Monday, May 12, 2014

Strategy As A Living System

In every company, there are two operating systems happening at the same time. One is the day to day or tactical operating system, and the other is the strategic system. Whether we like it or not, both exist. Some days they are highly dysfunctional and other days they work pretty well.

First, these are living systems rather than mechanical models of rigidity with measured inputs and outputs. And thus as living systems, they are dynamic. Nevertheless, we as leaders keep approaching them as linear. Our challenge is to generate a deeper level of commitment in the organization. Therefore, we need to help people comprehend how they work, move, flow and interact with other systems. We need to help them comprehend that the goal of a living system is to support the organization and help all employed there to have better access to the insights of those who work there, plus assist them in changing as needed based on global and local conditions.

Cynthia A. Montgomery, noted in her article, “Putting Leadership Back Into Strategy”, Harvard Business Review, January 2008, there is a missing dimension to this whole process. As she wrote, “Over the past few decades strategy has become a plan that positions a company in its external landscape. That’s not enough. Strategy should also guide the development of the company - its identity and purpose - over time.” Rather than present strategy as a set solution and an unchanging plan that derives from an analytical, left brain exercise, we need to see strategy as a dynamic process, i.e a “process that is adaptive, holistic, and open ended.” When we view strategy as every day, continuos and unending, then we move from a mechanical approach to a living systems approach.

Margaret Wheatley in her book, So Far From Home: lost and found in our brave new world, Berrett-Koehler, 2012, states we start the process of building and working in a living systems approach by clarifying identity, information, and relationships.  First, people need to figure out where they fit into the organization. This comes when they are clear about what they are responsible for, i.e. outcomes, what is expected of them and what are the goals that they are trying to complete. Second, there needs to be a process for the on-going development of shared meaning and understanding. From my perspective routine strategic level dialogues and reviews makes a big difference.  Third, relationship building, which is the pre-cursor to team building, is implemented. This comes in the form of routine coaching, routine trust building amongst team members, and routine informal time to visit about all of life.

This week I challenge you to look at your organization from a living systems approach. It has the potential to change your whole perspective.

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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