6 Steps to Organizational Success During Environmental Change

There are many reasons why an organization may succeed or fail during times of environmental stress or change; Dr. Scott Brooks and I explore many of these factors in our 2016 book Creating the Vital Organization. In the book, we outline how the Vitality model can be used to ensure that organizations are focusing on both internal and external factors that affect their success both in the short-term and long-term. Examples of how these factors can play out include the following:

Is your product or service attractive in the new or changing environment?

For instance, if you only sell jumbo size offerings of your products at a high price, during economic downturns, people on a tight budget might not be able to afford to purchase the jumbo size.

Is your product or service being disrupted by a new technology, competitor, or by supply chain issues?

Can others offer what you do, with a new twist, faster or at a cheaper price? There is a tendency for some to gravitate to shiny new things, without necessarily considering its ultimate value or risk, ignoring the wisdom that just because something can be done doesn’t always mean it should be done.

Is your product or service “sticky”?

Is there a friction factor for a customer to change away from your product or service, something that increases customer loyalty? Is your level of customer service exemplary (or are you experiencing higher than normal call volumes, so your customers are on hold for a lifetime and a half?). Or for instance, with cell phones, once you are imbedded within a certain universe, changing to a different brand with a different operating system, requires wholesale changes, reloading accounts and passwords, and perhaps losing history are all friction factors which make changing difficult.

Are your internal processes as effective and efficient as they can be?

During periods of change and economic uncertainty running a tight ship with little waste can help the survival odds. One key driver of turnover is when people are frustrated in their jobs due to ineffective work processes.

Is your leadership visible, communicative and describing a clear path though uncertainty?

Leadership needs to be out there, not retreating into war rooms, planning or fretting and certainly not putting their heads into the sand, ignoring pressing issues. Planning and indeed fretting are important for they may help you avoid risk, but critical in any changing situation is to bring the entire organization along with you as you navigate through uncertainty.

Are your employees open to new methods, processes and procedures?

Retreating to or trying to hold onto what was, or the way things were can be a path to nowhere. Having an employee base that is willing and capable of change can be very useful during turbulent times. How can that be assessed?

It’s this last bullet – the openness to new ideas – that I want to focus on today. It can be argued that organizations staffed with people who are open to new ideas, new ways of working, and new concepts or innovations would be better able to cope with a changing environment. But how do you gauge if your employees are well-suited to this?

Neophobia (the fear of new things) and Neophilia (the love of new things) exist on a sliding scale. No one is all one way or the other. Someone may be Neophobic about one thing, such as trying new foods, and Neophilic about another, such as trying new electronic gadgets. Neophobics tend to take a circle the wagons approach, both literally and metaphorically, rejecting the new and previously unexperienced, yearning to return to an idealized and fantasized past. “…openness is best characterized by original, imaginative, broad interests, and daring” (McCrae and Costa, 1987).

Author Seth Godin describes in a recent podcast how some people do things the same way every day because that is simply the way they have always done them. He describes how, in 1847, a Hungarian physician named Ignaz Semmelweis proposed that physicians should wash their hands prior to delivering babies at a clinic. Yet it took over 20 years for most doctors to accept the proof about handwashing’s hygienic necessity. In the meantime, they kept doing medical procedures, including delivering babies, without today’s common standards of cleanliness.

One experiment* of willingness or not to try new foods found that two dimensions stood out in the data.

  • Willingness and Trust (W&T)
  • Rejection and Particularity (R&P).

Here are some of the items used to measure those dimensions:

  1. I am constantly sampling new and different foods. (W&T)
  2. I don’t trust new foods. (R&P)
  3. If I don’t know what is in a food, I won’t try it. (R&P)
  4. I like foods from different countries. (W&T)
  5. Ethnic food looks weird to eat. (R&P)
  6. At dinner parties, I will try a new food. (W&T)
  7. I am afraid to eat things I have never had before. (R&P)
  8. I am very particular about the foods I will eat. (R&P)
  9. I will eat almost anything.
  10. I like to try new ethnic restaurants. (W&T)

* Zoltán Szakály (et al.), 2021. Adaptation and Validation of the Food Neophobia Scale: The Case of Hungary. Foods, 10, 1766

So how does this relate to organizations?

First, it’s important to have a workforce that is capable of and willing to embrace change, especially in challenging times. Employee surveys can help organizations understand where their people fall on the sliding scale of neophobia to neophilia. By tailoring the measurement on strategic employee surveys, insights can be gained regarding the makeup of your employee population. This data, in turn, can be used to inform hiring decisions, identify a potential area of risk, or an opportunity for growth.  Not sure how to start? OrgVitality can help. Contact us today.


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