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Renowned educator, author, orator, and Presidential adviser Booker T. Washington reflected that “success is not so much to be measured by the position one has reached in life, as by the obstacles one has overcome while trying to succeed.” This is valuable advice that organizations can take to heart as they encounter — and strive to overcome — three especially looming and intimidating obstacles on the path to becoming an adaptable enterprise:

1. Lack of commitment from the top (a.k.a. “lipstick adaptability”)

A common phenomenon known as “lipstick agile” occurs when organizations fail to fully commit to agile project management strategies, tactics and methodologies. Typically, the only thing that changes are labels (e.g. Scrums, stand-up meeting, sprints, etc.), while the underlying approach remains rigid and conventional. Eventually, frustrated workers tune out, burnout, or take off.

A similarly unfortunate outcome unfolds when enterprises demonstrate “lipstick adaptability”, which happens when leadership is not ready and willing to make some fundamental changes to how work is done. For example, adaptable enterprises experiment to discover innovations, improvements and new opportunities. But as any laboratory scientist worth their Bunsen burner will attest, by definition experiments don’t always trigger profound breakthroughs — sometimes they trigger sprinkler systems. Executives who flee in horror when (not if) experiment-induced setbacks happen undermine their organization’s efforts and investments in becoming more adaptable.

2. Lack of cross-functional communication and coordination

Another thorny problem that some enterprises face in pursuit of adaptability is when teams isolate themselves in silos. This results in a kind of anti-synergy, because even when teams are faithfully fulfilling their respective mandates, they may ultimately (albeit unintentionally) undermine collective success.

For adaptability to take root and become both an organization-wide core competence and competitive advantage, cross-functional teams need to communicate, coordinate, and when necessary, collaborate. They also need to learn from and leverage each others’ experiences: the good, the bad, and especially the ugly. Using cloud-based collaborative work management (CWM) tools goes a long way towards closing the visibility gap, while at the same time giving teams the authority and accountability they need to achieve their objectives and goals.

3. Lack of focus

 Being an adaptable business is not about optimizing processes or implementing advanced technologies. Both of these are critical means to a singular end: improving results, even when faced with unexpected disruptions.

Staying focused on this ultimate goal is more challenging than it sounds, because enterprises are not simple things. They are diverse, multifaceted and multi-layered entities that cultivate rich cultures and communities (the fact that millions of people are now working from home doesn’t fundamentally change this — the average person spends 90,000 hours working over a lifetime, whether that’s in an office at corporate headquarters or at the kitchen table).

Essentially, staying focused on results cannot just be a leadership directive. It must be a guiding philosophy and paradigm that everyone in the organization enthusiastically adopts, regardless of their role, level or amount of experience. When it comes to becoming an adaptable enterprise — and evolving as one — everyone is in it together, and it’s all hands on deck.

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