Thursday, February 17, 2011

Accelerated Convergence

Currently, four organizational trends are moving faster and faster toward the same point. Their convergence will cause strategic problems for years to come.

The first trend deals with strategic direction. More and more organizations lack clarity around their strategic direction. Due to a tremendous amount of under-communication, a tolerance for misalignments, and the absence of an on-going commitment to strategic goals and action plans, these organizations are lost in the strategic wilderness, wandering aimlessly based on the whims of a few or what ever book hits the best seller list.

The second trend deals with resource prioritization. With the current degree of economic uncertainty in the market place at this time period, the tightening of state budgets, and the potential for a federal reorganization looming in the distance, executives, employees, customers and suppliers are starting to question whether or not certain organizations will be able to deliver their core mission with limited or constrained resources. In particular, they wonder if the organization will be successful in this new environment while continuing to adapt to new market changes and expectations. The result of this over time can be brand apathy which is devastating to sustainable strategic action.

The third trend deals with recruitment and retention. As the economy evolves and changes, talented individuals may or may not want to hang in there through the difficulties. Though we do not like to think about it, the truth is that the best employees, the A Players we have, like to work with successful companies more than with struggling companies. This in combination with the on-going demographic changes, e.g. the Silver Tsunami as one example, can result in a real pending talent squeeze in certain organizations.

The fourth trend deals with organizational time. In simple terms, there is not enough time to get done all that needs to get done. People are worn, stressed, and feeling over worked. Furthermore, their commitment to their organization is dropping and/or in question because they are unclear about what to do next, i.e. a lack of strategic direction and even operational direction, in combination with a feeling that there may not be enough resources to do it right the first time. When people have too little information and feel pressured about time, they often default to a scarcity mentality and are not able to prioritize well.

When and if the above four trends converge, we are in for a real mess, an “epic failure” using YouTube terms. And leaders and managers are right in the midst of all of this, attempting to chart a path out of this potential quagmire.

Rather than offer some simplistic solutions, we must acknowledge the complexity before us and not hide from it. These trends are like gravity. We may not like them but in reality, we can not vote to eliminate gravity. It just does not fall into our circle of influence. Still with this in mind, we should not collapse into a puddle of hopeless, anxiety or depression. There are specific actions we can take to manage this emerging reality.

First, during the next 60 - 90 days, do a complete and in-depth strategic review. This should include a market place analysis to make sure you understand what is and what is not happening in your service environment.

Second, once the strategic review has been completed, determine whether or not your current strategic plan is still the right plan for the right time. If you have any doubts, pitch it. With so many strategic variables in play, it is better to have a smaller plan in place than a large and grand one that does not match up with the current and quickly evolving strategic environment in which you offer your goods and/or services.

Third, if you ditch your current plan, consider building an eighteen month bridge plan to help you and the organization move through this time period of economic uncertainty. Better to have a short term clear sense of strategic direction than a long term plan that is yielding strategic confusion during the interim.

Fourth, re-recruit your best players. When entering a time period of challenge, it is essential that you build and maintain a core team of people who have the capacity to handle what may be coming. Work with this team closely and strengthen their levels of trust.

Fifth, discern the difference between technical problems and adaptive problems. For more on this subject, read my blog entry for Tuesday, February 8, 2011 called “Questioning Fundamental Assumptions.”

Sixth, ask for help. When things get tough, it is vital to not isolate the organization or yourself from assistance. Perspective and experience can make a world of difference when accelerated convergence is taking place. If I can be of assistance, do not hesitate to call or e-mail me. In a time period of challenge, the best way to predict the future is to actively engage with it.

As John W. Gardner noted, "We need to believe in ourselves and our future but not to believe that life is easy. Life is painful and rain falls on the just. Leaders must help us see failure and frustration not as reason to doubt ourselves but as reason to strengthen our resolve.... Don't pray for the day when we finally solve our problems. Pray that we have the freedom to continue working on the problems the future will never cease to throw at us.”

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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