Monday, September 26, 2016

How do leaders transform day to day operations? - part #1

It started one day when I was coaching the CEO. This individual and their team had stepped back from day to day issues, and had looked at the bigger picture. From the various detailed pieces of information they had explored, the team decided that an organizational transformation was the necessary and right choice of action. Therefore, with great thought and reflection, they created a focused strategy, and a solid level of urgency throughout the middle management team.

However, over time while they could “execute” the plan well and roll out many initiatives, it was not resulting in a transformation of the day to day operations. Tactical issues at the local level kept trumping strategic changes and transformations. The senior team felt they were playing the whack a mole game. Overall, there was limited progress.

So, on the day I was coaching the CEO, this all came pouring out. After all the details had been shared, the CEO asked me the following question: How do leaders transform day to day operations?

While we all have worked hard in our thoughtful planning and careful roll-out of change initiatives, sometimes transformative strategic plans never really change  day to day observations. In specific, we forget something that Ron Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky wrote in their book, The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World, Harvard Business Press, 2009: “The reality is that any social system ... is the way it is because the people in that system (at least those individuals and factions with the most leverage) want it that way.”

First, the ground level truth is that most people do not want day to day operations to change. They like status quo just the way it is even if it is a dysfunctional status quo and not workable moving forward. As the old timers say, "the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t know."

Second, we need to remember there is a difference between complicated changes, which requires a great effort and timely tracking and measuring but ultimately results in predictable outcomes, and complex change, which requires a great effort and timely tracking and measuring but ultimately results in unpredictable outcomes. The former is the typical approach by many leaders, but it often is the later that is actually happening.

Our goal as leaders during the next two to three years is to deal with complicated and complex change better, to develop personal and organizational resilience, to create the ability to continually and organically adapt, plus learn how to reconfigure our organizations in order to confront the unknown.

While transforming day to day operations is not easy, it still is important. The first step is to understand that most people do not want change or transformation to take place, and that some of the work is complicated and other elements are complex.

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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