The Purpose of Organizations vs. People

20151104_145251The world, not just the world of OD has a consistent and continuous habit of anthropomorphizing; defining and understanding a thing as if it were human, or having human characteristics.  The OD world does this all the time with things like the organization itself, culture, purpose, change, strategy and more. The organization, or aspects of it is treated like a giant individual person, with selected characteristics of a human being.

A practical benefit to this habit is that it makes it easier to actually talk about something like an organization.  Our words simply go together better when we do this.  I will be doing this later in this post and ongoing.

In terms of understanding organizations however, this habit is primarily helpful as a metaphor and unfortunately we seem to have all too often lost the metaphor.  We actually talk and think of organizations as living entities in their own right. However, I do not know of any organization that will exist if the people leave. If the people leave you just have buildings, equipment, computers and other ‘things’ just hanging around waiting to decompose. There is no culture, no change, no purpose. This means all these ‘things’ are a result of people, and more specifically, people interacting.

Organizations are only ‘alive’ because of the people who make them up.  For example culture is not a thing to be found, it is the repetitive patterns of interaction between people that has become stable over time. Culture in an organization is the left loop of people who hang out doing things under the same company name.

Interaction Model

Yet our habit, our pattern of interaction, our left loop in this regard has come to see organizations as if they were people, as if culture can be found somewhere, as if strategy  is a thing to be aligned with, as if change was something like changing the oil in our cars.

If you want to change culture, change strategy, even just change anything, you change interactions, nothing else.  If you want to understand an organization to some extent you try and understand the left loop, the stable patterns of interactions that constantly go on day after day.

One of the areas that our habit of anthropomorphizing organizations causes real problems is the idea of purpose. This is one of those things that brings the ferocious out in me no matter how hard I try to balance it with the gentle!

By anthropomorphizing organizations we have come to think that the purpose of organizations is the same purpose that people have.  By purpose I mean a fundamental driver of meaning and behavior.

I believe this perspective causes more shame, blame and guilt than almost any other typical and current perspective in how we understand organizational life.

And the OD world overwhelmingly supports this perspective.

I think there is a basic difference between the purpose of an organization and the purpose of a person.

  1. The purpose of an organization is to be a viable economic entity.
  2. The purpose of a person is to express identity.

I am going to go into more depth on what I mean by these in the next couple of posts but for now, the primary point I want to surface is that I think there is a huge gap between these two purposes. When we do not recognize this gap, when we treat and understand organizations as people, we create a reaction, in people, that is characterized by feelings and behavior related to shame, blame and guilt and all the defensive, aggressive and problematic responses that come with these feelings and behaviors.

Before we go into more depth in the next posts I would ask that you just reflect on those two purposes noted above. For now I would ask that you suspend judgement on their ‘correctness’ and just think about them in terms of the interactions you have and experience in your organization and outside your organization.  Is there a difference? If so, what is that difference?  What is your purpose?  Is it closer to being a viable economic entity or expressing identity?

Let’s just see what emerges.

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Strategy – Random Thoughts to Wrap Up

20151104_145813This is the last post in the series on strategy and over the course of writing the last 10 posts it seems / feels like some things are left unsaid (but aren’t they always)! Additionally, over the time it has taken to write these posts I have had the chance to interact with quite a lot of people on the entire topic of OUCH! and strategy specifically. This has been really good and has informed not only the writing but added to the experience of writing these posts as well.

It has also been a challenge writing these posts. I knew that my perspective / ideology on organizations was not typical yet it matched and made sense of my experiences of being in and working with people in organizations. Taking this personal understanding and trying to put it down in a coherent fashion was challenging. More challenging than I expected actually! Especially since strategy is so complex, so laden with power and so entrenched in typical theory and understanding of how strategy is supposed to work. I imagine some of the challenge also comes from my own desire or hope for certainty, even though this is one of the primary things I don’t believe in or think is possible in organizations!

One of the things that tends to happen when I interact with people about OUCH! or what it is challenging and questioning is that people tend to respond in what I would call an algorithmic or if/then kind of way.  As an example people will respond, or seem to conclude ‘Well if he’s challenging strategy then he must think it’s no good / not necessary’. Or ‘If he’s challenging performance management then he must think we might as well not try and manage performance’.

