Saturday, April 27, 2019


Organisational Agility: Exploring the Impact of Identity on Knowledge Management - by Neha Chatwani

In order to deal with VUCA, the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous turbulence of the 4th Industrial Revolution, it appears that management theory and practice has come up with a one-word coping solution for organisations: agility. The initial notion of the modern interpretation of agility is derived from the arena of software development where agile refers to methodologies-based short iterative phases of work steps emphasizing the importance of self-organizing, cross-functional teams, communication and the flexible (re)assessment of project planning. 
The idea of continuous and incremental change itself is, however, not new and in fact it is the most natural form of change. Nature demonstrates these evolutionary cycles of change permanently. Trees typically will grow their roots and branches around obstacles while they continue to search for the nourishment they need for their growth (water and light). Trees also have a variety of ways to conserve or regulate their nourishment in the face of adversity, instinctively preserving their resource. Like organisations their main aim is to either simply survive and ideally, to grow, particularly with each cycle. 

The revival of the idea of continual change in the form of agile organisations plays tribute to the fact that in an accelerated knowledge-base economy, organisations are not simply self-fuelling isolated machines that can afford to burn their human resource but that it is through the latter and their talent that the fuel needed for growth such as knowledge, learning and innovation is provided for. It is also a recognition of the fact that organisations are embedded in constantly changing environments. In agility, human beings take the centre stage because we recognise that they are the primary component of organisations and that they are the carriers and creators as well as gatekeepers of knowledge. As the economy rapidly races towards increased digitalisation, artificial intelligence and robotisation, the war for this human talent i.e. engaged learning individuals, is acute. 
The original model for agile organisations as postulated by Dove (Dove, R. 2001) depicts how organisations, through their ability to sense or anticipate possible changes in their environment (Sense-Ability) and then leverage their knowledge (Knowledge Management) to initiate an agile response (Response-Ability). Therefore, the purpose of sensing is to proactively formulate a response to anticipated changes by adapting the organisation accordingly. In the world of big data, the information finding and analysis needed for this inner and external environmental scanning is enhanced. What remained unclear is how the needed knowledge flows are unleashed for responsiveness. Literature on knowledge management has often postulated that “We do not know what we know” and the challenge of regulating knowledge flow in organisations has been a major focus of knowledge management research for many years. 
The regulation of these knowledge flows also depict an important difference between agility and flexibility. The consequential learning after responsiveness i.e. the creation of further knowledge; is an important agile feature. In addition, agility has an important evolutionary dimension. In agility, the organisation is consistently adapting and will seldom revert to what it was. By contrast, flexibility is more like an elastic band it can be stretched in multiple ways but will remain an elastic band going back to its original round form. 
The research in the book Organisational Agility: Exploring the Impact of Identity on Knowledge Management investigates the question of how knowledge flows are triggered for agile responsiveness. The over-riding and simple case-study based insight is that whereas the question “why?” (strategy and purpose) is of importance in keeping the organisational focus; the question “how”, which is reflected in the organisational identity, regulates knowledge flow. Identity attributes are negotiated by organisational actors within a situational context to release adequate information, knowledge and even spark innovation for an agile organisational reaction e.g. the deportation of resource. Actors negotiate their contextual identity expression by means of “cognitive tactics” trading the importance of the various identity attributes to find the most suited reaction to a given situation. An important enabler in this process is the possibility of reflection after a response which results in learning and the creation of new organisational knowledge. 
A prerequisite for cognitive tactics appears to be that Individual actors are fully aligned or identified with the mission of the organisation and are emotionally engaged. It is through this common understanding of their collective identity as an organisation and by means of a conscious cognitive decision (or so-called ‘cognitive tactics’) that even dormant knowledge is triggered and transferred, and learning is initiated. The use of story as a container of knowledge, a medium for sense-making, accommodation and assimilation of knowledge, a memory aid, identification and imagination trigger, is important here. 
In this vein, the research in this book makes an important contribution towards understanding the agile behaviour in organisations. It challenges the checklist approach for agility, which emphasizes flat structures, cross-functional teams to remind scholars and practitioners alike that these are simply enablers or features but not a template for agility. 
In fact, central to organisations is the behaviour of organisational actors and most organisations are always more or less agile at any given time. 
(Dove, Rick (2001) Response Ability: The Language, Structure, and Culture of the Agile Enterprise John Wiley & Sons)
Neha Chatwani is the founder of the a reflective space which offers services in change management bricolage. She holds a Master’s degree in Psychology fro the University of Vienna and a Doctorate in Business Administration from the Grenoble Ecole de Management. An academic practitioner, her clients include the United Nations and multinational for-profit companies as well as smaller NGOs and start-ups. She is an independent researcher and a university lecturer. Her upcoming book is Organisational Agility: Exploring the Impact of Identity on Knowledge Management will be published shortly at Palgrave MacMillan. Details can be found

