The Adaptable Organization Series

Part 5: The Ecosystem

Posted by Don Miller and Tiffany McDowell on September 6, 2019.

Through our past four blog posts on the Adaptable Organization (The Individual, The Leader, The Team, and The Organization), we explored ways companies can successfully align their organizational structure, team environment, and leadership to bring out the best in its individuals. However, all these efforts can fall short if the organization does not fully study the ecosystem it exists in.

In stable environments, competitive advantage can be achieved using internally focused strategies such as building economies of scale. In unpredictable times, organizational survival depends on understanding a broader, more dynamic external ecosystem where purpose and goals are targeted to customer missions.

Ecosystems that leverage external communities, collaborations, and alliances can better sense shifts in the environment to remain competitive.

Historically, organizations have looked within themselves to drive market relevance and competitiveness, scanning the market infrequently and rarely leveraging talent within the organization for real‑time insights.

In an Adaptable Organization, understanding the external environment becomes a continuous activity that fuels constant efforts to evolve the business.

Encouraging people to constantly sense the external environment helps people inside the organization to be open about what they are seeing and how they believe it will impact the organization.

It is a stark contrast to the “set it and forget it” strategy and organizational design that traditionally occurred every three to five years.

Yet this expansive system can easily become misaligned and requires a greater purpose to remain connected.

The figure below highlights the Adaptable Organization at the core of the ecosystem, driving the focus, continuity, and strategy of the organization; the flexible contingent workforce that occupies roles with fluctuating demand; the outsourced specialists or vendors that provide specific services to the organization; and the community/crowd—a modern form of workforce linked to the world. All are connected through shared purpose. Organizations are beginning to adjust their culture to engage the external talent ecosystem.


Source: Deloitte Consulting LLP, 2019

A shared purpose connects the ecosystem; defines success through the eyes of customers, stakeholders and society; and helps motivate people to succeed.

Not only are Adaptable Organizations able to respond quickly to changes, but they also take their role as a social enterprise seriously, moving away from being solely a “business enterprise.” These organizations aim to engage and connect with the hearts and minds of their workers, customers, communities, and societies-at-large. Adaptable Organizations are grounded in social purpose and bring teams on a journey while responding to changes with agility, speed, and ease.

A shared purpose holds the ecosystem together. Direction is given from the shared purpose and not from an organizational hierarchy. By bringing a purpose statement to life and connecting the dots for workers through storytelling and meaningful narratives, workers are more likely to commit to the organization’s strategy and execution.

Research indicates that focusing on purpose, in addition to profits, builds business confidence. According to research by Bersin™, Deloitte Consulting LLP, 82 percent of employees who work for an organization with a strong sense of purpose are confident their organization will continue to grow.1

When organizations define their success through the eyes of their customers, stakeholders, or society, people come alive.

To capture this success, organizations must be able to translate their purpose into a set of customer-focused missions.

Purpose-driven companies have 30 percent higher levels of innovation and 40 percent higher levels of retention, and tend to be first or second in their market segment.2

A bold organizational purpose cascades through the organization using customer-focused missions. Missions  deconstruct customer-focused strategies into outcomes that teams can organize around. Missions should be revisited and refreshed constantly, in concert with changes in the ecosystem.

Characteristics of effective missions include being:

  • Linked to measurable outcome(s) to inspire focus on a common goal
  • Aligned around a differentiator for the organization in the marketplace
  • Inspirational and motivating
  • Independent and discrete from the missions of other teams
  • Organized around closeness to the customer
  • Focused around a goal/organizational unit that is under particularly intense competition or market disruption

Mission-based design leverages the natural human tendency for teams to self-optimize by keeping missions independent from other teams but still connected to the organization’s purpose. In this model, every team directly benefits the organization without impeding the success of another team. In its design, an Adaptable Organization balances customer-focused mission teams and centralized functional capabilities to deploy agility and efficiency appropriately.

Trying to solve today’s complex, industry-disrupting challenges can seem formidable. An Adaptable Organization can empower your organization to thrive in an ever-shifting landscape by purposefully facilitating a symbiotic relationship between your Ecosystem, Organization, Teams, Leaders, and Individuals.

Don Miller is a managing director in Human Capital Practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP. He serves as the US Analytics leader for Deloitte’s Human Capital Organization Transformation & Talent practice and also serves on Deloitte’s Global Organization Design and Decision Solutions leadership team.

Tiffany McDowell is an Organization Transformation principal in Deloitte Consulting LLP’s Human Capital practice and leads Deloitte’s Organization Strategies Market Offering. She focuses on delivering operating model, organization design, talent strategies, and global change management solutions for large-scale transformation projects.

1Culture of Purpose—Building business confidence; driving growth: 2014 core beliefs and culture survey, Deloitte, 2014.
2Josh Bersin, Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting LLP: Becoming Irresistible: A New Model for Employee Engagement, 2015.

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