I actually rarely get asked if I think strategy or performance management is necessary or needed however!

That I think these things are not necessary or needed seems to be a conclusion that people quite often come to. Why this might be the case I’m not sure but my sense is that this is representative of the typical way we understand organizations. That being if you think the current ‘answer’ or ‘solution’ is a problem, then you must have a different answer or solution.

If I was asked this question though my response would be ‘I do think these things are necessary and needed, that they are happening all the time in our day to day interactions and it is these interactions that are most important!’

So the rest of this post will focus on a few ‘things’ that often get caught up in that if/then response.

Vision. I have no problem with the concept of vision. I think it can be a powerful and motivating energy. I simply don’t think you need vision to do good strategy work. In fact I think it gets in the way of recognizing emerging opportunities. Vision, that idealized view of the future is a hope, not a certainty and when freed from the burden of certainty helps hope to stay present, for all of us.

Creative tension. Fritz and Senge described creative tension as an energy that would draw you toward your vision. If your vision was clear enough this energy would put things in front of you that would help you get there. I really think this energy is more in line with the concept of synchronicity as originally described by Carl Jung. Jung defined synchronicity as an ‘acausal connecting principle’ or ‘temporally coincident occurrences of acausal events.’ We’ve all experienced synchronicity when something happens that we didn’t expect but is related in some way to other things that are happening to us at the time.

The important thing with synchronicity is that these occurrences are not planned and are connected by personal meaning. With the idea of creative tension these ‘occurrences’ which were supposed to occur to help us reach our vision were treated as being planned for by a clear enough vision and connected to that vision, not by meaning but by result. Creative tension is treated as a tool for strategy and simply cannot live up to the expectations of what that tool was supposed to do. If creative tension does exist and I believe it does as synchronicity, it fits best as helping us recognize emergent opportunities and is more connected to day to day intentions than vision.

Causality. In the past posts I distinguish between cause and influence as it relates to human behavior. For me there is one cause and multiple influences of human behavior. I land on transformative causality; our interactions cause our behavior. This cause is founded on the theories of social construction and as such my perspective on the cause of human behavior is an ideology, not a fact. Your thinking may be founded on a different ideology.

Nevertheless, while I land on transformative as the cause of human behavior I do not discount the significance of the INFLUENCE other types of causality have on human behavior. Systems and structures (formative causality) and choice (rational causality) have dramatic influence on our behavior and it is important to pay attention to these influences.

What is important to me in this area is how you think human behavior is caused will be a major contributor to what you do with the power you have to affect behavior. Since the typical way of understanding strategy is based on formative causality, leaders use their power primarily to design systems and structures that are supposed to cause behavior for the rest of the organization.

If individual choice (rational causality) is the cause of behavior then leaders will primarily use their power to communicate the logic and rational reasons for their decisions regarding strategy. It would be assumed these reasons will be effective enough so others get on board and choose to act to support that strategy.

If interaction (transformational causality) is the cause of behavior then leaders use their power to initiate as many interactions as possible with people to discuss strategy and stay open to the responses they get which may produce adaptations to that strategy.

Certainly all of the above need to be done. The question is where do you want your primary focus to be and why? Currenly there is very little thought or interaction about this. We default to formative causality since that is how we typically understand organizations. OUCH!

Comment and discussion points for this post:

  1. Are there other concepts, words, perspectives that have been in the previous posts on strategy you would like to question, disagree with, ask for further explanation?
  2. Do these posts on strategy resonate with your actual experience of strategy in your organization?

 

 

 

Strategy and Power

20151104_145813Power gets a fair bit of attention in organizational literature. Power gets talked about a lot, typically in the abstract. However, one of the things current and typical understanding of strategy tends to create is very little meaningful day to day interactions regarding power. When you eliminate the bottom arrow of the right loop and the left facing arrowhead of the gesture and response in the interaction model, interaction about power becomes severely constrained.

Interaction Model

So power, one of the most complex, influential and meaningful experiences of organizational life tends to be hidden from our day to day interactions, even though its impact is felt daily.

