Martin Reeves sets out three elements of an adaptive company: flexible strategy approaches, leaders able to fit strategy to context, and smart change methods. We would add three more:

1. Horizons of Work

Most companies today have to work at three speeds at the same time. Everyone talks about moving faster, but sometimes what is needed is actually slowing down. A recent organization diagnostic at a global beauty company was typical. Employees told us there were too many priorities and a sense of frenzy. They wanted their leaders to slow down and make the clear choices with the right investment of resources behind the rhetoric. At the same time, there was a real pressure to reduce product development and launch cycle times and to be as responsive to consumers and market shifts as the small pure-players. Employees were eager to learn more agile ways of working. Getting good at being more thoughtful about the big bets, grinding through the core work, and being faster than the competition at the point of delivery is not easy. Being adaptive isn’t just about changing fast, it is about applying the right speed to the work.

2. Organizational Model

Large, global companies can be as nimble and flexible as small organizations if leaders also pay attention to the design of the organization, in particularly the power dynamics across operating units within the portfolio of businesses, between product units and regional commercial units, and between headquarter functional groups and the product and regional units. When these connections are well thought-out and activated, the organization becomes an enabler of moving fast in the market while leveraging corporate assets, or running a global brand while delivering it with local relevance, or building common platforms while tailoring the customer experience.

3. Team Capability

When you have multiple products delivered to multiple client segments around the world, you need to find a way to leverage your resources and move fast. Ideally, you create a culture where people can move between multiple teams seamlessly, without heavy controls. For example, one of our clients ran global procurement for a diversified industrial company. She built a strong network across the procurement officers embedded in the product lines and geographies. She saw her role as aligning agendas and bringing value from the center to the field, rather than dictating from corporate. None of the staff in the field reported to her, yet they all felt strongly part of the global procurement team. In other situations stronger wiring may be required. This may take the form of classic cross-functional teams, agile methodology, integrator roles, or true matrix dual-reporting. Adaptive organizations use the right tools for the context and invest in the high-trust relationships, aligned incentives, and decision-rights clarity that allow for the effective use of cross-boundary teams. To be adaptive requires more, not less, leadership discipline in setting strategy, matching pace to work, designing the organization, assembling teams, and supporting change.

Managing Partners

Amy Kates and Greg Kesler