaginal cell story is about a huge corporation and its whole-system transformation. I learned about it through an interview on the coaching summit I mentioned last week.

I almost didn’t watch this session, though. The title was Scaling Leadership, Agility and Vertical Development Inside an Organization, and the organization is Hoffmann-La Roche (Roche), a global healthcare company with about 94,000 employees in more than 100 countries.

I’m a fan of localized business and the small is beautiful philosophy, so I was sceptical that I would find anything of interest in this conversation. But they used words such as whole-system, transformation, emergent, and sustaining. It seemed they were speaking my language.

…we will explore lessons learned and emerging insights from Roche’s whole-system transformation of leadership and ways of working. As one of the highest profile (and most currently relevant) organizational transformations taking place, Roche’s unique integration of agility, vertical development, and emergent change has resulted in significant impact across all areas of the business. They will also explore how Roche is sustaining transformation in today’s disruptive environment…

It was inspiring!

So I listened…and was inspired. I’d like to let you hear for yourselves but unfortunately the video isn’t available for sharing. So here are some of my impressions…

  • What Roche wanted was greater agility, which they define as speed and flexibility with stability.

  • Changing “how” starts with mindset, and requires self-transformation of company leaders.
  • The old leadership approach was reactive, trying to keep everything under control and putting out fires as they flared up. Leaders expected that there were right answers in any situation and they were the source of those answers.
  • It had become apparent that the level of complexity they were dealing with very quickly outmatched those traditional strategies.
  • The experiential program that Roche implemented was to shift leaders from the reactive mindset to a creative mindset, one in which they would proactively shape processes and structure to fulfill the company’s purpose and vision.
  • Leaders were coached to notice their reactive patterns, recognize their creative capacities, reconnect with purpose, and remember the key principles of the company.
  • The main competency they were aiming for was the ability to act in the face of limited data, ambiguity, and complexity where there is a high likelihood of not being correct, at least not entirely—and to still do it. In other words, they needed to find their confidence and inner knowing to navigate the predicaments that arise in this complex world we live in.
  • The courage of these leaders was acknowledged—courage to be vulnerable, to go into uncharted waters, to risk taking the next step when there was no clear path or right answer.
  • The benefit to leaders was a huge release of stress when they came from this entirely different place while carrying out their duties.

The language of agility is important…

Here were a few distinctions that were made:

  • invite (to encourage self-authority) …instead of… order or direct (which makes the person subject to someone else)
  • mapping (to see interconnections) …instead of… choosing (A or B)
  • value creation (when we can create value, it is unlimited ) …instead of… value capture (resources are limited and we have to compete for our share)

Summing up this approach…

  • People are invited to choose somethig new. A different way. A more empowered way. A more purposeful way. A less-frightened, more courageous way.
  • According to Tammy Lowry from Roche, “It isn’t about processes or practices, it’s a fundamental change in the way our organization works together. It’s a revolution.”
  • People are invited to courageously step into it and be prepared to do their own inner work.
  • If you’d like more details about what this deep-dive experience looks like, check out this article.

What makes this inspiring for me…

  • The program quickly moved through the company because the leaders who participated were so enthusiastic.
  • There have been measurable results in terms of company performance in relation to its purpose.
  • They are bringing leaders together to have connecting conversation in which they can benefit from learnings across all divisions of the company.
  • The initiators see this approach as translatable into society. It starts with shifting the mindset and creating an opportunity for reimagining how that might work. That is what excites me most!

The fact that this is happening in a huge company—the fact that almost prevented me from listening—turns out to be the convincing aspect. If this new mindset can permeate a large corporate culture, where else might it percolate? I wonder…

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