Elasticity – A Modern Paradigm for a High Performance Workforce

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Top C-suite leaders are already tuning their long-range planning, hiring practices, and business systems for elasticity. Are you ready?

For highly educated, highly capable workers, there is an unspoken understanding that change and continuous improvement are part of a rewarding career. The 1998 bestseller, Who Moved My Cheese, attempted to educate the masses on this concept , as did The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People a decade earlier. Countless overachievers over the past millennium have said, in one way or another, “You are either growing, or you are shrinking.”

Fast forward to the brink of 2017, and a new concept is emerging among the business elite. That concept is elasticity. It can be applied to anything (e.g., artificial intelligence software, brick-and-mortar factories), but is best applied to human resources because humans still make everything “go”-at least for now. Top C-suite leaders are already tuning their long-range planning, hiring practices, and business systems for elasticity. 

So, what does it mean to have an employee or organization that has elasticity? Let’s look at two quick and simple examples:

  • Company “Do Things Right, LLC” has a strict 8am to 5pm on-site work schedule. Company “Do the Right Things, Inc.” has defined core hours, but offers a high degree of flexibility for actual work times and locations. Both companies encounter a similar challenge requiring workloads to increase to meet committed deadlines. “Do Things Right, LLC” has a difficult time changing gears to ramp up, and also has a more difficult time providing relief on the back end of the peak. “Do the Right Things, Inc.” simply communicates the business needs, and the workforce, which wants to do the work and not be told how or when to do it, adjusts to the increased demand for the period of the challenge. As deadlines are met and workloads level off, “Do the Right Things, Inc.” employees recognize the break and take advantage of it with some shorter days, additional remote days, or even some personal time.

  • Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl are both great engineers with specific training on equipment for pharmaceutical manufacturing. A need arises to accommodate a biotechnology application, requiring training or experience above and beyond traditional pharma. Mr. Incredible takes the following position, “I don’t have this training or experience; I need to take a class, work under a senior engineer for several of these projects, and certify to myself that I can take on this problem, and do it on my own.” Elastigirl looks at it another way, “Wow, I have the opportunity to take some risk to learn something new! I know what I know, and I am smart enough to know what I don’t know.  There are plenty of resources, internal and external, to help me. To be safe, I will make sure all of my work passes muster with a trained senior resource that will only have to review my work-and not generate it-thus saving both time and money on the project.”

In the end, elasticity is really about being progressive, modern, and adaptive. It’s about taking some risk, but having accountability for outcomes so that risk is managed effectively.

To further explain, the following are the Top 10 principles that help foster companies and individuals with elasticity:

  • Trust, but verify.  If you can’t trust someone, they shouldn’t be on your team. Blind trust, however, is best reserved for your loved ones. You can’t be elastic and successful if the data sets you are working with do not have integrity. 

  • Confidence is key.  Whether it is a personality trait inherited at birth, or developed over time with great mentors and coaches, confidence is critical for elasticity.  It’s the catalyst that gets things moving at the start.

  • Talent trumps experience, any day, every day, and all day. The old way is to hire the experienced person who already knows the job. The new way is to hire the talented person who will reinvent the job. Talent is, for all intents and purposes, God-given. Experience, on the other hand, can be bought for a small sum. If you are building an organization or a career, focus on talents and build on strengths.

  • Risk is good, not bad. The idea that risk is somehow “bad” is pervasive in our Western culture. Rather, the elastic elite know that risk is a self-evident system to balance cost, rewards, time, and penalties. It’s a considerable risk to go downhill skiing, but anyone who is a skier doesn’t see it that way. Risk simply needs to be managed. And by managed, that means the following: risks identified, risk probabilities understood, risk outcomes estimated, risks ranked, and risks managed by rank with four available options-avoid, accept, transfer, or mitigate. Once under management, risks must also be monitored for things like risk triggers (e.g., monitoring for foreshocks to manage earthquake risks).

  • Be transparent or die. Believe it or not, we now live in a world of truth. Despite all the hoopla about how the world and information is manipulated, this is an exciting time for truth seekers. The Internet, despite all the cats and lies, is a pretty easy place to find truth, using research, critical thinking, and-well-Snopes.com. Also, we live in a digital world where our fingerprints are on everything. The criminal really can’t get away with crime anymore; we can catch anyone if we put enough resources on a case.  It may be scary to accept our current reality, but everything we do is pretty much traceable; if you don’t believe me, talk to a web developer. If you are a good person with good intentions, you’ll always be exonerated!  If you have other ideas, well, good luck to you!  There is still such a thing as “too much information” and a place for “none of your business,” but elasticity and transparency go hand in hand.

  • Master non-talent traits. By now, you have seen this circulating on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. It could have been written by any of our great grandparents. Anyone who is successful knows that these 10 things are key, and frankly, require nothing other than awareness and practice: being on time, work ethic, effort, body language, energy, attitude, passion, being coachable, doing extra, and being prepared. 

  • Ownership. Own it. Act like an owner, or at least think like one. Don’t blame others.

  • Gratitude is the focus of the attitude. It isn’t enough anymore to have a “positive mental attitude.” Studies have now proven the secret to happiness: being grateful.  And studies have also proven that happy people are the best performers at work. So, go and count your blessings and try volunteering for the less fortunate to really remind yourself of how good you have it!

  • Ignorance has no place. With Google, Wikipedia, and the like, there’s no excuse not to know history other than sheer laziness. Those who don’t take time to understand history are doomed to repeat it. Those who don’t take a few moments to research their work, are doomed to invent something already invented. More white papers get published every day now than what got published in a decade not long ago. As a citizen of the Information Age, it’s your responsibility to look back before you look ahead.

  • Know your limits, define your boundaries. A Steady Eddie may be a dying breed of worker, but Mr. Eddie knew how to take care of himself and his family.  And people on their death beds are not proclaiming how they wished they got one more TPS Report done. Being elastic doesn’t mean stretching and bending and jumping non-stop. Rather, it means taking advantage of opportunities and executing those situations in a sustainable manner. Healthcare spending this year in the United States is again at a record all-time high and now pushing something close to $4 trillion. So, don’t add to the doctor bill for you and your healthcare plan; rather, take your mental health and physical health as seriously as you do your career and business!

If you can frame yourself or your organization within the elasticity paradigm, you’ll be well equipped for all the twists and turns that are certain to come your way.  New big contract?  We’ll kill it!  Recession?  No problem.  Natural disaster?  We’ll prevail.  Martian invasion?  Elastigirl to the rescue!