Friday, 20 March 2009

Information that counts

At the airport yesterday I was talking to a colleague who works for a very successful large organisation. The conversation turned to planning for the future and the use of typical strategic planning tools such as the SWOT and the PEST. His frustration was that the company saw these tools as 'an annual event', completing their strategic development for that year. They even had templates for all of the steps so that it was seamless and basically ended up the same as the previous year. We couldn't help but agree that something seemed wrong here. So here are several observations:

1) As soon as you lose the ability to be flexible and nimble you are in danger of moving backwards. You don't see the outward signs of change, don't have a chance to prepare or to consider a range of possible scenarios. Businesses need to focus on building creativity into their strategy. Some would say that the age of strategic planning is over.
2) Scanning the environment is an ongoing process not an annual event. In today's economic climate businesses can't afford to miss the weak signals. Things change - fast! Miss it and it may have a profound effect on your organisation.
3) Data can choke an organisation. It can create it's own life and before you know it the technicians and data gatherers are running your organisation. And slowly freedoms disappear, new ideas have to be run through the system and are suddenly too hard to implement. Meanwhile the data gathers momentum. It ceases to have relevance, becomes overwhelming and the collected for the sake of it. If only half the data is used in an organisation think of the hours that have been wasted...
4) The PEST analysis can be a bit of a pest and here's why. It can fail to keep the focus on the values of the organisation and the fundamental moral and ethical ideas that underpin who we are. This is why many of our organisations lose direction. The STEEPV (Social, Technological, Economic, Ecological, Political, Values) is a better tool for environemental scanning. It maintains an outward focus while also holding true to the core beliefs and non-negotiable moral imperatives of the organisation.

Let's focus on developing systems that encourage us to continually look both inside and outside our organisations, that value useful information and that provide flexible knowledge development based on the needs of the future.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Beyond Linear Leadership

When you add people into the mix things get messy. Isn't it a darn shame that 'those others' ruin our well designed plans, forget to follow policies and don't tow the line?

One of the things that worries me is that we have become so obsessed with measuring things, that we narrow down what we do into small chunks of 'manageboxes'. These boxes allow us to measure something, whether it will have a significant positive impact or not. This mechanistic view holds us back at the very time in the history of the world when different thinking is needed.

In his latest presentation, Sir Ken Robinson talks about 'The Element', which he describes as when natural talent meets a passion. This is made up of ability, aptititude and attitude.

Linear leadership does not develop 'The Element.' It simply shuts people down without considering the many talents they may bring to their organisation. We should instead work on an organic or ecological metaphor, one which understands that things evolve over time, take complex roads, weave back on each other words they get messy.

When I wrote Keeping the Fleas Motivated several years ago I suggested that organisations must have those who think differently, who challenge the status quo, who are what Seth Godin refers to as heretics. I love his quote, in Tribes: " Life's too short to hate what you do all day. Life's way too short to make mediocre stuff. And almost everything that is standard is now viewed as mediocre."

In difficult economic times it is easy to pull back to linear thinking, when what is needed is systems thinking. We are all responsible for moving our organisations forward. To do this we need thinkers of all types, working together and being prepared to make mistakes. Look for the possibilities and ways of producing an environment which is personal rather than standardised. Otherwise mediocrity will prevail.