Monday, March 18, 2013

Dual Operating Systems

This morning I am reminded of the following opening lines of an old hymn: “Open my eyes, that I may see, Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me...”

Our challenge as leaders and managers this late winter into early spring is to open the eyes of all we work with so that they may see the strategic and operational implications of our collective actions. The difficulty is that many of our direct reports, colleagues and key stakeholders suffer from a common form of blindness, namely spatial blindness.

Barry Oshry in his book, Seeing Systems: Unlocking the Mysteries of Organizational Life, Berrett-Koehler 1995, describes spatial blindness as happening when someone sees parts of the system but not the whole system. For example in a car, someone may see where they put in the gas but not comprehend how it fuels the engine and moves the vehicle forward. Likewise within an organization, someone may fill out a report but not understand how it impacts payment for services rendered.

One unique problem at this time period is that many companies are running two key operating systems within the company at the same time and many leaders and managers are not fully aware of both of them.  First, every organization has a strategic planning, implementation and evaluation system running in the company. The goal of this system is to develop and implement strategy in a successful manner while at the exact same time being strategically adaptable due to unforeseen variables. Rather than presenting a rigid set of instructions or tactics which has the potential to create organizational vulnerability, this strategic level operating system is focused on promoting ongoing evolutionary success.

Similarly, every organization has a day to day or operational operating system which is focused on serving existing customers within existing markets. This system has a sales force focused on that customer base and a supply chain focused on supporting the sales force. The goal is to efficiently deliver the product or services offered. By managing this cash generating part of the business, the company has the capacity to be better operationally and strategically.

The difficulty is that many leaders and managers can not see the wholeness of both of these dual operating systems and thus they make poor decisions that impact either one or the other of the systems. Sometimes they even impact both systems in a negative manner, creating a huge trough of chaos.

This winter into spring we must open the eyes of all involved so that they can see the purpose of both of these dual operating systems and recognize the importance that each one is making within the organization. When this takes place, the old hymn is correct - “Open my eyes, that I may see, Glimpses of truth Thou has for me; Place in my hands the wonderful key, That shall unclasp and set me free.”

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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