Adapting Organisations For A Post-Industrial Age

What’s the most adaptive species on the planet?

Some say rats or cockroaches. Despite being low in the food chain, they adapt to their surroundings. Many stronger and more powerful species have been wiped out long before them.

Some that argue that humans are the most adaptive.

Our intelligence and co-operation has enabled us to live in every climate. We can also change the environment to suit us. The last 300 years have been about manipulating the environment to create the world we know.

It’s been an act of monumental intelligence…

…and equally monumental stupidity.

It took massive intelligence and resourcefulness to secure our survival. But the changes created a wealth of new problems and threats we hadn’t considered. Global warming is the headline of these.

But there are many more that we are all facing in our workplaces.

Burnout. Disengagement. The great resignation.

These are symptoms of our evolved biology conflicting with an artificial world.

Neil Harrison is co-founder of The Adaptologists.

He was involved in many change projects as a Change Manager. Seeing people break down in tears because he was the first person to listen to them had a profound effect on Neil. He saw a need for change that enabled people, rather than change for a specific outcome.

With his co-founder Amanda Greenwood, they set out to try to help companies adapt to a post-industrial age world.

In today’s podcast episode he shared insights and experiences from his journey.



Rob: [00:00:00] We all interact on LinkedIn, but you don’t really know who’s the person behind the profile.

Rob: The idea is to meet you without knowing much more than what’s on your profile and what’s immediately observable. Just to get a sense of, where have you come from and how do you come to believe what you believe. 

Rob: If you can just give us like an overview of what you do of basically what’s on your profile and like a ten second fit of what someone might know of you. 

Rob: I just, in January, stood up The Adaptologist with a fellow co founder, Amanda Greenwood.

Rob: We provide integrated coaching and learning solutions for leaders and for teams so that organizations can adapt to the scale and pace of change that they face, that’s what we’re doing. We’re helping organizations adapt. We’re helping people become happier. 

Rob: That sounds great. So people being happier in the sense of everyone working together, so organizationally happier and individuals happier because they fit into it and, meets their needs, 

Rob: [00:01:00] Amanda and I’ve had between us 50 years of, experience in change and in leadership and in coaching. And one of the things we’ve seen quite regularly is.

Rob: What I’ve done, change programs that achieve what they set out to achieve, they’re too slow. And escalating costs, for example, and things like that. And if we think about the world at the moment, when we think about how rapidly changing customer expectations are in technology development, particularly with AI, you’ve got organizations, I think, that are designed in a way that are not for this era. 

Rob: They’re industrial age, ways of working and thinking. And the consequence of that, of course, is what happens is that you get this mentality of do more with less. So you’ve got this pushing down the organization to do more with less. And that has a huge impact on people of course.

Rob: So that’s why I think we’re seeing burnout, we’re seeing, poor engagement results, and we’re seeing people vote with their feet. Over the years we’ve seen the sort of [00:02:00] quiet quitting thing that went across LinkedIn and died off a little bit. And and the great resignation was another one.

Rob: And I think a lot of this is a cause of organizations just not adapting, not being fit for today’s world, really. 

Rob: That’s been one of my themes. People stick with what works and we had the industrial revolution, hugely successful but that was about making, mining and moving stuff.

Rob: And now it’s about people, it’s knowledge work and the organizations that we had for that are completely command and control. It didn’t matter how someone felt back then, because all you had to do was press a button and keep the line going. And now it’s critical how much return we get from the teams.

Rob: It’s dependent on how people feel. 

Neil: You asked me about what, what lies behind. Because I think I’ve just talked about the profile and what lies behind that for me. Because you’ll see this, I’m sure, as well, that in our line of work, when we’re engaging with people, particularly one to one I have a very strong desire to be inclusive and collaborative for, for [00:03:00] reasons I can go into if you’re interested, but and through that engagement, that collaboration with people and those one to one discussions, when you hear through that, you’re the first person to ask somebody how they feel, for example, or what their opinion is you can really see almost a relief coming off people.

Neil: And in some instances that has led to, people just bursting out in tears, frankly, because they’re under so much stress and simply asking a few questions and showing concern and an interest in them, leads to, leads to that kind of breakdown. But by the end of the call, they’re just so grateful for being asked for their opinion.

Neil: And this is just about, being engaged and, seeing too many, had too many conversations that have resulted in that kind of response. 

Rob: It’s sad, isn’t it? People just want to be seen and heard and people have so much enthusiasm, passion and skills and most of it is never tapped into. Okay. So you help people to get more. So what exactly does that look like? 

Neil: [00:04:00] So through through the experience of Amanda and I we’ve seen some common themes that have emerged in that inability to act in an agile way . And we’ve effectively identified four practices that we bed into organizations that make the difference.

Neil: And so those four things, there’s an overarching one around. 

