Every Monday morning, employees come to work looking forward to being productive and driving growth, yet numerous frustrations seep into their day, and they become non-performers. After more than 25 years of analyzing these frustrations, we can classify them under four key areas, which we call the four constraints of an organization. They are the business model, structures and systems, leadership, and culture.

1. The Business Model

An obsolete business model will create significant frustrations among employees. If your business model does not work anymore, regardless of how talented an employee may be, he or she will not be able to sell products or drive execution. There are many examples of successful companies that failed to look at the relevance of their business model and paid the consequences, including Nokia, Kodak, Yahoo, Sony and Borders. An organization’s business model and strategy is the cornerstone of its success. When your salespeople start agitating for change in products or sales strategy, you may need to take a look at your business model.

2. Processes and Organizational Structure

One of the biggest mistakes organizations make is to focus on people. The key to successfully helping employees achieve high performance is, instead, to focus on process. An organization can still care about its people, but the emphasis must be on building institutional processes. Structures and processes drive the behaviors and performance of your employees. If you want to change their behavior, change the structure.

3. Leadership

A key part of an organization’s success is leadership – not only at the upper echelons of power but across the organization. In fact, many problems of the world are related to lack of leadership. Our research points out that one key aspect of leadership is critical: clarity. Above all, a leader must be clear.

Leaders find it difficult to build alignment in their organizations in this ever-changing VUCA world, but clarity and alignment are the secret sauce for successful leadership. Leaders must ensure that every member of their organization has clarity of vision, clarity of reality and clarity of mission.

4. Culture

Culture is the cumulative beliefs or mindsets of an organization, manifested in actions that ultimately drive results. Our mindsets are deep-seated, and so are organizational beliefs. The hardest part of any change or growth initiative is to ensure it does not become a fad or a “flavor of the month” but part of the organizational DNA.

People and organizations are creatures of habit, and changing habits is harder than changing structures or systems. We can change culture by instituting new rituals that drive new experiences. These experiences will slowly change beliefs.

L&D’s Role in the 4 Constraints

Learning and development professionals can play a significant part in helping overcome these constraints. Assess the organizational state in each area, provide training based on them, and work to ensure that people are ready to embrace new behaviors and have clarity of where the organization is going and where it is currently. In leadership training, make sure that leaders at all levels are prepared to take on their role not just in terms of dealing with management tasks but also in being ambassadors of change who drive new business models, structures and culture.

Being in a VUCA world requires innovation and agility, critical thinking, and strategic planning. L&D professionals can help organizations prepare their employees to face the new challenges of this brave new world. Use the four constraints as a report card for business leaders to alert them of the need for change.

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