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The AQai framework assesses how you experience key aspects of your Work Environment from an adaptability point of view. For an organisation to be adaptable, individuals within that organisation need to experience a high Work Environment score. The Work Environment measure looks at the extent to which you can feel you can openly share new ideas or knowledge in your company and that challenge to established ways of working is welcomed. If there is a positive Work Environment, then counterintuitive thinking and experimentation is rewarded and if you make mistakes, they are not held against you or your colleagues. As a result, it will feel like a safe place to share past failures in public and you will feel able to discuss solutions openly.
Work Environment should be contrasted with the Team Support assessment, which is a similar kind of concept. Team Support looks at your experience with your immediate team while Work Environment calibrates your experience of the culture at an organisational level.
Again, it should be seen as different from Company Support, which is the extent to which the organisation will support you in your own personal ambitions.
Why does Work Environment matter as a sub-dimension of Adaptability?
For all organisations to adapt, they need to be able to try things out and for them to fail. They need to allow people within the organisation to challenge the status quo.
In a rapidly changing environment, external circumstances will challenge the status quo of any organisation. If the organisation itself refuses to be challenged by the people within it, then any challenge can only come from the senior leadership team and that massively constrains the capability of the whole organisation to adapt. The senior leadership team cannot possibly envisage every single change and opportunity for improvement across the whole organisation.
If you are locked into a mode where you always do what you have always done and experimentation is punished, innovation is unrewarded and speaking truth to power is rejected, then you will not be able to adapt.
For you, as an individual, if you find your Work Environment score is low, then consider the extent to which you can renegotiate this experience by influencing the people you directly work with. Ultimately you may find that the Work Environment is so poor that you feel unable to stay with your organisation.
If you’re a team leader or manager, then you can directly influence the Work Environment that your own team experiences and this should be reflected in their Team Support scores. However, you should also seek to influence what is going on amongst the senior team you report to.
If you’re a leader, then look at how the Work Environment scores vary across different divisions and different grades. What is this telling you about the nature of your culture? What is the impact on your ability to get the very best out of everybody?
Often in organisations, it’s the most junior people are at the frontline. They are closest to the action and if the Work Environment of the organisation does not support them to challenge established ways of working, you may find it is a real issue as you adapt and change.
The Challenge of Regulation and Compliance
I recognise that in many industries you may feel the culture is constrained by the regulatory and compliance environment in which you operate. However, I would say to you, don’t mistake the need for compliance as preventing challenges to existing ways of working. You should still find opportunities to encourage and reward experimentation. If you can catch the mistakes before they start to impact the compliance and regulatory constraints you operate under, you can continue to allow challenge, counterintuitive thinking and experimentation. This will ultimately enable individuals, teams and the organisation, as a whole, to thrive in the face of relentless change.
Consider the airline industry: highly regulated for safety and compliance yet enormous innovation by a succession of challengers such as Virgin and EasyJet as well as a revolutionary transformation of British Airways from a failing national airline to a profitable premium brand in long-haul travel.
The AQai measure of Work Environment is a crucial indicator of the potential for individuals, teams and organisations to respond to the challenges of change. Without openness to experimentation and permission to fail, the leader’s efforts to evolve the organisation can be badly compromised.
Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.