Adaptability is the new normal

Written by
Changeboard Team
London Business School

18 Jan 2018

18 Jan 2018 • by Changeboard Team

At the latest future talent roundtable for HR directors, Adam Kingl of London Business School encouraged delegates to reinvent the way they think about ‘change’ and adopt a courageous mindset when planning the future.

"We need to bust the fear of change. The alternative is the status quo, so we have to consider doing things differently. We need to reinvent the way we think about change.”

These were the call-outs from Adam Kingl, executive director of thought leadership at London Business School, at the latest future talent roundtable dinner for senior HR leaders.

Held on London Business School’s campus, the event explored the steps leaders can take to manage through complexity, navigate disruption and drive innovation to be fit for the future.

In today’s fast-paced global business landscape, organisations require humanity, innovation, ingenuity and creativity. But many leaders struggle to live these and keep pace with change.

“Leading change is always at the front of our conversations because we are poor at it – we lead it tactically,” asserted Kingl.

“We don’t deal with an organisation’s DNA or its ability to change in the first place.” In his view, while we are often comfortable with change in our personal lives – such as buying a house or taking up a hobby – within an organisational context, this comes less naturally. He believes the reason for this is that, within organisations, people try to manage risk and change with structures.

“Structures are not the solution,” he told attendees. “By architecture and ideology, our organisations are not designed for change.”

Kingl explained that most organisations today typically comprise a ‘mash up’ of a ‘Julius Caesar approach’ (characterised by a fixed, robust nature) and a ‘Frederick Winslow Taylor approach’ (efficiency at scale).

This has created bureaucracy, which is the underlying reason many businesses struggle to change effectively.

He stressed that “hierarchy – which is embedded in us at school – empowers the few at the expense of the many”. For example, managers usually reach a senior level because they are good at dealing with bureaucracy, which is both disabling and expensive.

“What does the verb ‘to manage’ mean?” Kingl questioned. “The most common synonym is ‘to control’. In today’s context, we are looking for managers to empower, grow, and develop people.”

He referenced Gallup research which demonstrates that globally, some 62% of employees do not feel engaged by their organisation and 24% are actively disengaged, signalling the need for a fundamental shift in business practice.

But how can organisations successfully implement change when most change efforts are either met with resistance or fail altogether?

For Kingl, a collaborative approach is needed. “It’s time to ensure our organisations are at least as human as the humans who comprise them,” he declared.

Keen to point out that top-down driven initiatives are rarely successful, Kingl encouraged delegates to consider alternative ways of rolling out innovation in their organisations.

“Who are the innovators in your business?” he asked. “CEOs won’t have the answer but the answer is somewhere in your organisation.” As an example, he highlighted the power of the NHS Change Day (see summary, below), which first took place in March 2013, and aims to make healthcare staff themselves the leaders of change.

The concept, driven by middle managers Jackie Lynton and Helen Bevan, sprang from frontline staff and has been described as the largest-ever healthcare social movement.

Kingl encouraged delegates to undertake organisation network mapping, to ascertain how networked individuals were within their businesses and pinpoint the influencers and connectors.

People could be rewarded on their ability to influence, he suggested. So how can we take this forward?

“The most important obstacle is courage – you need to go away and try something and that’s where the movement grows,” he advised. “Go away from the mainstream. Have conversations and create space for others to have discussions,” urged Kingl. “If an idea comes from the left field, it will probably resonate more than if it came from the top.


NHS Change Day was the biggest day of collective action for improvement in the history of the health service. 

A grassroots movement, devised and driven by a small group of emerging clinicians and improvement leaders, it encourages individual pledges to improve the NHS.

NHS Change Day started from a single tweet in 2012, which developed into a conversation between trainee doctors and NHS improvement leaders.

They began exchanging ideas and developed a shared vision about bringing together NHS staff and supporters to create positive change. This led to the very first NHS Change Day in March 2013.

The idea was to create a mass movement of NHS staff, partners and users to take action, resulting in better patient care. NHS Change Day 2013 mobilised 189,000 pledges for action, and since then, more than 80% of people questioned have stated their pledge has led to change. The number of pledges on the NHS Change Day website has now passed 800,000.

London Business School