Neil: an evolutionary approach to change. So this is recognizing there is no one size fits all cookie cutter approach to change. You need to understand what you’re dealing with and choose the appropriate skills, mindset, and approach for the change at hand.

Neil: And by doing that and embedding in a sort of collaborative problem solving approach in the organization, you can start to build the foundations. 

Neil: And then the three other things that underpin that in a way, are thinking and acting systemically. So the point behind that is, it’s twofold really. It’s to recognize that decisions and actions have consequences beyond your own silo.

Neil: So you need to think beyond the silos that you operate within, [00:05:00] break the silos down. And you also need to think in an organization, if you’ve got lots of initiatives going on, do they add up to the strategic goals of the organization? So thinking and acting systemically, big picture, breaking down, understanding the interconnections.

Neil: And then we’ve got leadership with humanness. And I think this is a really critical one because this is about leaders acting with empathy, emotional intelligence, and empowering people to make decisions. So this is key to acting quickly. So if people are empowered and have a safe space, they can make decisions quicker.

Neil: They’re closer to the issues. They’re empowered to experiment and learn from the experimentation. So much more iterative, continuous learning and adapting. So that’s leadership with humanness. 

Neil: Then finally, there’s dynamic and inclusive teams. So this is about not thinking about teams that are forever in existence, but bringing people together to solve particular problems and issues, design [00:06:00] them with the purpose in mind and have common purpose, but embrace everyone in the team has a voice, embrace it.

Neil: And through that, embracing that you get better innovation and creativity. But of course, you also get happier people. Those things combined, I think, lead to people feeling much more motivated in their work if they’re empowered. To to act. So much more motivated engagement goes up, they’re much happier.

Neil: And also because you’ve built in those practices, the organization is more adaptable to rapid change and, ultimately it can grow. 

Rob: Interesting. Is that for a specific change or is that to create an organization that’s ready and more agile for change? 

Neil: It’s embedding an adaptable Capability in the organization, in that overarching one, every change needs to be looked at in the context that you’re delivering it.

Neil: Quite often you’ll find, big consultancies will come in with a model, but that’s pre predefined, change your name on the top of [00:07:00] the PowerPoint and you’ve got this end step model to all your answers. But I think you can’t do change without understanding the environment that you’re working in.

Neil: You, understanding the leadership teams and the people that you’re engaging with. Embedding a capability into the organization that allows them to change themselves makes best use of the knowledge that you’ve got in the organization. 

Neil: They understand their organization, they understand their customers. 

Rob: Typically what size of organization are you working with? 

Neil: We’re targeting medium sized organizations. So between 50 and 250 because I think that’s a community at least initially that, that is more open, I think, to thinking about changing a different way and being more adaptable.

Neil: And there’s a sort of point in that 50 to 250 that you need to think about maybe operating in a different way. Thinking about how you grow and how you scale and how you see these opportunities how you find new and innovative value propositions and things like that.

Rob: It’s often the level where someone’s growing [00:08:00] quickly, where they can go from like 50 to 800 people. And suddenly everything’s thrown up. And you can see, yeah, you’re embedding a real culture there. That’s ready for change. 

Neil: We quite often think about change as a one off thing.

Neil: We’re going to, we’re going to have a transformation, you get the song and dance around that teams come in, they form, they do the transformation, it has a start and a middle and an end. the world is a different place and there are occasions where that’s appropriate, but I think they’re getting fewer.

Rob: It’s okay, we just need to get this done. It’s the human fallacy, isn’t it? If we just get this promotion, just make this amount of money, I’ll be happy then. 

Neil: We’ll get back to normal. There’s a sense of, we’ll get stability back again. And it’s just a myth.

Rob: Where’s the biggest sticking blocks for an organization trying to change itself in, in, in this way? 

Neil: I think the four practices I’ve described are addressing the difficult areas in a way. Can ask ourselves, why haven’t organizations changed, significantly since the Industrial Age?

Neil: Why do we have this sense that leaders have all the [00:09:00] answers and everyone else can just, I’m not saying every organization is like this and I’m cartooning for effect a bit, but you get the point, right? 

Neil: And I think there’s something about first of all, just acceptance at a leadership level, that they can’t have all the answers.

Neil: You can’t possibly predict the future. And when you think about AI, you can’t predict the future of what AI is going to bring in 18 months from now. So any plans that set out a start, middle, and end that take you 18 months, two years from now for that transformation are second guessing. And just, they’re offering false hope in many ways.

Neil: There’s something around the leadership piece and then thinking about their role in a much different way. Servant leadership, empowerment, empathy, recognizing emotions, making the use of the people in the organization turning direction into questions and being inquisitive. How can I help?

Neil: How can I unblock that issue for you? What do you think is the best approach to take? 

Neil: That in itself, I think is a big challenge because It requires leaders [00:10:00] to almost give up some of the things that are innately human, I’m at the top of the organization, I feel that sense of, I’m at the top of the pecking order, we’re social beasts, I have the control, I like the control.

