Leading Made Simple

The Anti-fragile Business

When have you taken a serious look at your company’s strategy the last time? Are you considering the uncertainties dominating our economic, social, and political environment? Is your business set up to be anti-fragile?

Leadership effectiveness and a documented strategy are the yin and yang of sustainable business success.

Strategic planning for an anti-fragile organization

Utilizing a traditional approach to a strategy won’t cut it anymore. Military leaders have recognized in the late 1980s that the modality of warfare was undergoing a fundamental change. From that recognition, the acronym VUCA world was born. VUCA stands for volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, describing the scenario of the changed warfare environment.

During the last 20 years, our business and economic environment have undergone a similar transition. Consequently, I suggest to my clients for about 15 years a significant modification in their approach to strategic planning. The key terms are flexibility and agility.

We can learn from successful start-up companies as these organizations typically thrive on all the obstacles they face. A strong start-up culture is primed to embrace uncertainty and adversity and initiate relevant changes to improve their systems, most of the time with a heightened focus on customers. They tend to be in a constant problem solving mode.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has done significant research of the subject at hand and wrote the book “Antifragile” in 2012. He describes how some systems, such as biological ones, gain from disorder. He created the term anti-fragile to describe the behavior of systems, natural and man-made, accelerating on randomness and uncertainty. He considers this behavior as going beyond what we traditional would call resilience or robustness, and start-ups fall into this category of anti-fragile organizations.

Once organizations grow and become established, a.k.a. “well structured”, they become more fragile by nature.  Such successful organizations do not cope well with volatility, randomness, uncertainty, disorder, errors, stressors, and chaos. Yet, in our VUCA world today, anti-fragile organizations gain from adversities and will dominate their markets.

How does this impact leadership effectiveness?

Our traditional command and control models have certainly outlived their sustainable effectiveness which has become painfully visible with the sudden introduction of a largely distributed (remote) workforce environment due to the CVID19 pandemic. The traditional leadership approach in a large majority of organizations is still highly action based which tends to lead often to micromanaging. Effective leadership is results and goal focused, enabling the organization to design their actions, moving decision making to the frontlines, and supporting the team to create the desired results.

To guide an organization towards more efficiency in a VUCA environment requires four key features:

  1. Clarity in expectations by defining clear organizational (SMART) goals
  2. Implementing measurements for every goal to measure success (the result) as well as the progress of attaining the result.
  3. Preparing the team members with the tools and know-how required to execute effectively.
  4. Enabling decision making closest to the level of action.

In essence, these steps will encourage a dynamic problem-solving culture. Such organizations are taking care of issues in real time as they unfold, rendering them as highly responsive.

Here is the conceptual scenario: Crises situations, major disruptions, and volatile changes do not drive an abrupt departure from what anti-fragile organizations do continuously – solve problems. Rather than being controlled through rigid command structures, team members at all levels of the hierarchy are trained, mentored, and coached every day to be quick problem-solvers. A disruption or crisis that might be crippling for traditional organizations is a challenge, anti-fragile organizations already know how to handle effectively and efficiently. 

What are the similarities to leading a distributed workforce?

Leading in a COVID19 world

The root is in the fact that activity driven leadership is not useful in a remote work setup. A result/goal focused approach is a pre-requisite for success which triggers the four features indicated above. In addition, leaders will have to adapt (and learn) a different approach to interacting and communicating with their respective teams to support, engage, and motivate every team member.  

Lead well, stay safe, and help your team to succeed! If you would like to explore additional ideas about effective leadership or business strategy let’s talk!

Manfred Gollent

Manfred Gollent is a certified business coach and the founder of QLI International LLC. He works with a variety of clients from Fortune 500 executives to small business entrepreneurs on leadership and strategy development since 2006. Prior to founding QLI International, Manfred has been a turn-around executive in a Fortune 500 company with global operations. During his 30+ years in the corporate world, he led the rebuilding of underperforming subsidiaries in the United States, Europe, and Asia by developing their leadership team and organization, restructuring their market portfolio, operations and efficiency to improve results toward meeting investor’s expectations. Aside from his international corporate career, Manfred has served on company boards in the UK, Belgium, Norway, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Singapore, Philippines, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, and the United States.