Day to day as it plays out for all of us we simply don’t talk much about power in organizations! We don’t talk about how power is being used or why. We don’t talk about how it is allocated, its impact or even if we, as individuals have power at all. The impact of this when it comes to strategy is significant. Perhaps more significant than we can imagine.

For the purpose of this work the following definitions of power are being used:

  1. The capacity or ability to direct or influence the behavior of others or the course of events.
  2. The ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality.

Types of power that are often seen as relevant within organizations and which focus on the first definition above are listed below:

  • Legitimate
  • Reward
  • Coercive
  • Expert
  • Referent

Legitimate is the power that exists in a position or role in an organization. Reward is power that enables someone to reward another. Coercive is power that enables someone to punish another. Expert is power based on accepted knowledge or experience in a certain area. Referent is power based on some type of valued subjective affiliation with a person.

All of these types of power are relevant and important. When interaction about these types of power is constrained something interesting happens. Two of the types of power noted above tend to be seen by people in the organization as most prevalent.

Legitimate and coercive.

In earlier posts it was noted that when the bottom arrow of the right loop and the left facing arrowhead of the gesture and response are eliminated, strategy, for everyone that hasn’t been involved in its creation translates to:

Do what you’re told and keep your mouth shut!

This is the worst of legitimate and coercive power. Yet if we are constrained in talking about power this is what many people seem to think is happening in terms of power in their organization.

OUCH!

It’s not hard to imagine the impact this has for those of us who have not had a hand in creating the strategy for the organization. It also takes an awful lot of energy, time and effort for those that did create the strategy to try and overcome this impact. Keep in mind this dynamic is created by the way we typically understand strategy and organizations in general. As a result, this dynamic is seen almost as a normal pattern in organizations and one that naturally must be dealt with or ‘managed’.

This is one of the reasons I think there is so much content and interest being generated regarding things like leader authenticity, openness, emotional intelligence and so much more. And also why so many senior leaders see this content and interest as more or less a waste of time, even though they may not be able to effectively articulate why.

The reason why is that these concepts such as authenticity are supposed to overcome the very worst of the application of power and they cannot do this. On their own, things like authenticity are of course valuable. But applied as a ‘technique’ to overcome the impact of the worst applications of power their value is not only gone, but everyone knows it’s a technique rather than a genuine attempt. It’s almost insulting!

Perhaps the most damaging part of all this OUCH! is that it is accepted as normal in organizations! In the absence of interaction regarding power, people tend to think leaders primarily are using legitimate and coercive power in order to move strategy forward. And leaders think they must overcome resistance to moving strategy forward by creating systems and structures which should cause this resistance to disappear. Neither this perspective on power nor the approach to deal with this perspective may actually exist, but it tends to be a very common and problematic pattern of interaction and understanding in our organizational experience.

It is not easy to deal with this, to reduce the OUCH! As long as we believe that power can create certainty the interaction model is compromised so that day to day interactions regarding power are very problematic and thus avoided. To change this, do we start by changing the belief that power can create certainty or by taking a leap into bringing forward interaction and conversations about power?

I think we’re probably better off starting with the latter since the real power of leadership can help initiate these conversations and perhaps more importantly these conversations acknowledge the second definition of power noted above; the ability to do something or act in a particular way, especially as a faculty or quality.Self Manager

This definition is a representation of the model of self management illustrated by Dr. Freedberg and focused on power. It illustrates an additional type of power that each of us possesses; choice.

Keep in mind, the typical way strategy is seen to be implemented; through formative causality, dismisses this type of power! When we acknowledge that choice is present for all of us, conversations regarding power begin to make a lot more sense, especially when it comes to strategy in organizations.

It is actually a little hard to imagine what conversations about power might ‘be’ like in organizations, especially when it comes to strategy. So let’s pose that question for the comments and discussion part of this post.

Comment and discussion question for this post:

  1. What do you think conversations about power, focused on strategy or its implementation would be like in organizations if our understanding of strategy was altered to be more in line with the previous posts?

Reducing OUCH! In Strategy con’t

20151104_145813

The last post focused on the first of four quite typical and normal things that happen once the organization strategy has been established or revisited:

 

  1. The vision gets forgotten.
  2. Emergent issues are dealt with by patterns of interaction that have been historically established.
  3. Significant projects resulting from the strategy get acted upon through the allocation of considerable resources and become change projects.
  4. Less significant projects resulting from the strategy get allocated to specific people with little resources and often fail or get put aside.

