Jill Jenkinson August 22 2023

How do you balance the tensions that drive rapid evolution?

Our research into the question of what and how organisations rapidly evolve i.e., grow faster and go further has highlighted that these organisations balance a number of competing or conflicting tensions. We want to share some insights about how organisations have taken and applied the research to their own context and the changes they are looking to make.

The first tension that was at the forefront of all rapidly evolving organisations was an ability to fix a vision whilst flexing the journey.  There is significant evidence pointing to what makes a compelling and motivational vision, something with a strong and unique sense of why we do what we do, better…. even uniquely but in the midst of change that vision can become obscured by what may seem like confusing or conflicting directional shifts.  Suddenly people are asking…we say that’s our vision but where does that link to x, or sit alongside y?  That golden thread becomes tangled in people’s minds, and they lose sight of, and confidence in the desired end state. 

Organisations who get the balance right stay true to the vision but are equally clear about where directional shifts are happening and why.  It's very like a Satnav system, they warn us of traffic ahead and give us an alternative route.  It’s a choice, we could stay and just hit the inevitable traffic jam, or we divert, still fixed on our destination but adapting to the inevitable unpredictability of traffic conditions! 

This all makes sense to us, but many senior teams we are working with are using the tension to challenge their own ability to fix and flex. Teams at this level are often so immersed in the driving or navigating and make assumptions about what the passengers in the back may hear and understand, never mind the convoy of teams behind them! It’s about a coherent narrative, as businesses adapt and shift focus or direction whilst still referencing the ultimate vision which still holds true.  It’s also recognising the value of turning back, looking at those in the seats behind and actually checking how it's feeling for them. 

The value of any research lies not in it's rigour, but it's insight and impact and clients have found that “reversing in” the rapid evolution data has given them hard evidence of what works and how they can use that to go faster and further in their own change agendas. The ability to balance the tensions, day to day is often about the extent to which leaders, or you as an organisation, are leaning towards one to the others and whether that is having the best impact in a given situation.  

When the market is challenging or the organisation feels at its most busy and pressured, often leaning in to remind people about the vison will enable people to deprioritise things that are not contributing, to realign to the customer and reconnect personally to their sense of why they do what they do. 

If however, you want to call for innovation, to adapt to a new challenge or opportunity, leaning into the “flex the journey” needs to be explicit and understood in order that it doesn’t feel like flipping from one focus to the next.  

The tensions, identified in the rapid evolution research can be applied to whole organisational culture, teams or the leaders and how they show up.


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