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

CultureScan DIY Assessment

A newly released study by Korn Ferry reveals: nearly 70% of investors believe that corporate leaders are not future fit.  To cope with required transformation, leaders must ADAPT: 


This Korn Ferry model of future leadership requirement correlates remarkably closely with our Culturescan model:

Check your future fitness here:

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Building Your BounceBackAbility

"Did you want to see me broken? Bowed head and lowered eyes? Shoulders falling down like teardrops …”
- Maya Angelou

"I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection" - Leonardo da Vinci


Forrest Gump was right. As human beings, we’re randomly buffeted by large, frequent, and difficult shocks and changes. The speed and intensity at which we need to perform our work in today's workplaces, is resulting in a growing number of stress and anxiety disorders. During these tough times, some sink and others swim. But we can all build resilience — that positive quality that helps us cope with disappointments, hard times, stress, adversity, change, and helps us to resurface, bounce back, move on. Like bamboo. (In China, bamboo is revered for its great strength, flexibility, ability to survive and grow in the harshest of Winters).

Renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön once received this advice from her mentor, Trungpa Rinpoche:

Well, it’s a lot like walking into the ocean, and a big wave comes and knocks you over. And you find yourself lying on the bottom with sand in your nose and in your mouth. And you are lying there, and you have a choice. You can either lie there, or you can stand up and start to keep walking out to sea”.
So the waves keep coming,” he said. “And you keep cultivating your courage and bravery and sense of humor to relate to this situation of the waves, and you keep getting up and going forward”. 
(Chödrön, Pema  2016)

Precisely because we are evolved humans and have the powers to imagine and reflect, we tend to live in a primitive, anxious anticipation mode - that's our default setting in many ways!

The approach to building personal resilience that is outlined in this newsletter enables us not only to cope with change and adversity, but also to live less anxiously, not get caught up in living fearfully, and to be accepting of ourselves, others, our circumstances and our possibilities.


Based on early work by Suzanne Kobasa on hardy personalities (Kobasa, S. C.  1979), Allen Zimbler and Caryn Solomons developed an accurate and robust assessment of personal resilience. It is a self-report questionnaire that has proved itself over a long period of time, and takes only a few minutes to complete. I’ve used it in many settings with individuals, couples, teams and during large change interventions. It consists of nine, interconnected factors grouped under:

  •          Rising to change CHALLENGES
  •          Being COMFORTABLE during change
  •          Having (Self) CONTROL during change

    After an individual assessment is done, tools, methodologies, techniques, conversations and practices are offered that help people to self-direct their resilience improvements, supported by coaching where necessary. 

Briefly illustrate, taking one factor from each of the challenge, comfort, control areas:

Purpose (Challenge). Those who have purpose tend to engage, relate and perform better. “At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself - yet also a belief in something larger than oneself” - Hara Estroff Marano (Editor at Large, Psychology Today).
Patanjali, the Indian sage who lived about 1700 years ago: “When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds; your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be”. (Rutte, M. 2006) 
Purpose differs from person to person in span, depth and time horizon, and depends partly on their ‘motivational fingerprint'. This can be the difference between perceiving that you have a job, a career or a calling. See Why Am I Here?

