While many leaders need to be better Architects of Meaning within their organization, I think there are two new roles that they need to embrace at this time, too. The first I will explore this Monday and the other I will explore next Monday.
I believe the leader needs to be a Scout, i.e. one who explores an area or idea to obtain key information or perspectives. During the Spring 2015 From Vision to Action Executive Roundtable, I noted that the higher you go in an organization, the more you need to do the thinking rather than simply doing the doing. Thus the concept of being a Scout is not to focus on the physical act of scouting as much as the cognitive act of scouting, namely guiding a process whereby the company "explores" a strategic idea or concept in order to learn key information about how people are thinking and perceiving what is going on currently, or possibly in the near future.
One way to do this was written about by Jack B. Soll, Katherine L. Milkman, and John W. Payne in their May 2015 Harvard Business Review article called “Outsmart Your Own Biases.” As they note, there are premortems and postmortems. In a postmortem, or after action report, the goal is to understand the cause of a past failure or success and to discover the lessons learned. “In a premortem, you imagine a future failure and then explain the cause.” This technique, also called prospective hindsight, helps you identify potential problems that ordinary foresight won’t bring to mind.” I have also heard this called scenario based planning
Here are two examples.
- Let’s assume it 2018, and our midwest banking branch offices have lost money every year since 2015. Why has that happened?
- Let’s assume it is 2018 and our current retention rate in 2015, i.e. 1 out of 3 newly hired people stay past 90 days, has continued. Why has this happened?
As the aforementioned authors note, a premortem tempers optimism, encourages a more realistic assessment of risk, helps prepare back-up plans and exit strategies, and highlight factors that influence success or failure which may increase your ability to control the results.
When I think of the leader as a Scout, I feel it acknowledges what Marshall Goldsmith and Kelly Goldsmith wrote about in their article called “Helping People Achieve Their Goals,” Leader to Leader, No. 391, Winter 2006. As they wrote, “real change requires real effort…. we tend to over-estimate the benefits and under-estimate the effort needed.”
This week spend more time scouting out the future, and conduct more premortems. It is time to be better prepared.