5 Steps Toward Thriving In Our Unstable World

We live in a world of unpredictable and uncontrollable change. How can we survive and even thrive when our environment turns against us? Bill Evans was the CEO of Shifting Rocks Corp., a dominant regional player in providing rocks for road construction. After 30 great years, the company suddenly dropped behind two competitors. Due to a combination of unforeseen changes, sales plunged from $50 million to $25 million. They went from a $5 million profit to a loss of $2 million in only two years. 

Bill hired a firm that helps companies thrive in a changing environment. After one year of working with this firm, Shifting Rocks reached break-even. In two years, they had climbed to a $6 million profit. Their engagement levels are now higher than in the “good years,” and Bill enjoys his job more than ever. 

The turning point was when Bill’s mindset changed, with the realization that what led to success in the past often doesn’t work today. The primary characteristics needed to thrive now are 

The willingness to change or compromise

The ability to use flexibility to meet the demands of new conditions

The ability to quickly gain new knowledge and skills that are required to   meet the demands of new conditions

When you implement these traits, you become a flexible, adaptive, learning organization (FALO). A FALO has a unique competitive edge in an unstable environment. A key element is the mindset shift to focusing on the things that lie in your sphere of control rather than constantly reacting to things out of your control. Instead of things getting easier, you get better!

Below is a five-step process for creating a FALO:

Step 1: Shift your mindset from solving problems via processes and technologies to solving people problems first. All business problems (including process and technology problems) are people problems at their root, since people select, develop, operate and manage your processes and technologies. The perfect processes and technologies with the wrong people, or with people who are not using them properly, will never work. A focus on process and technology is a convenient distraction away from the more challenging arena of focusing on human beings. However, starting with processes and technologies is treating the symptoms, not the cause. Your solutions will always be suboptimal with this approach.

Step 2: Create a personal development mindset as an organizational strategy. The key to your professional growth is your personal growth and development. We take ourselves with us everywhere we go, and our self-awareness, skills and character traits are our only tools. It’s critical to realize that these elements of personal growth are developed, not inborn. Certainly you have inborn gifts; however, they are not very useful until they’ve been developed over time. 

History’s most successful CEOs, like Jack Welch of GE, Lou Gerstner of IBM and Ray Dalio of Bridgewater, shared a common philosophy. They recognized that as people work on their personal development, they contribute far more productivity, collaboration, and positive energy/engagement as extra benefits. Each of these benefits enhances the others, creating a multiplied effect throughout the organization. As people develop, they also adapt much better to ongoing life challenges. The organization increases in knowledge and skills (learning) while becoming more flexible and adaptive.

Step 3: Cultivate a culture that supports ongoing personal development. Developing a strategy of personal growth requires that you develop a culture that supports this strategy. Organizations frequently fail to execute their strategies because they lack a culture that supports them. Peter Drucker said, “Culture eats strategy for lunch.”

Google provides one of many examples of an organization that focuses on culture as a key driver of its success. Here are their “three principles for a top-notch culture”:

1. A mission that matters: A clear mission and vision statement to motivate and unify employees

2. Transparency of leaders: A crucial element to build safety, trust and collaboration that requires openness and vulnerability

3. Giving everyone a voice: A perspective that values everyone’s opinion and point of view

Do these principles apply to other companies? Yes. In fact, it’s more difficult to apply these principles in large organizations like Google because of increased layers of complexity. 

Step 4: Starting with upper management, take an open, honest inventory of weaknesses. A weakness is any habitual behavior that impairs your effectiveness and prevents you from becoming who you want to be. Having weaknesses is an unavoidable part of being human. The key is to deliberately identify and acknowledge these habits rather than trying to hide or cover them up. Our weaknesses are obvious to others anyway, so attempting to deny or hide them impairs our growth and relationships.

When leaders are authentic about their weaknesses, it builds trust and respect and creates a culture where people feel safe to do the same. Research and experience consistently demonstrate the importance of people feeling safe. They won’t allow themselves to be open about their weaknesses until they feel secure from ridicule or punishment. 

Step 5: Commit to a process of ongoing improvement. The key is that leaders commit with both their hearts (emotions) and their minds (thoughts). Developing new habits that serve us better than the old ones requires committed effort over time. Demonstrating this commitment helps develop a culture of people committed to their personal and professional growth. 

It’s also important to develop a culture of constructive feedback and encouragement, since we often don’t realize when we revert to old habits. Ongoing improvement is difficult without a culture that supports people making a consistent effort. 

Developing a FALO is not complicated. It starts with a mindset shift from focusing on the external environment to focusing on the source of your success and power – the ongoing development of human beings. You can try to control your external environment or adapt to meet (or exceed) the demands. Which approach will you choose?

Brad Wolff specializes in workforce and personal optimization. He’s a speaker and the author of People Problems? How to Create People Solutions for a Competitive Advantage. As the managing partner for Atlanta-based PeopleMax, Brad specializes in helping companies maximize the potential and results of their people to make more money with less stress. His passion is empowering people to create the business success they desire, in a deep and lasting way. For more information on Brad Wolff, please visit

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