Expressing feelings appropriately (Comfort). Expressing feelings is a component of emotional intelligence that we can learn. Related to self-esteem it is, according to psychotherapist Jean Gamble, “important enough to express what we are feeling… (the) energy we were using to keep down the resentment and frustration gets freed up and we get more energy for life (and relationships”. (Gamble, J)

Self-esteem (Self-Control). In the first half of life we tend to chase after position, power, possessions, pleasure, and perfection. As the Queen lyrics say, “I want it all. And I want it now”. And our self-esteem too often resides in how ‘successful’ we are. In the second half of life - if we succeed in taming our ego - the focus moves to Purpose, Personhood, Presence, Planet, and People (other-orientation). Savvy building of self-esteem, step by step, which includes the reframing of limiting beliefs, having realistic expectations and self-compassion, contributes hugely to how well we handle change and adversity.

Most of us straddle these two value – sets. Society imposes the small Ps – and we suffer untold harm in our chase after esteem through what we have, control, chase after, strive for – not realising that imperfection makes us more human, emptying makes us more open and accepting. The growth to our raison detré, the beauty of imperfection, personhood based on humility, care for the planet and love of people, takes time.

Two practices that undergird the development of many of the nine resilience factors are:

       Mindfulness. “ .. Contemplation is the only ultimate answer to the unreal and insane world that our financial systems and our advertising culture and our chaotic and unexamined emotions encourage us to inhabit. To learn contemplative practice is to learn what we need so as to live truthfully and honestly and lovingly. It is a deeply revolutionary matter”. (Rohr, R. 2015) 
eing mindful is contrary to our normal behaviour. It goes against our busy-ness, frenetic thinking and acting, distractability, striving to achieve, and impatience. Mindfulness brings calm, clarity, a non-judgmental approach to life, the development of and continued connection to purpose, compassion, and mature ethics - all of which supports resilience. Mindfulness helps us to put our attention where we need to, in the way that we need to - and to take it away from where it shouldn't be (unnecessary or 'illogical' distraction, negativity, stressors, anxiousness) which supports being resilient. Mindfulness, specifically meditation, can build stronger neural pathways that make us even better at attending, being calm, recovering faster from shock, disquieting happenings and disturbances - which of course is part of being resilient.

     Story. Story helps with resilience-building strengths such as raising awareness, creating a safe space for sharing, re-imagining and reframing of situations, invoking possibility, overcoming limiting beliefs, forging connections, and conveying wisdom.

And remember that practice makes perfect. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist at Florida State University who has studied how people become experts (in many domains), says:

Deliberate practice involves two kinds of learning: improving the skills you already have and extending the reach and range of your skills. You need a particular kind of practice - deliberate practice - to develop expertise. When most people practice, they focus on the things they already know how to do. Deliberate practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well — or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become”. (Ericsson, K. et al. 2007)
It takes resilience to build resilience!

Coping with challenging change and adversity is a bit like the Don Lockwood song lyrics "Singin' in the rain, Dancin' in the rain .... I'm laughing at clouds, So dark up above ..."  

For an inspirational story of bouncing back (or bouncing forward as he calls it) watch Sam Cawthorne:

Resilient employees make for resilient and agile organizations.


Chödrön, Pema  (2016) How to Move Forward Once You’ve Hit Bottom Lion’s Roar Newsletter 7th
Ericsson, K. Anders; Prietula, Michael. J; Cokely Edward T. (2007) The Making of an Expert Harvard Business Review July–August 2007

Gamble, Jean (Psychotherapist and Family/Couples Therapist | Grad Dip Systemic Therapy, Dip Som Psych, Dip Adv Somatics, Dip R.M. Clinical Mem PACFA Mem ASPA, EPA Accredited) Learning To Express Our Feelings 

Kobasa, S. C.  (1979) Stressful life events, personality, and health – Inquiry into hardiness Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 37

Richard Rohr (2015)  Richard Rohr’s Meditation: Contemplation and Action Monday, August 17, 2015 citing Williams, Archbishop Rowan Address to the Synod of Bishops in Rome on October 10, 2012 

Rutte, Martin (2006) The Work of Humanity: project heaven on earth citing Patanjali (in Seeking the Sacred: leading a spiritual life in a secular world. (ed Mary Joseph) ECW Press, Toronto, Canada

Williams, Graham (2017) Building Your BounceBackAbility eBook