Neil: But it’s unhelpful, I think, in a world that is, is hugely dynamic and uncertain. 

Rob: It is, that’s where I was looking at where, you talked about silos and often silos come from fiefdoms. And the leadership I can see is going to make most of the people work, but there’s often one person who likes to like they’re used to how they operate, they like, it works for them.

Neil: The fiefdoms point as well. This is, this sort of gets to the systemic thinking because If you think about budgets are delegated down in nice tidy packages and people may even well be, had clients where they’ve been empowered to operate within the constraints of the budget that they have in their organization.

Neil: But then when you say, how much change can you affect with that empowerment. I say hardly any, because [00:11:00] everything I need to do requires the buy in from somebody else. And I don’t have that. So this is the thing about understanding the interconnections across the organization, but also forming teams around the opportunity or issue you’re trying to resolve.

Neil: We’ve created these silos because it’s easier to look at an org chart and think, yeah, this is our organization but actually a much more dynamic approach to teamwork and breaks the silos down as well. 

Rob: So in terms of budgeting, does the budget follow with the teams or does a budget follow traditional?

Rob: In your typically when you work with an organization, do they change how they budget? 

Neil: Typically they’re fairly static delegations through, through the chain of command, if you like, in those hierarchical organizations. And of course those, but those are aligned to achieving, KPIs or or strategic goals of the organization.

Neil: And those strategic goals are second guessing what the future is going to look like in a year from now. And I think this is where you get that that [00:12:00] sense of do more with less because quite often now the goals are saying we need to be much more efficient. Or we need to increase productivity, but we’re going to take some of your budget away and we’re going to ask you to do more.

Rob: And of course that isn’t sustainable for any organization. 

Rob: It’s what worked in the industrial revolution is that you could do that. It was like, was it like in 50 times more productive per person. But I think, but since 1970 that growth curve has dramatically fallen off.

Rob: And it doesn’t work in the same way because work is different. And I think what really made people productive in the industrial revolution was the leverage of technology to make specialization. So you could make one person output so much more. And yet in knowledge work, we don’t make productivity the same.

Rob: So if it was the same way people would have much less responsibilities, but they would just focus on whatever was zone of genius they had, and they would become so much more productive, but that’s not what we do. We still [00:13:00] use the industrial age one of, okay, you just got to fill more tasks.

Rob: And that’s where it hits into a block because there is a certain amount of time that stuff takes. 

Rob: Often in knowledge work, you’re not making cars on a production line. And when you start thinking about organizations as machines, that’s where you start to also think about, Leadership has the answers and sets the direction.

Neil: Middle managers dangle carrots or sticks, depending on whichever, to get the productivity out of the frontline workers. Now that assumes, of course, you know what you know what the customers want, as long as you’re black, your car, and that sort of thing. And of course the world, we think about the world over the last five years or so.

Neil: Who predicted the implications of Russian, invasion of Ukraine, for example, in terms of, energy and wheat and food prices, who predicted Brexit prior to Brexit and, all those things that have affected, The outside world that we just can’t predict we ignore, we set our plans on the [00:14:00] basis that we are, we can predict the future.

Neil: And I think that’s flipping the dial and saying, look, if we can trust our people and build the skills. in in the individuals and the leaders and the teams, actually what we can do is we can use their knowledge and trust them to, through their passion, through their motivation, find the right answers, collaborate in ways that if they don’t have the answer that they’re finding the people that does.

Neil: You think about the time I think about the times I’ve worked late at night or over weekends, it’s because I’ve cared passionately, usually sometimes it’s because of a big sticks. But it’s because I’ve cared passionately about what I’m doing, I’ve been so motivated by it. 

Rob: And yet, everything organizations do, like you say not seeing and hearing people. People just feeling like they are just a cog that they don’t matter. All of that, it takes it away. 

Rob: Okay. So the implication then is if you’re going to have this collaborative problem solving groups and you’re going to empower make decisions lower down.

Rob: That means that the [00:15:00] leaders then have to upgrade their leading. They need to create the place where people belong. They need to be much more focused on getting across the big picture message of what is the purpose? What are the values? How do we operate? And they need to make much more intentional about culture.

Rob: So I’m guessing that is probably what you do in the humane leadership. 

Neil: There’s two core pieces of that for me. One is this, ability to recognize that we all as human beings have emotions.

Neil: We’re not leaving them, at the door or wherever, when we jump on a call, we have emotions that affects our decision making. 

Neil: We know from neuroscience, the implications of operating in, in fear versus operating in reward, right? So threatened reward, we understand the implications, what that means.

Neil: So when we are feeling threatened, it reduces our cognitive ability. It reduces our creativity and our innovation and actually our social interaction. That’s not a good place to [00:16:00] be. 

