Evolution time.

Posted on September 30, 2011 by Aidan

Darwin is famously quoted as saying “It is not the biggest or strongest that survive but those most adaptable to change”.  In biological terms its the idea that the organism that best adapts to the environment will survive best and therefore pass on their genes to the next generation. This ideology has been used in most competitive organisations for many years and is an adage used to improve flexibility and innovation within the organisation. For this the general axioms are reduce bureaucracy and encourage change mechanisms within the organisation so that adaptation can occur. In a competitive market place this means change or go out of business.

Evolution is at its most powerful when a defined enviroment gets squeezed, forcing competition. When there is loads of food, space and resources then Evolution slows down but when the pressure comes on its evolve or die.

In the current recession most competitive environments are adapting by cutting overheads, changing processes, getting closer to the customers and such. Some businesses are being clever and taking advantage by defining their niche while the competition is weak and instead of focusing on quarterly results at any cost are getting closer to customers and understanding them and their needs better and improving their processes so that when the gloom lifts, as it always does, they will find themselves positioned at the top of the food chain and the number one in their space.

Others are in survival mode – taking any bit of business that comes along in order to survive. So they try to break out of their niche to areas where they may not have a competitive advantage. Or take the long road to product diversification requiring them while at their weakest to learn a new skillset and a new market. For some this is necessary and there is a natural tension in this and decisions need to be made.

What however is to be done with organisations who are slow to react with rigid bureaucracy, an inflexible workforce and a culture that resists change.  Those without a very strong position in the market will die.  I am watching this in some organisations in this country with awe. Organisations who need to move fast and adapt have either management who cannot change or a workforce, possibly unionised, who are all about “us and them” and never “we” who argue  while their more flexible competitors (abroad) are eating their dinner.

Most interesting is the Public Sector who seem like rabbits caught in headlights and seem to be able to do nothing but CUT things. People. Services. Budgets. What about performance inefficiencies? What about getting more done with less by reducing the amount that needs to be done? What about mapping processes across departments? What about putting real managers into the Health Service for example? From outside the crazy culture that exists? If you get more done with the same people everybody keeps their job and the customers get their services and “everybody goes home with a balloon”.

The question arises – does Evolutionary pressure come to bear on the Public Sector Organisations – if they don’t shape up will they go out of existence. Well – no – in reality it does not apply. On an organisational level.  This is why it is sometimes it is prudent to privatize these organisations to allow their new environment to apply pressures that their current environment does not allow.

But what about Ireland Inc? What about the economic status of Ireland as a whole. The Public Sector Organisations are just parts of a larger whole. And so long as they are as they are and they remain as they are Ireland will suffer. Ireland is in an Evolutionary squeeze. Other more competitive entities are putting their hands up to eat our dinner while we are distracted with political expedience. Ireland Inc is in danger of dying out perhaps? I wonder if those who are focused on their own little territories and those who block improvements at the local level think of what they are doing in these terms?

Perhaps they should.

Aidan Higgins

First Published May 2009