Creating an Intelligent Organization

Posted by Edyta Pacuk & filed under Business, Organizational Transformation.

A short while ago I met a very successful Entrepreneur, who was preoccupied with the fact that his employees had not mastered basic English, nor could they handle simple math problems. He said his company was “growing stupid”. And, with the constantly increasing sophistication of his business and its customers, he was terrified that the lack of these basics would represent a real risk to achieving success.

I thought about the speed with which we need to operate, the curiosity we constantly need to demonstrate to engender brilliant improvements, social media approved gadgets, and genius solutions to customers’ problems… the fundamental concept of an intelligent organization became more immediate and tangible to me.

James Quinn, in his book “Intelligent Enterprise”, described an intelligent organization as “a firm that primarily manages and coordinates information and intellect to meet customer needs”. I fully agree with this premise and understand the “why”, the purpose and significance of this focus. Today’s organizations have to be externally oriented to stay relevant and grow. Organizations that are more introverted often struggle, and become stalled in their efforts to compete and expand.

I think that what contributes greatly to an organization’s intelligence is its ability to deal with complexity, and quickly, almost in a surgical fashion, identify the pivotal issues of importance and take action. This requires curiosity, market awareness, courage to act, agility and foresight, in addition to the ability to simplify the reality weeding out the extraneous, peripheral issues.

With that in mind, how do we create/maintain a high degree of intelligence, not in an academic, but rather in a pragmatic sense? What are the ingredients of that (maybe not so secret) sauce?

Here are a few building blocks that can help you and your organization be smart and grow smarter:

  • Ensure you have an organizational structure that adapts and remains agile in our fast-changing world. Processes that worked yesterday may be redundant today, and rather than helping the organization move forward, these may distract and delay the responsiveness today’s business requires.
  • Foster a culture that rewards and promotes curiosity and innovation. Learning agility, willingness to apply new learnings in the work environment, and feeling comfortable taking calculated risks helps organizations to stay on the leading edge; allowing them to provide thought leadership and remain relevant to the ever-changing needs of their customers.
  • Ensure the culture encourages transparency, and values the progress of the organization as a whole, more than the progress of a single Leader’s interest. This demands a degree of humility, and letting go of the belief that holding on to knowledge and information means power.
  • Leaders and Managers know how to effectively deal with their own ego and insecurities. They are able to demonstrate courage and confidence in hiring people who are smarter than they are, without fear of being bypassed, or being in competition with them. Self-awareness and self-knowledge in management and leadership promotes introspection in others as well, and helps build a solid workforce in organizations.
  • Invest in increasing peoples’ self-awareness. Encourage the development and refinement of feedback/feedforward skills. This will help create a culture that provides opportunities for people to look in the mirror, and reflect, on a regular basis. It also helps both individuals and teams to be fair in acknowledging their strengths, and to be courageous in addressing areas for growth.
  • To achieve mandates, goals, and objectives, people work as a collective and understand the power of cooperation and functional teamwork. This way of working secures knowledge transfer, as well as the continuous sharing of information, which ultimately develops a more versatile and well-rounded work force.
  • Ensure Knowledge Transfer is a strategic imperative, and not an HR initiative. Invest, as a business, with commitment to processes and actions to transfer and maintain the intangible value of the business. Many organizations embrace the following initiatives:
    1. Solid succession planning: from 3×3 grid, to actual planning and development of succession
    2. Secondments: exposure to experience and learning on the job
    3. Mentoring: a semi-formal part of the learning culture
    4. Cross-training: driving a versatile workplace
    5. Knowledge cafés and Japanese talk rooms: just to talk, connect, and learn
    6. Communities of practice: spaces for people to network
    7. Increasing of daily information sharing: formal and informal
    8. Being smart when using consultants: demanding knowledge transfer

I don’t think any of us want to be the Entrepreneur I met a while ago, facing the fear of running a stupid organization, so I hope the points covered in this blog will be of help and value. Please send me your comments; since I am still learning about the topic, any additions are most welcome.

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