Neil: So recognizing that people have these emotions that don’t go away and then building an environment that aligns the whole self to be at work, actually, you’re creating that safe environment to operate in, you’re embracing the diversity, you’re unblocking the things that are getting in the way as a leader.

Neil: And allowing people who are closer to the issues and opportunities that exist to feel free to collaborate and work with others. 

Neil: I have a particular thing around inclusion and just because for lots of reasons but in particular, because I genuinely believe if we are inclusive, not only do you get better ideas, more innovation, actually people are happier as a consequence of having a voice for the conversations I was talking about. 

Neil: At the very beginning, the impact of not asking what people think, who just happen to be doing the job for five years it’s really important. 

Rob: Okay. Think as you’ve brought up we need to go into [00:17:00] that, what, so if you were going to give a TED talk, would it be on inclusion?

Neil: That’s a good question, I don’t know, I’d need to think about it, but I want, you’ve asked about, I’ve given you a lot of things that are on my profile, and I think it is, as I said, I think it’s important to understand the whole person. 

Neil: Let me share why I care passionately about inclusion, because I think that will, that’ll help cement that thinking.

Neil: When I was when I was six, The family moved to the States lived in a poor area town and we moved to the States and I was really worried that that they were going to, they were going to speak a new language I didn’t, I was, I’m not going to make new friends and all the rest of it, but obviously I didn’t have a choice, so we went and in my first week at school the kids said to me, Oh, you’re going to come and, Play after school and I said no, I can’t I’ve got to go home for tea And of course they all just laughed at that.

Neil: Why are you having a cup of tea? 

Neil: And I was like no, it’s just my dinner, and so I didn’t get off to a good start. And I don’t know if you know this in schools in America, but they pledge allegiance to the [00:18:00] flag in the morning. 

Neil: My dad he was this very proud Yorkshireman.

Neil: Very proud Brits at Royal, pledging allegiance to the flag sort of thing. And spent most mornings early doors at school sitting on my, while everyone else is pledging allegiance. 

Neil: I had this separation ingrained in me from quite young. And actually when those things to sort of bed in, but actually when I started work, I noticed, I don’t quite think the same way as a lot of people.

Neil: And subsequently, actually, my, both of my kids have been diagnosed dyslexic. And when I talked to them about that, and they were late in life, when I talked to them about that, I see some of those traits. 

Neil: I think the way that showed itself at work was feeling like I didn’t quite understand why we were getting the direction we were getting when to me, the answer was quite obvious.

Neil: I just had this way of connecting dots, so I would ask lots of questions to understand what’s behind that decision, and of course the rest of the team would just be nodding dogs. 

Neil: For me, I felt I’ve, In my past, I’ve felt [00:19:00] excluded for, slightly odd reasons, especially with coming from a, middle aged white man.

Neil: But I felt excluded and I felt the impact of what that exclusion can do. In work, I felt excluded and saw the impact of how that’s sending actions in on different paths, basically not necessarily solving the right problem, not thinking about innovation and creativity, not thinking about bringing people’s ideas to the table, but this sort of, this is what we’re doing now, crack on, so I’ve seen the impact. And of course, when you When you talk to people around organizations that operate like that, the real human impact that has on well being. That’s quite important to me that we’re taking that being thing seriously in organizations.

Rob: Okay. That’s interesting. 

Rob: Where in the states did you go to? 

Neil: I was just north of DC washington. 

Rob: And how long were you there for? 

Neil: I was there three years.

Neil: So it was, early 2000s, was it 2003, I went as a kid actually, but I went back I went back as I [00:20:00] worked out there as well. So as a kid, I was there in the 70s. I went when I was six. I actually went back and worked in early 2000s. 

Rob: And how was it settling back in England after being there?

Neil: As a kid, you mean? 

Neil: Funny enough, I had a strong American accent. I came back as a weird kid that had a funny accent again. Was lucky that I was quite good at sport. That kind of weird kid thing didn’t last too long cause if you’re good at football, apparently that’s a good thing for making friends.

Rob: Yeah. Until you fall out and you get too competitive. 

Rob: All of that leads to a big change for the leaders. I’m wondering about how generally leaders respond to that. Do they struggle? Does it need need new leaders or?

Neil: No, I don’t think it needs new leaders. I think it needs an ability to help them understand what is happening. The consequences of actions, the net result of what is happening and why perhaps they operate in the way that they do. So I think it’s about shining a light on some of these things. From a leader [00:21:00] perspective, we can think about, that thing about control, a natural human trait to, to want to be in control, to not like.

Neil: Uncertainty to want autonomy, all those things we know from neuroscience, actually, that lead us to feel more comfortable in what we’re doing. And then so there’s something about understanding the physiology. Of what is going on through uncertainty and complexity. Why is humans react as we do.

