Responsive Organizations


Digital Transformation. Technology stacks. Apps. Cloud computing. Digital disruption.

It’s all very technology focused isn’t it?

There’s no denying the fact that technology is a force of continuous change, but hand-in-hand with that, it also provides us with what we need to adapt to change …right?

To a degree that’s true, but it’s your people and culture that determine how rapidly you can respond.


You may have heard the term Responsive Organization. This term and the concept it represents have been famously championed by Yammer co-founder Adam Pisoni for years, and no, it’s not about Enterprise Social Networking.

Adam and other like-minded folks started The Responsive Org community which is ”…a community committed to creating and growing Responsive Organizations.”

The Responsive Org Manifesto is very thought provoking and insightful, and introduces concepts that are without a doubt applicable in the paradigm of Digital Transformation.


Everyone and everything is connected.

The world has become one giant network where instantly accessible and shareable information rewrites the future as quickly as it can be understood. Fueled by relentless technological innovation, this accelerating connectivity has created an ever increasing rate of change. As a result, the future is becoming increasingly difficult to predict.

Meanwhile, most organizations still rely on a way of working designed over 100 years ago for the challenges and opportunities of the industrial age. Team structures support routine and static jobs. Siloed, command and control systems enable senior leadership to drive efficiency and predictability at the expense of free information flow, rapid learning, and adaptability.

The tension between organizations optimized for predictability and the unpredictable world they inhabit has reached a breaking point.

Organizations are struggling to keep up with their customers. Workers caught between dissatisfied customers and uninspiring leaders are becoming disillusioned and disengaged. Executives caught between discontented investors and disruptive competitors are struggling to find a path forward. And people who want a better world for themselves and their communities are looking to new ambitious organizations to shape our collective future.

We need a new way.

Responsive Organizations are built to learn and respond rapidly through the open flow of information; encouraging experimentation and learning on rapid cycles; and organizing as a network of employees, customers, and partners motivated by shared purpose.


There’s a reason we’ve run organizations the way we have. Our old Command and Control operating model was well-suited for complicated and predictable challenges. Some of these challenges still exist today and may respond to the industrial-era practices that we know so well. However, as the pace of change accelerates, the challenges we face are becoming less and less predictable. Those practices that were so successful in the past are counter-productive in less predictable environments. In contrast, Responsive Organizations are designed to thrive in less predictable environments by balancing the following tensions:

More Predictable <-> Less Predictable

Profit <-> Purpose Hierarchies <-> Networks Controlling <-> Empowering Planning <-> Experimentation Privacy <-> Transparency

Profit <-> Purpose

In the past, the goal for many organizations was creating economic value for shareholders or owners. In other words, “making money”, and quite often with a short-term lens. While many have been hugely successful at this, it has often involved trade-offs: diminishing public trust in organizations across many industries; shortening life spans of organizations; plummeting levels of employee engagement; and damaging the environment around us. Today people are looking for organizations that have a purpose broader than just making money. Rather than viewing profit as the primary goal of an organization, progressive leaders see profit as a byproduct of success. They aim to do well by doing good. A clear and visionary purpose brings together stunning talent, committed shareholders, partners, and communities.

Controlling <-> Empowering

In the past, a limited number of people held the power and understanding necessary to steer the organization and its public image. Control was forced through centralized, top down decision-making. Corporate Communications, IT departments, and rigid processes controlled what people said and did. The higher up the pyramid you were, the more power you had. This makes sense in a world where a select few people are most likely to have the knowledge and experience necessary to make the best decisions. Today, that is no longer the case. Circumstances and markets change rapidly as information flows faster. Now the people with the best insight and decision-making ability are often people closest to the customers, on the front line, or even ‘outside’ the typical organizational boundaries. Rather than controlling through process and hierarchy, you achieve better results by inspiring and empowering people at the edges to pursue the work as they see fit – strategically, structurally, and tactically.

Planning <-> Experimentation

In the past, organizations competed by optimizing productivity, efficiency and predictability with long term planning. Relying on planning was important because high transaction costs made it difficult to change course once decisions had been made, resources had been committed, and people and teams had been coordinated. Today, plans start losing value the moment they’re finished. Because we can’t predict the future, time and resources devoted to planning are a less valuable investment than embracing agile methods that encourage experimentation and fuel rapid learning. The opposite of planning doesn’t have to be chaos. Responsive organizations still need a long term vision, but make progress through experimentation and iteration.

Hierarchies <-> Networks

In the past there were big and complex tasks that required many people working on them. The ‘transaction costs’ involved to get coordination between people was high, so the concept of a Manager was introduced. As the number of Managers increased, a Manager of the Managers was created… and hierarchies formed. This resulted in order, clarity of authority, rank, and power. They reinforced a single primary connection: manager to worker, and enabled a command and control style of leadership that was terrifically successful during the industrial era. Today, technology and connectivity has increased our ability to self-organize, collaborating more easily across internal and external organizational boundaries. It is no longer necessarily true that coordinating through a Manager is more effective than people self-organizing. Working as a network allows us to organize with many different kinds of connections, and increased autonomy.

Privacy <-> Transparency

In the past, information was the currency of power: hard to come by and hard to spread. In the industrial-era environment, organizations guarded this scarce information carefully, and leveraged their information as a competitive advantage. Today, we have access to so much information that it’s become impossible to predict which information might be useful, or who might use that information in a productive way. In this world of abundant information and connectedness the potential benefits of trusting people who share the organization’s purpose to act on information as they see fit often outweighs the potential risks of open information being used in counter-productive ways.1

insights & further reading

This is an evolving area of practice. Organizations like Pepsi-co, AirBnB, and Microsoft are experimenting with responsive practices. Microsoft has published a series of insightful videos exploring this in “the future of work”. 2

A recent study into employee engagement by SHRM found that 90% of employees rate Meaningfulness of work as important in job satisfaction.3

Research has shown that employees who derive meaning and significance from their work report 1.7 times higher job satisfaction, are 1.4 times more engaged at work and are 3 times as likely to stay with their current organization. 4


This topic is intended to kickstart your thinking around what it could mean to become a truly Responsive Organization.

Each of the 5 section headings under what is a responsive organization can be thought of as a sliding scale. Consider where your organization sits currently and what you want it to look like in the future.

Profit <———-*—-> Purpose
Hierarchies <————*–> Networks
Controlling <——–*——> Empowering
Planning <——-*——-> Experimentation
Privacy <——*——–> Transparency

Visit the Responsive Org website and consider joining the discussions.


Responsive Org aims to develop a shared language and independent global community that promotes and enables a fundamental shift in our way of working and organizing. We aspire to act as the central hub for Responsive thinkers and practitioners.

methods & tools