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Accelerate (XLR8)

John Kotter (known, among other books, for ‘Our iceberg is melting!’) wrote a more than readable book about business agility. How can you, as an organization, concentrate on growth and consolidation while remaining alert to new developments. In order to operate effectively and to respond quickly to changing market conditions.

Henny Portman | 14 juli 2016 | 5-7 minuten leestijd

In his book ‘Accelerate. Building strategic agility for a faster moving world’ he gives an insight into a dual system in which we see on the one hand an effective hierarchy that enables growth and, secondly, an open network structure which timely corrects the organization. Kotter gives this dual system the the necessary tools via five principles and eight accelerators to make it practical in both large and small organizations. The book is divided into nine chapters, in which the dual system is described including two annexes.

The first chapter describes the limitations of the hierarchical structure in case of accelerating changes. Kotter shows that almost all successful organizations follow a comparable life cycle. It often starts with a network-like structure which can be compared to an expanding and growing solar system with the sun, planets, moons and satellites. The founder in the centre, and around him/her all kinds of initiatives which are risk-taking and searching for opportunities in line with a a vision.

A vision that inspires and liberates energy in the employees to achieve that vision. As the organization grows and successful products or services have been put on the market, we see the organization develop into a more hierarchical structure including the associated management processes such as planning, budget, function and job descriptions, staffing, measurement and troubleshooting.

These management processes have a delaying effect, and are blocking the development of new innovative products or services. The short-term ideas and sometimes complacency or lack of support are blocking innovation. The network organization disappears like snow in the sun and only the rigid hierarchical organization remains.

Chapter two is about the dual operating system in order to generate opportunities. The basic structure is a hierarchy on the one hand and on the other the network organization. we saw in the first chapter that organizations begin their life cycle of successful organizations with a network and at some point they also have developed a hierarchical structure too. Successful organizations are able to prevent the erosion of the network and have the hierarchical as well as the network organization operate in symbiosis at the same time.

In order to have a properly functioning dual operating system, Kotter gives five basic principles:

- Many people driving important change, and from everywhere, not just the usual few appointees;

- A ‘get-to’ mindset, not a ‘have-to’ one;

- Action that is head and heart-driven, not just head driven;

- Much more leadership, not just more management;

- An inseparable partnership between the hierarchy and the network, not jus tan enhanced hierarchy.

The processes within the network are similar to the activities of start-ups and have much in common with the described ‘Eight steps of change’ by Kotter. However, management should launch a dynamic atmosphere in which the network and hierarchy remain integrated and using continuous accelerators to perform faster and faster.

The eight accelerators are:

- Urgency on big opportunity;

- Guided coalition of volunteers;

- Change vision and strategic initiatives;

- More and more volunteers;

- Barriers knocked down;

- Wins celebrated;

- Relentless action;

- Changes institutionalized.

The third chapter ‘The stakes, A cautionary Tale’ describes a case study of an organization that have to act, otherwise they lose their position in the market. We see that the use of existing methods may work fine as long as the pace is not too high and the future is reasonably predictable. Should the pace increase and predictability decreases then it becomes a different story. The organization will then have to operate with speed and agility of a start-up company. This requirement of speed and agility is becoming more and more the today’s norm.

Chapter four sets leadership and management together and brings them in relation to each other by means of the management / leadership matrix (four quadrants in which the combinations are displayed). If this is linked to the dual system, you could say that the hierarchical system often ask for management skills (in view of stability, reliability and efficiency) and the network system will need much more leadership skills (with attention to cohesive vision, passion, agility and speed). In the dual operating system some people have to sit in both systems, and this requires that people have both management as well as leadership skills.

Chapter five describes a case within a B2B technology company. We get the details of the five principles and eight accelerators and what results have been achieved. The chapter concludes with some spectacular results with the dual operating system within other companies.

Chapter six then put your feet back on the ground. Change is not easy. You will tirelessly have to develop a sense of urgency to large numbers of managers and employees. Victories and successes should be celebrated in order to create positive energy.

In chapter seven Kotter shows that having a vision is not enough. The change vision is often seen as something of senior management to be realized by employees. Tap into the minds and hearts of the employees by positioning ‘The big opportunity’ (a window to a successful future, which is realistic, emotionally compelling and easy to remember). This big opportunity can then be translated into a change vision (how your organization should look to take advantage of the big opportunity) and what are the underlying change initiatives you need to achieve the vision.

Chapter eight provides some frequently asked questions and answers that you can use if you want to move towards a dual operating system too. And the last chapter deals with the inevitable future of strategy. To predict the future is impossible but one thing is certain. The change is accelerating and as an organization you have to take this into account.

Conclusion. This book, like the other books of Kotter, is definitely worth reading. Much is written about business agility and innovation, but this book is not addressing the underlying frameworks but puts the organization itself centrally to enable business agility and innovation.

Over Henny Portman

Henny Portman is eigenaar van Portman PM[O] Consultancy en biedt begeleiding bij het invoeren en verbeteren van project-, programma- en portfoliomanagement inclusief het opzetten en verder ontwikkelen van PMO's. Hij is auteur en blogger en publiceert regelmatig artikelen.

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