Neil: So exposing that bringing that to the surface so so it creates a broader awareness of what is actually happening, but also the environment that kind of action. The behaviors that lead to that kind of culture of perhaps lack of trust or lack of empowerment or, that sort of industrial age approach to business.

Neil: It’s quite, it is quite a difficult task to get leaders to think about a different way because we’ve had so long. in that many organizations have had so long in that kind of way of working. So I [00:22:00] think that is, demonstrate the physiology and just, demonstrate or shine a light on what the implications of that kind of approach are in today’s uncertain, dynamic world in terms of how people respond to that use data.

Neil: So we have a set of assessments that we use for diagnostics. So actually because there is no one answer when you go into an organization, we run a series of diagnostics and interviews. That test various things adaptability, emotional intelligence, teamworking and that kind of thing.

Neil: And that allows us to then play back information to the leaders. And this is what the data is showing one to one interviews. This is what your people are saying about how they operate. And I just think through, I suppose in broad terms, shining a light on the situation they are currently in and why that might be.

Neil: And then asking them to look in the mirror, what why are people resisting change? 

Neil: Why what actions are you taking where it may be that people are [00:23:00] resisting change? 

Neil: Let’s start with that and then we can, work from there. It’s not easy by the way, this kind of thing, but absolutely critical, I think.

Rob: It’s I think leadership is very difficult. It’s it’s a journey of growth. And by definition, you’re not ready to lead what you’re leading. And so you have to grow to increase your capacity and competence. And part of that is the awareness. So mostly there’s so much, we’re able to focus on one kind of area.

Rob: And you talk to different people who focus on different areas, but a leader has to be across all of them. 

Rob: And just by the nature of that, there’s so much that they’re unaware of, which is where they can get their productivity rise by becoming aware of it. What also comes to mind when you’re talking about that is they’re talking about, okay, here’s how you deal with resistance to change.

Rob: And what you immediately get is their resistance to change because their people aren’t changing because they’re not changing their style. 

Rob: It’s [00:24:00] like the, The old adage, isn’t it? If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. And so the onus becomes on the leaders to change.

Neil: In my opinion, resistance to change is a misnomer because if you reframe it, then it becomes a helpful signal in the system. If you reframe resistance as something’s happening over there that I need to go and inquire about. 

Neil: What you end up doing is through those conversations, through that dialogue, you learn about why they’re resisting.

Neil: Actually, if you think you have all the answers without first understanding other people’s perspectives, that’s going to end badly. And it comes back to this thing about, it’s my job to set the tone. Set the direction and to, predict the future and to move everyone along towards that goal.

Neil: Actually, if you, if we engage more and we listen to what people are saying, actually, they’ve got good ideas. If they feel safe to articulate what they see every day in their job, you’re more likely to be able to respond to the right issues or opportunities. If you’re not talking to [00:25:00] people who deal with the customers every single day about how you might change your how you might keep up with customer expectations, there’s probably something quite wrong in that.

Rob: It seems that most problems are really just because someone hasn’t dealt with something. There is a signal, like you say and they’ve just ignored it or judged it as being wrong. 

Neil: Again, we think about and again, this comes back to the sort of physiology of change. And we think about the needs humans have. To be in control, to to have autonomy, to have their status respected.

Neil: And we think about it in those contexts, when you work on ERP, big technology programs, some of those programs that have this mantra of adopt, not adapt. In other words we’re going to give you this solution effectively out of the box. We’re not going to do loads and loads of changes to this because that makes delivery slower.

Neil: But the message that sends is, I don’t really care what you think that your job is. The people that built this technology know better and that’s the process we’re going to [00:26:00] use. So actually adopt not adapt, which is a mantra you do see in some change programs. It’s removing autonomy. It’s impacting people’s status.

Neil: It’s taking, that lack of control, that there’s uncertainty there because you don’t know what that system actually does. It really gets to, how people actually feel about change in a way that This is the point. It’s not about delivering tech solutions on time. It’s about the value that those things bring.

Neil: And if you haven’t got your people on board, you’re not going to get the value. 

Rob: Which comes to the crux of leadership is bringing people along. Yeah. If people aren’t following, you’re not leading. 

Neil: It’s interesting because one of the things on the leadership point is actually, if you ask somebody.

Neil: What were the actions of your best boss? 

Neil: If you thought about the best boss you’ve ever had. How did they, in what way did they act? 

Neil: I can remember being in an organization where you’re having a bit of a crisis going on and a board member came up to me, I was leading a particular piece of work, and a board member came up to me and he said [00:27:00] Neil, and I thought, oh no, I’m in trouble, I’ve done something, I’m going to get shouted at, and I went over, head down, bracing myself.

Neil: And he said, what can I do to help? 

Neil: I thought, oh my goodness, that is just so powerful. I remember that was years ago, and I remember that behavior. 

Neil: What can I do to help? 

Neil: I think if we ask leaders to think about who influenced them through their careers, what behaviors did they have?

