Organizational Design for the Adaptive Age

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Spring is one of my favorite times of the year. It is a time of rebirth, hope, and light. This time of year always makes me want to get outside, put my hands in the dirt and plant new life. But a green thumb did not come naturally to me. For years I would buy plants, throw them in the ground, and hope for the best. This way of gardening did not yield thriving crops. After years of dying plants and countless dollars spent, I finally realized the certain conditions needed for plants to grow—soil, sunlight, fertilizer, and plant hardiness zones. Once I was aware of these conditions and used them in my garden, I was rewarded with the most beautiful, bright red tomatoes and fresh, crunchy cucumbers.

Just as my garden thrived when I nurtured the optimal conditions for plants to grow, organizations also have optimal conditions in which profits and culture can grow and thrive. I want to share with you four greenhouse conditions leaders should focus on in order to thrive.



Excerpted from Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose and People for Growth and Impact by Jenn Lim. Copyright © 2021 by Jennifer Lim. Reprinted with permission of Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.


The scientific levers of happiness are excellent for the ME and WE, but

they’re not enough to ensure optimal greenhouse conditions at all three

levels—ME, WE, and COMMUNITY. This is what we’ve learned at

DH over the last several years. There are four additional conditions

organizations need to endure in the Adaptive Age: Alignment belonging, accountability, and commitment.


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Alignment happens when everyone is able to answer the questions “What’s in it for me?” and “What’s in it for all?” When a company’s collective purpose, values, and behaviors (PVBs) are codified and clearly articulated for the entire org, people and teams can align their own PVBs to them. This happens when people are playing to their strengths and mapping them to the goals and needs of the org as a whole. When we create a transparent and adaptable system for working together, orgs are better set up to innovate and test new ideas that will fail fast

and fail forward [without feeling fear when doing so]. Given the accelerated pace of change, companies need to maintain transparent communication to keep alignment going.




Belonging happens in cultures where everyone feels welcomed, trust is high, and people feel free to be curious without judgment. These are workplaces that provide a sense of security, inclusivity, and equity and where people feel like they’re valued, connected, and true to their authentic selves. Cultures of belonging celebrate differences instead of conformity and build cohesion that doesn’t rely on similarity. These cultures actually embrace tensions and talk about the elephant in the room arising from people’s differences, because they know that they still share PVBs. Even prior to the unprecedented isolation of the pandemic, The Harvard Business Review said the following in 2019: “Exclusion is a growing issue. We found that more than 40% of those we surveyed are feeling physically and emotionally isolated in the workplace. This group spanned generations, genders, and ethnicities.” But there was a silver lining: “When people feel like they belong at work, they are more productive, motivated, engaged and 3.5 times more likely to contribute to their fullest potential.”


In addition, according to BetterUp’s report on The Value of Belonging at Work high belonging has been linked to a 50 percent drop in turnover risk and a 75 percent reduction in sick days. For a ten thousand person company, this could result

in annual savings of more than $52 million. Employees who reported higher workplace belonging also showed a 167 percent increase in their employer promoter score [their willingness to recommend their company to others]. They also received double the raises and 18 times more promotions.




Accountability happens in cultures where people are held to their shared and codified PVBs. This is most important at the executive level given their ability to set the tone for the whole company. In the most accountable cultures, there’s a sense of individual and shared ownership of what’s best for the org. Leaders are responsible for taking care of people; people are responsible for doing the job they were brought on to do. When mistakes happen—as we know they will—leaders assure everyone there’s space to learn and grow from them. At the same

time, there’s a common understanding that people will do what they say. And if they don’t, everyone feels psychologically safe to respectfully call out bs in meetings and 360-degree reviews. People all have a fair shot at getting incentivized, rewarded, and recognized, and they can choose to leave before

they’re asked to, especially if the alignment of performance with [personal and company] PVBs isn’t there.




Commitment happens when leaders are invested in long-term growth, not just short-term gains. When a CEO commits to investing in culture because she believes people are an asset that brings more profits, she’s doing it because she wants people to be whole and happier too. When leaders realize systemic change in diversity and inclusion [D&I] doesn’t happen in a press release or a tweet, they chip away at surface issues daily while getting to the root causes with difficult but real talk. When salespeople commit to meeting their sales goals while also committing to work with [not against] other salespeople on their team, they all

know they’re building a better sales force for the future growth of the company. These things all demonstrate commitment to real, sustainable change.


Modern org design in the future of work requires commitment too. The term

self-organization [or self-management] has a bad rap because it conjures up images of people doing whatever they want, whenever they want. But commitment is what makes these concepts work. We know that command-

and-control structures have to evolve into decentralized, flatter orgs if they are to

keep up with the pace of exponential change. What does it mean to have a decentralized, flatter org? According to Forbes, “Unlike the traditional hierarchy which typically sees one-way communication and everyone at the top with all the information and power; a ‘flatter’ structure seeks to open up the lines of communication and collaboration while removing layers within the organization.

For larger organizations, this is the most practical, scalable, and logical approach to deploy across an entire company. This is the model that most large [and many midsize] organizations around the world are moving towards.” With commitment across leaders, orgs are more able to adapt to achieve bigger, more global goals for a long-term gain for all. 


To learn more about these conditions & how to implement them in your org order Beyond Happiness: How Authentic Leaders Prioritize Purpose & People for Growth & Impact. 

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About the Author

Amanda Marksmeier

Amanda is the Growth Content Driver at DH. She has been writing and creating engaging content for nearly five years. She loves to use words to inspire and connect with people. Amanda thrives on helping and serving others through the power of the written word. She is always on the search for new and inventive ways to reach and educate others.


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