Today’s businesses operate in an environment of unprecedented risk, uncertainty, and complexity. Many struggle to achieve the results they desire. Organisations increasingly rely on a combination of ‘rule-based and’mindful based’ methods of working to address this.
Organisations can develop rule-based practices to improve control and reliability of their operations. A rule-based system can be used to ensure consistency and reduce the chance of human error.
A’mindful’ approach allows humans to have more control over their priorities and to use their perceptions, cognition, and flexible thinking.
People can use their knowledge, imagination, and expertise to solve problems. This flexibility allows for innovation and pragmatism depending on the situation.
How can we activate a mindful approach when there is a performance-threatening incident? Cranfield’s research team examined five major UK companies in different sectors, including financial services, power generation, and high-tech R&D (for our ‘Roads to Resilience’ report).
We used key projects from each organization as case studies to examine how each company responded in the face of major incidents.
Three different responses were identified:
Figure 1: Mindfulness activation modes
The first approach we called the “Traditional” approach. This is when an organization uses a predominantly rule-based approach.
Our observations showed that this operation style was less able to adapt to unexpected problems and had a slower response time than other styles. Relying on pre-existing rules made it harder to find a solution that was tailored to your needs.
We saw shifts in operating styles when problems occurred in the second mode, Infusion. Expert judgement was encouraged and different working styles were recommended.
It might also mean deploying additional resources to deal with the situation. Teams of cross-functional experts, who are emotionally and structurally unaffected by the unfolding incident, could be brought in to help. This allowed others to continue contributing to normal operations.
Entrepreneurial is the last option for dealing with uncertainty. It involves creating and maintaining permanent mindful capabilities. This was evident in technology R&D projects, which deliberately used minimal rules and procedures while allowing decision-makers to have relative freedom in their work methods.
Uncertainty was accepted and seen as an opportunity to innovate. The critical incidents were seen as opportunities to learn and improve. There was no’switch’ from one mode to the next. These are difficult skills to acquire and cultivate.
What does this all mean for managers? Managers know that one size does not fit all. The approach of an organisation must be adapted to the level of uncertainty and complexity within the business. A rule-based approach is best suited for low-uncertainty and low-complexity environments.
As uncertainty increases, however, the benefits of a flexible and’mindful” approach increase. This requires careful nurturing. Parachuting in additional resources could send the message that the problem is’someone else’s problem.
Only if decision-makers are able to continue to supervise day-to-day operations can a sanction be made for a mindful response.
The pure mindfulness approach is the best for high-uncertainty work. However, it can be difficult to sustain as failures can lead to complacency.
Are your organisation’s rules sufficient to ensure a secure work environment? Are you able to benefit from the flexibility that mindfulness allows? You might consider challenging the limitations of what you “should” do and instead think about what you might be capable of doing.