Neil: It will be things like that. How can I help you? How can you, how can I help you grow? How can I help you progress? How can I help you learn about new things? How can I connect you to people that you can learn from and work with? How was the weekend? Those are the things I think make a big difference.

Rob: We respect the people who respect us. Yeah, that’s good, yeah. 

Rob: And we tend to reciprocate. We can all see that, and we all know it, if you stop and think about it consciously. But we all operate on a model, there’s like the great man theory and I don’t know if it’s films or [00:28:00] stories, but somehow we’ve built up these people like Alexander the Great, or Napoleon, or people like that, and you get this kind of like Donald Trump caricature of I’m a self made man and I did it. I’m a great man and there is a level of immaturity that I think leaders probably have to go through that first you want to be the great man. And then then you reach like the Yoda level where it’s removed of ego and it’s about helping people, giving people what they need to be what they can be.

Neil: That point about ego resonates quite a bit. We create environments and cultures where, you know that sort of the egos are playing a bit large, aren’t they? And it’s, this comes back to a point you were making earlier about genuine purpose, what is the purpose?

Neil: What are we actually moving towards? My sense would be that what is success the views of what is success for people is probably shifting, the sense that actually I [00:29:00] wanna be fulfilled. I wanna, I wanna do a job I love. I want to add value in my work.

Neil: One of the questions I ask quite a lot when I’m one on one with people is, what motivates them? What is it that gets you out of bed? Or, so many people say, I want to do a good job. I want to do a good job and be recognized for it but that says a lot, I think, and we spend so much time working.

Neil: To feel motivated through doing a good job, getting recognized, being asked for our opinion and bringing our expertise to bear, I think it’s such a powerful way of moving an organization forward. 

Rob: The sad thing is that mostly that has to go in voluntary work or it has to go in hobbies because often those people can’t find an expression for it in their work.

Rob: If we are able to, make leadership more. If we’re able to involve people in the problem solving they feel they belong they feel valued. It gives them the chance because striving then makes you [00:30:00] feel more valued. And for me, there’s three things that people need is to belong, to be valued where they belong and to feel that group is doing something meaningful.

Neil: Yes. 

Rob: All of that, what you’re talking about can create that, which then means that people have an outlet. People will want to do more. And I don’t think burnout is about hours. I think burnout is about the environment and the stress that people are in because most people have got to spend that amount of time anyway, even if they, they go to work, then they’ve got to go home and look after kids and manage the house and all of that stuff, which is all work.

Rob: It’s not about how many hours you work. It’s about how you feel in those hours. Exactly right. 

Rob: You’ve given us a glimpse into where inclusion is so important for you. Did you say you were six when you moved to America?

Neil: Yeah. Okay. 

Neil: Four years. 

Rob: For four years. Yeah. 

Rob: A formative four years. I’ve never been to America what was America like for a six year old? 

Neil: In all honesty, my early years in school were [00:31:00] quite painful.

Neil: I felt different. I didn’t really fit in. I have a certain personality that is not particularly gregarious I’m more inclined to take a backseat and all those things. But on the other hand, what it did is it allowed for opening my eyes to new cultures, new people, new ways of thinking. We traveled loads. So I’m youngest of youngest of four siblings. We did a lot of travel, camping around the States. And so that’s great. So much about that I love. Being able to make the most of our time in the States and just see a bit of a bit of the world, really.

Neil: I think that gave me a bug to want to travel throughout my life. The other thing I take away from my childhood in the States is how different everyone is. And I think I posted about this recently, but we have a tendency to want to label and categorize and those sorts of things.

Neil: This is another one of my particular [00:32:00] bugbears really. You might have a character, which I’m sure you do have a character in your head of what Americans are like, can actually, it’s a really diverse group of people. I met guys that were really into their sports and that sort of full on, painting the chest kind of in the stands way.

Neil: And I met other guys that hated sport and, were really interested in, And traveling the world. My sense was it was a it was a it was quite a confusing sort of culture in many ways to me because people are so different and there are obviously regional variations of, North and South and things like that.

Neil: It’s a big place that has a lot of people, and they’re all quite different, I think. 

Rob: It’s huge. We’ve, pretty much each state is different, isn’t it? Because each state is equivalent to a country. Yeah you get the Texan, and you got the New Yorker, and you’ve got the Midwest and all of these kinds of things.

Rob: Where I’m interested now is why has change been so important to you?

Neil: I’ve always been a bit of an explorer, my mum used to say I used to get lost in [00:33:00] shops because I’d be running off and I’m just fascinated and I love just exploring. When I started work, you’ve got your day job and back in those days, you’d have a side of the desk sort of activity. And projects would be run and they’d be looking for volunteers. My hand would always go up. I’m like, oh, shiny new thing. I got to get involved in that. And of course those projects were for the organization I worked in, we ran a lot of Prince2 projects back then.

