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Management article
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Reference no. R0111K
Published by: Harvard Business Publishing
Published in: "Harvard Business Review", 2001

Abstract

More and more companies today are facing adaptive challenges: Changes in societies, markets, and technologies around the globe constantly force businesses to clarify their values, develop new strategies, and learn new ways to operate. The most important task for leaders in the face of such challenges is mobilizing people throughout their organizations to do adaptive work. In this HBR article from 1997, the authors suggest that the prevailing notion that leadership consists of having a vision and aligning people with it is bankrupt; this approach ignores the fact that many work situations are adaptive rather than technical. Heifetz and Laurie instead offer six principles for leading adaptive work. The authors say leaders should be able to spot operational and strategic patterns from high within the organization and set or create a context for change rather than get caught up in the field of action. They need to pinpoint just how a company's value systems or methods of collaboration must change as well as to regulate the inevitable distress that adaptive work generates. They also need to maintain disciplined attention among employees as well as give the work back to people, letting employees take the initiative in defining and solving problems. And finally, they need to protect the voices of leadership coming from below. An example of adaptive change at KPMG Netherlands, a professional services firm, illustrates these principles.

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Abstract

More and more companies today are facing adaptive challenges: Changes in societies, markets, and technologies around the globe constantly force businesses to clarify their values, develop new strategies, and learn new ways to operate. The most important task for leaders in the face of such challenges is mobilizing people throughout their organizations to do adaptive work. In this HBR article from 1997, the authors suggest that the prevailing notion that leadership consists of having a vision and aligning people with it is bankrupt; this approach ignores the fact that many work situations are adaptive rather than technical. Heifetz and Laurie instead offer six principles for leading adaptive work. The authors say leaders should be able to spot operational and strategic patterns from high within the organization and set or create a context for change rather than get caught up in the field of action. They need to pinpoint just how a company's value systems or methods of collaboration must change as well as to regulate the inevitable distress that adaptive work generates. They also need to maintain disciplined attention among employees as well as give the work back to people, letting employees take the initiative in defining and solving problems. And finally, they need to protect the voices of leadership coming from below. An example of adaptive change at KPMG Netherlands, a professional services firm, illustrates these principles.

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