Entering Zone 4, a New Territory

Jane McConnell
3 min readMar 29, 2024

Zone 4 is an unknown territory, extending beyond previous limits, where boundaries are disappearing and people are taking risks and exploring.

Organizations are profoundly changing. I’ve tracked them in 13 global surveys, from 2006 through 2023.[1] The most dynamic organizations are now moving into what I call Zone 4 on the sketch above, where traditional boundaries are falling, new behaviors emerging and there is an increased likelihood of success in spite of the turbulence around us. Zone 4 is manifested by a deep sense of ecosystem, with a wide range of connections and interactions with people and other organizations outside one’s own. This is beginning to influence the very nature of what an organization is. (download a copy of the sketch)

The sketch is an attempt to see the relatively short, fast evolution of behaviors and practices as organizations evolve. (If you have ideas, additions, disagreements, please share them in the comments.)

This article proposes three major themes that cut across the zones:

1 — Getting and keeping people, including current and new, permanent and contingent, ready and able to meet new challenges.

2 — Energizing individuals throughout the organization, all levels, all functions, all statuses.

3 — Extending beyond walls, silos and habits, and moving towards a freer, more purposeful way of working.

Let’s do a quick run through the themes.

1 — Getting & keeping people involves new practices, some of which have become accepted in many places to more or lesser degrees.

This includes going beyond hiring based on CVs, beyond annual performance reviews and even beyond job descriptions. A very positive step is to set up an internal talent marketplace giving people full control over it. I use the word “beyond” often because we need to move beyond much of what we do and how we do it today.

2 — Energizing has three qualities and they are each strategic, pragmatic and essential! The first two are the toughest to achieve.

  • Reverse leadership, long a theme in my research, and, sadly, sorely lacking today. Most organizations do not have what I call “open and participatory” leaders.
  • Freedom in a framework, which is based on establishing a small number of fundamental strategic principles, then opening encouraging decentralized decision-making.
  • Openness and learning are states of mind, manifested in the work culture, that underpin everything else. Without them, organizations go stale and die.

3 — Extending beyond our blindly accepted limits, overcoming fears is an indispensable move to survival, proactive resilience and, more important, thriving in the future.

  • Reachability is part of Extending because in so many organizations there are people who cannot reach others, nor be reached, because of location or type of jobs. It’s easier today, thanks to the impact of lockdown and the resulting virtual work culture that is becoming the norm for many. Check out the 10-point evaluation here in “the inclusive organization and the reachability factor”.
  • Scanning the horizon has always been a challenge. It is a key part of Extending, but people who follow what’s happening in and around their organization do not usually have easy ways to share with others.
  • Adaptive capacity plays a critical role in building proactive resilience. In my annual research studies over 10 years, I saw that most organizations are unable to be adaptive. I wrote about it here, where I showed that the British Standards Institution had very similar results to mine. Both adaptive capacity and scanning the horizon are key parts to building proactive resilience.

Have you reached Zone 4, perhaps just in some parts of your organization? Large organizations often change in specific teams, departments, projects, gradually influencing others. Smaller organization evolve faster, if the momentum is there, somewhere!

What are your thoughts? Have you entered Zone 4? If so can you share a little about your experiences?

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Jane McConnell

Imaginize World podcast-videos https://imaginize.world/ Book: The Gig Mindset Advantage. 20yrs advising large orgs, 12yrs global research culture & leadership.