Neil: Within Prince2 project management, you have a senior user. So somebody representing, if you like the business similar to change managers these days. Because I volunteered for everything, I would be senior user on the projects, quite a lot of them, actually, and I love that, probably more on my actual day job and I think that doing that a lot got me noticed.

Neil: And when the organization put in place program management, it recognized the need for formal formal business change managers. I was selected to join the first business change management team in the [00:34:00] organization. There was, I think it was three of us, one very senior person who just signed everything I wrote.

Neil: And then two of us that did some real work and and that, that got me into thinking about the world in a slightly different way, really. And we did some training around managing successful programs, program management methodology that is related to PRINCE2. And what that taught me was this thing about, actually boards are investing in the benefit, not the technology if you’re in a technology program. 

Neil: One of the key things that instilled in me quite young was or quite early in my career was this focus on the benefit, focus on the activities. I’m also very interested in people. So there is that kind of put my hand up and exploring new shiny things all the time.

Neil: And just an interest in people got me started in change, I think. 

Rob: What are your influences? Was it from doing it or did you learn formally? 

Rob: So I’m interested in how you deepen the learning.

Rob: So you’re actually involved [00:35:00] in from the start. Did you then formalize that? 

Neil: The first formal training I did was this managing successful programs. That was 1999. I did that. And so bedding in my head, the need to focus on the benefit that the project or program achieves rather than delivering a thing, an output, that sort of instilled in me a recognition that if you’re going to deliver a benefit, you need you need the technology. If it’s a technology program, you need data or information. You need new processes probably to operate effectively and you need people.

Neil: And over many years, I recognize that people got left out of the equation. I sort of champion this people aspect of programs with armies of, program directors and managers and all that sort of thing. And draw that back to where you don’t get the benefit unless you have the people on board.

Neil: That would be my main sort of mantra. And then I did after, and because I was so interested in the people, I’d heard about this ProSci [00:36:00] AdCar thing quite a few years ago. And that got me, I drank the Kool Aid on this approach to change management. So AdCar is Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.

Neil: And the idea being that you, if you take people through awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement you’ll get the benefit of the change. I drank the Kool Aid on that for a few years, loved it, and then realized it wasn’t that simple. Because you can’t define change in the vacuum of a project, which is what in effect a lot of projects do, is they define their scope.

Neil: It ignores how that’s going to land, in an organization that’s really quite messy and dynamic. And actually through realizing that Proton might not be the problem to every solution in change. It’s useful. Not a solution to everything. I started exploring lots of different other things.

Neil: We’ve talked about systems thinking, how is this decision here affecting these people over there kind of stuff. Really interested in neuroscience, the physiology of change, what [00:37:00] happens when people go through change, the fight or flight you mentioned earlier, what’s going on, actually in the brain. 

Neil: Why do we do the things we do? What’s behind all this bias and heuristics? 

Neil: So really got fascinated by that and started to become more interested in things like design thinking, which are much more iterative approaches and collaborative human centered change, if you like, collaborative approaches.

Neil: All of a sudden I realized change management in some quarters is defined as, in effect, a structured process to go from A to B. I wasn’t doing any of that. I was doing lots of other things. And I wasn’t reading any books about change management at all. So I today, if you asked me if I was a change manager, I’d probably say no, because I don’t recognize, that in the context of that sort of structured approach or a Prosci methodology or whatever else.

Neil: That’s not really what I do. I have done. 

Rob: So it’s more about creating the fertile soil for so that when you do make a [00:38:00] change and you plant new things, they’re all going to grow better. 

Neil: Yeah, there’s a small community that I’m connected to that are talking more about change enablement, which is quite a nice way of reflecting it, so enabling people through change.

Neil: It gives that sense of engaging people in their change, seeking co creation, collaboration, I think I have this sort of aversion for labels, as I’ve mentioned I’m less keen on defining things in a tightly constrained box, but I prefer enablement to management in change, change management versus change enablement, but actually, I think it’s more for me about that thing.

Neil: I mentioned up front the need to be adaptable to, who cares what we call ourselves.

Neil: Do you have the skills, the mindset, the ability, the approaches to apply to a particular event, a particular opportunity or issue? 

Neil: I think that takes time to develop, but there are some guardrails. There are some things you can put in [00:39:00] place to help to build that muscle in organizations. 

Rob: It’s interesting that you mentioned about explore. Because I look on your website, it says explore, evolve, prosper. 

Rob: I can see throughout your story an interest in exploring and going beyond and now what you’re helping people to do is to evolve, to be more enabled and more adaptive.

Rob: What made you the Adaptologist is where you shifted from traditional change to what you’re specializing in now. 

Rob: How did that come about? 

Neil: I think it was two things really. So three years ago I had cancer. And that, obviously quite a tough period.

