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Is Your Organization Calm or Chaotic? A new metric has the answer

At a time of global market uncertainty, many leaders feel less in control. For some, it is even starting to feel chaotic. But should leaders try to take back control, or embrace complexity and change in a new way?

Here we introduce a new metric – the C2 Score – a metric for internal & external complexity. The objective is not just to measure but to engage with complexity in a new way.   

‘We need a C- score!’ proclaimed one of the bright sparks on our tech team.  ‘That is a metric to measure chaos, or propensity for chaos, within organizations and business units’ she added.  

Heads nodded in agreement – clearly the C-score had really caught people’s attention. The idea of ‘chaos’ within organizations was a hot topic.  

As one team member put it: ‘the word ‘chaos’, rather than ‘calm’, ‘orderly’ or ‘controlled’, describes a lot of what we are seeing in organizations at this time’. There was a widespread view that chaos was on the rise.  

Thus, the team decided to workshop the idea of a ‘C-score’ over the coming weeks. The process involved provides an interesting insight to the sophistication of the approach to the design of our analytics.  

When the workshop came around, people took opposing sides of the C-score versus no C-score debate.  The green team had the role of advocating for a C-score, while the red team’s role was to scrutinize and even resist the idea. Here is a behind-the-scenes look at what happened.

‘Chaos’, rather than ‘calm’, ‘orderly’ or ‘controlled’, describes a lot of what we are now seeing in organizations.’

This insight emerged from strategic conversations with business leaders on the requirements of delivering today’s performance & tomorrow’s transformation. It is part of our most exciting research yet:

C-Score: Measuring Organizational Chaos

The green team was off to a fast start listing reasons for a C-score, including:

  • Chaos is on the rise.  We are seeing more and more of it in organizations, as well as in the markets in which they are operating.
  • There are two sources of gas one is external and the other is internal. Some organizations are tying themselves up in knots.
  • Chaos hampers organizational effectiveness as well as speed and agility. It can result in waste and inefficiency. A chaotic environment generates a lot of noise and interference. Typically, it means people are not operating at their best.
  • A time of uncertainty and disruption, requires calm heads and clear thinking. That isn’t easy given the pressure that leaders are under. 
    • Greater scarcity of resources, as well as challenges regarding short-term performance, put additional pressure on already very busy leaders.
    • The coordination and alignment challenges within organizations are growing. Greater cross-functional collaboration is required, but traditional silos and a hybrid work environment add to the challenge of making internal collaboration effective.
  • Most leaders probably have times when they feel that things are getting ‘out of control’. This is an uncomfortable feeling, with many managers having a high need for control (i.e. Type A personalities).
  • The many drivers of chaos are clear – they are the factors that drain productivity e.g. a lack of clarity regarding priorities & results, people pulling in different directions, the level of firefighting and so on. As we are already measuring these factors, integrating them into a C-score is a logical next step.

Chaos or Complexity? Getting to Grips with Organizational Reality

The red team got off to a slower start, but created an equally convincing, if more metaphysical, list:

  • Is chaos a negative term? How can we frame it in a more empowering manner?  
  • In an environment of change and uncertainty, some chaos is to be expected! It may be a necessary antecedent to breaking through to new levels of performance.
  • A scale from control to chaos may have little meaning because ‘If everything seems under control, you’re just not going fast enough’ (Mario Andretti)1.
  • This is a complex issue – is there a danger of oversimplifying it?
    • Systems thinking tells us that there is often order in chaos (even if it is not obvious)2.
    • Think ‘fractal organization’ versus attempts to control based on traditional hierarchical structures3. Think ‘anti-fragile’ where a system benefits from uncertainty & disruption4
    • Think ‘systems viability’ -OD researchers have long pointed to ‘viability’ as a key factor – that is the ability of an org. to sustain and thrive in its environment5.
  • What if the real issue isn’t chaos, but complexity? Complexity is a by-word for the modern age!
  • If we focus on managing or controlling chaos people may be directed towards the wrong tools and the wrong approach. For example:
    • They go into fixing mode. Working on the parts rather than seeing the whole and failing to see connections and interdependencies.
    • They use the wrong tools (e.g. compliance and control versus awareness and dialogue). 
What if the real issue isn’t chaos, but complexity?

Conclusions About Chaos & Complexity

When both teams had finished sharing their perspectives, a consensus started to emerge:  ‘It is not that a new measure is needed, but rather a greater appreciation of the role of the analysis of priming leaders for engaging with complexity in all its fullness’.

Here are some of the notes circulated after the meeting, again an interesting insight to the thought that goes on behind product development at Growth Pitstop®. Also, a valuable insight to the nature of complexity and chaos within the modern organization.

  1. A sense of chaos often results from hidden complexity and misplaced certainty.
  2. Reframe chaos in terms of complexity to reduce frustration and open up new solutions.
  3. The primary goal is not to measure (or even control) chaos, but to illuminate and engage with complexity!
  4. Organizations are not making sufficient allowances for the level of complexity. They are overlooking internal complexity in particular.
  5. Appreciating the full complexity of any organization, strategy or initiative is the first step in dealing with chaos. But, that may be uncomfortable.
  6. ‘Complexity conscious’ leaders6 require greater curiosity and humility. They must approach business opportunities and changes with more creative approaches to problem-solving (incl. experimentation).
  7. The lure of control is great. But control could be the problem, rather than the solution. A sense of chaos many mean that those at the top should loosen their grip, rather than wrestle for greater control. 
  8. Chaos is the feeling that often results when the need to move fast comes head to head with traditional bureaucracy, hierarchy, silos and the ‘business as usual’ ways of planning and budgeting.
  9. Chaos happens when a system is not fully listening to or responding adequately to its environment and it is those at the front lines (rather than in corporate functions) that will fell it first and feel it the most.
  10. Greater speed, agility, collaboration and innovation are required to profit from chaos (that is what the pitstop model and analysis is all about). But it requires empowering leader teams closest to the action, giving them the resources and the power and autonomy required to adapt and the permission to innovate.

When it comes to measuring complexity or chaos the following emerged:

  1. Measuring one or a few variables is not enough. To engage with complexity, you need to adopt a systems perspective – you need to look at the totality of the pitstop model (ways of working, ways of interacting, etc.).
  2. Mind your language! Non-judgmental situational awareness is key in the application of systems thinking.
  3. Doubling down on the status quo won’t work.  It is time to embrace business unusual – straight line acceleration won’t be enough! – the challenge is to see around corners.
  4. We need a C2 Score, rather than just a C Score a sit must measure both internal and external complexity – it is when both of these meet that complexity is compounded.

The goal is not to measure chaos, but to illuminate and engage with complexity! 

  1. Mario Andretti Quote taken from Growth Pitstop Book, Ray Collis & John O Gorman, The ASG Group Press, 2016 []
  2. See, The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, Peter Senge, Random House, 2006 []
  3. The Organization of the Future Is Fractal, BCG (2022), see []
  4. ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder’, Nicholas Taleb, Random House Publishing Group, 2014 []
  5. ‘Organization Design Using The Viable System Model – Experience From Practice’, Patrick Hoverstadt & Lucy Loh & Natalie Marguet,  British Academy of Management conference 2018. []
  6. This phrase is used by Dignan, Aaron, Brave New Work: Are You Ready to Reinvent Your Organization?, Portfolio, 2019. []

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