Monday, October 26, 2009

Leading Through Complexity: The Core Four Actions - Part #1

THEME: Fall 2009 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable Report

FOCUS: Leading Through Complexity: The Core Four Actions - Part #1

Monday morning: October 26, 2009

Dear friends,

It was a hot summer day as the senior team and I gathered for another meeting in the strategic planning process. As we walked into the corporate board room, the CEO took me aside and said, “I’d liked to make some opening remarks. You don’t mind do you?”

My response was “No. This is your team and your planning process. Feel free to set the tone for the meeting.”

Once we all were seated, he started the meeting with a passionate call to arms. As he explained, “we are getting sucked into operations, systems and problems at the micro level. We are so focused on fixing everything that we have forgotten the customer. We are not concerned about their service as much as we are concerned about our own welfare. We need to stop focusing so much on fixing everything and instead ask our selves the most important question of all, namely ‘What kind of organization do we want to become in 2-3 years?’ If we do not answer this question, then we will have everything fixed but, alas, have no customers. It is time to stop letting the tactics trump the strategic.”

I smiled as his words came pouring out. I agreed 100% with his analysis. In this organization, operational leadership was trumping strategic leadership. Furthermore, an operational focus at the team level was trumping strategic thinking and action at the executive level. They were, in essence suffering from strategic blindness.

This has become a common problem this fall. Complexity is creating strategic blindness, namely that the leaders within the organization do not see their strategy as a whole organization. They see bits and pieces of strategy but they do not comprehend it as whole.

Furthermore, another problem is surfacing this fall. Some leaders think that having a strategy is the same as executing a strategic plan. When people in leadership positions look at the parts and do not see “the whole”, the result is fragmentation and a general disorientation amongst all employees. When leaders think having a strategy is executing a strategy, there is a complete break down within the organization’s ability to synchronize it’s action and deliver a unified course of action.

When I encounter these kinds of problems, I always ask The Core Four Questions, namely “Who will lead?”, “Where is the vision and who has it?”, “What pace do you want to go?”, and “What should not be lost during the journey?”. The answers to these questions will point out whether or not the organization is caught in a pattern of institutional decline as described in Jim Collins newest book, How The Mighty Fall and Why Some Companies Never Give In, HarperCollins, 2009. They also will determine the path to recovery.

Once I have explored The Core Four Questions, I often have to instruct or coach those involved to utilize The Core Four Actions. They are as follows:

- what you feed, grows.

- what you envision, guides.

- what you steward, endures.

- what you provide, activates and energizes.

Today, we are going to examine the first of The Core Four Actions, namely what you feed, grows. Based on my early adventures when I first moved to Iowa many decades ago, this phrase is a popular one amongst those I have worked with over the years. The challenge is that many people focus on the word “grow” but do not comprehend the key word “feed”. When we turn to the dictionary for clarity, we learn that the word “feed” is defined by the following definitions: to give food to, to give as food, to furnish something essential to the development, sustenance, maintenance, or operation of, and to become nourished.

When we take these definitions and think of them as leaders, we learn some important information. The first definition states “to give food to.” Here, executives need to build capacity, collaboration and commitment. They can do this by rerecruiting their best people and recruiting new people with perspective and information. In a time period of sustained instability, people are looking for clarity, order and direction. Clear and consistent information about what is happening and where we are going is vital. The key is communicate more to your key people.

On a side bar for a moment, a second wave of people leaving organizations by choice is happening in the work place right now. While there was a small lull in late spring and early summer, now there is another level of activity that is starting to take place now. The good people are on the move and seeking to work with healthy and progressive companies.

Second, when we follow The Core Four Action called “what you feed, grows”, then we need to give as food things that build awareness and understanding. At this time period, we need to over-communicate a tremendous amount of historical perspective so people understand what is happening now, but also why it is happening. At the same time, it would be good to share an outsider’s perspective so that people do not loose touch with the customer and shareholder’s thinking. When we provide constant support and a well defined and executable strategy, we have the potential to shape cultural values and standards, align culture and strategy, and define what is and what is not important within the organization. We also define what needs to be monitored and understood outside the organization. In short, when confronted with complexity, we need to not loose focus on the whole.

This week sit down with your team and help them regain perspective and see the whole picture. Review with them what has happened in the past that has lead you and the organization to this point. Then, help them see how your current strategy is positioning you for the future.

Have a delightful week,


Geery Howe, M.A.
Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer in
Leadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational Change

Morning Star Associates
319 - 643 - 2257

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