Neil: I’m fine now. I’m through that. But what that made me realize is that I can’t keep doing these approaches to change that don’t work in a way I think they ought to. Actually, it comes back to purpose, right? So I thought about my life in terms of Ikigai, what I love, what I’m good at, what the world needs, what I might make some money out of. 

Neil: Those first [00:40:00] three things were born from wanting to fix a lot of the issues that I’d witnessed in change delivery, the impacts on people in particular. I hated those conversations where people would break down in tears because they weren’t being included.

Neil: And about a year ago, I was talking to Amanda Greenwood, fellow co founder, and we found, whilst we are very different people, we actually shared a lot of common thinking and thoughts and values in terms of what the world needed. We got together, we explored our backgrounds, our history, what made us who we are, what our values were, All those sorts of things and what the world needs.

Neil: And that, I think that what the world needs peice what I love doing started to combine. 

Neil: So this sense of building a capability in organizations that empowers people that recognizes emotions, that makes people happier, [00:41:00] and healthier and more motivated in their work. Those are the things that I get up in the morning for.

Neil: It just happens. Those things also lead to greater adaptability in organizations and prosperity and growth. I might have adaptable and prosperous organizations before happy and engaged people in the profile, but I think actually you get the, adaptable and prosperous organization if people are empowered to make decisions, if they’re happy in what they do, if they’re prepared to explore, to evolve and that’s what makes me happy.

Neil: That’s what makes me want to do what I do. It’s removing that feeling of fear in the workplace so that people can be free to do a good job as well. What they always told me, I just want to do a good job. Let’s help people do a good job. Yeah. And the world will be a better place. I absolutely guarantee it.

Rob: Sounds wonderful. And it makes perfect sense. What kind of person company would be reaching [00:42:00] out to you and what would they like what would be the right fit for you? 

Neil: So we talked about the size earlier.

Neil: Medium size organization, but, I’m thinking about in particular the implications for AI for businesses at the moment. I have this hope, actually, that in a perverse way the adoption of AI starts to force a need for greater adaptability. 

Neil: So all those things I talked about in terms of empowering people, all that I think the only way to keep up with the pace of AI and changing customer expectations is to be adaptable.

Neil: And a way to be adaptable is to empower people and motivate people and all that sort of thing. Actually the advent of AI and in particular the pace that is developing starts to force the pace for a need for adaptability. And it also, I think introduces an interesting concept around how you might reimagine your future.

Neil: So there will be a lot of focus at the moment on AI in terms of [00:43:00] efficiencies and productivity, because that’s low hanging fruit. And I suspect that’s where a lot of the fear comes in terms of the people side of that. People losing their jobs, fear about that. But actually the real value, I think, is in how you can create and reinvent your your value proposition in the market and reinvent the market itself in ways that we just haven’t thought of.

Neil: And I think that requires that requires actually a sort of human AI collaboration that makes the best use of both of those machines, crunching lots and lots of data. Doing lots of things that take humans a lot of time and humans doing lots of things around what makes us uniquely human, creativity, innovation, empathy motivating others.

Neil: And you can extend that, of course, into things like ethics. 

Neil: You’re not going to ask AI to develop your ethics strategy. How do we train AI? What makes AI human? You need humans to help AI understand what that looks like. So I see a future where there’s lots of jobs [00:44:00] and opportunities developing that we just haven’t thought of at the moment.

Neil: And lots of opportunity to create new products and services and processes that break the mold from, the industrial age. If organizations are open to adapting to that I think the organizations we’re aiming at will be inquisitive about what the future will look like. Whether using AI or not, but I think in particular AI as a driver and being open to thinking about ways of working in in new, breaking the mold from this sort of hierarchical, industrial age approach to what work is.

Neil: And those that do that, I think those that are prepared to think differently, we can help them to, to bed in a capability that allows them to adapt at that pace of AI development and reinvent their future in many ways, I think. And that, and I think that is what will make the difference between organizations that are around in five or 10 years and those that aren’t.

Rob: That’s really interesting. I [00:45:00] hadn’t really considered aI in that context. So the speed of replication is going to rapidly evolve. So the speed of evolution is going to evolve, which means that we, humans need to focus on emotions and a lot of the other things that you’ve talked about, which means that humans need to raise their self awareness which means that we need to become more human.

Rob: That means that organizations need to change to enable that. That’s another talk all in itself. 

Rob: Okay. This has been great. Thank you for your time. 

Rob: I think AI is another one that we need to talk about. 

Neil: Yeah, I enjoyed it. 

Rob: I can see your journey to here make you ready to help people be more enabled and be more empowered and be more emotionally intelligent.

Neil: Thank you for the invite. And also I think what you’re doing is really important because stripping back what it says in the profile to the human behind the profile as you described. I think it’s really [00:46:00] valuable, important to do that and to set to set the tone really for how we all ought to be thinking in work as we move forward.

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