This post will look primarily at point 2. Points 3 and 4 more or less get folded into our look at point 2.

In the last post it was also noted that effective strategy, strategy without OUCH! exists in those four points above. We are not trying to avoid these four points in order to do ‘good strategy’, we are trying to make them more obvious and conscious and to take them seriously.

We have defined strategy as a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim. And also the art of that planning. We tend to think of plans as fairly static and consistent over periods of time. In reality strategy is planning as a process of movement. To be strategic is to focus coherently on this process of movement, day by day within the organization. This brings us to point two, which is where senior people, because of their very real power can have the most influence. Both strategically for the competitiveness of the organization and within the organization itself.

I think that this area is where strategy is at its best and also the most challenging. Exactly where senior leadership should focus.

Influencing patterns of interaction to deal with emergent issues.

In the interaction model the left loop represents patterns, typically patterns of interaction that are established over time and often become quite stable. The right loop represents movement forward. These two loops are linked by interaction, day in and day out. Since the left loop can become quite stable it can dramatically affect the right loop, keeping movement forward very similar to what has historically occurred in the left loop.

This is what the quote attributed to Peter Drucker – ‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast’ – was describing. In terms of the interaction model what this means is that with no change in the day to day interactions people have, movement forward will mirror the past. If you want to be strategic, to influence the process of movement forward the focus is on interaction. This places the majority of strategic work firmly in the present, a major difference from the typical way strategy is currently understood.

Interaction Model

You may have noticed that not much is being said about what is often described as the ‘what’ of strategy (the specific course of action a strategy should  lay out for the organization) and how to determine what this specific course of action might be. There are two reasons for this:

  1. The variability of specific plans of action (the what) is enormous and is not the focus of this work. If senior leadership requires specific help then they need to access that appropriately.
  2. Today the static ‘what’ of strategy is much less important than a focus on emergent opportunities.

If we place the majority of strategic work in the present, on our interactions, the importance of mission or day to day intentions becomes clear. What these things become are the filters by which interaction can be passed, every interaction.

You may recall in the last post I noted the three day to day intentions we have in our small organization:

  • Building relationships to create opportunities.
  • Differentiation in the marketplace.
  • We need all of each of us.

With each interaction, with each emergent opportunity we can ask ourselves how these intentions are informing what we choose to do, which one(s) may be more or less important in this situation, and our rationale for these choices.

This is strategy, centered in the present, focused on day to day interactions.

Since context is so important there is neither a final and right answer to how those day to day intentions should play out nor a definitive answer what they mean. This then establishes the bottom arrow in the right loop and the left facing arrowhead in the gesture and response of the interaction model firmly as part of strategy. It is these two parts of the interaction model that typical understanding of strategy eliminates.

With this focus much of the OUCH! in strategy dissipates. Perhaps a better word is that the OUCH! is transformed. It will be transformed often into heated discussion, outright conflict, a need to think through the rationale of our choices using these filters and quite often defend that rationale.

The critical strategic role of senior leadership is to encourage and engage in those interactions. Not just in their direct team but inside and outside the organization; daily!

In essence, strategy IS these interactions.

Reducing OUCH! does not mean everyone is happy and things are wonderful. It does not mean success is guaranteed. What it does mean is that strategy work becomes much more real, interactive and present. It becomes challenging in a very real sense.

Consider what this means for senior leadership, the people considered most responsible for organization strategy. The way strategy is now understood mostly eliminates the interactive nature of strategy for senior leaders as noted in earlier posts. They set the strategy and move to implementation. Any challenge to the strategy or response other than agreement is highly problematic.

Without the constraints of certainty in strategy work, interaction, with all its challenges becomes the norm.

I wonder what that might look like? I wonder what character might look like? I also wonder if we’re so used to the OUCH! in strategy and the benefits it provides that our current patterns of interaction are so established that we’re simply happy to keep things as they are?

Discussion and comment points for this post:

  1. What do you think strategy like this would look like?
  2. In many ways, strategy like this would require higher levels of self management throughout the organization (see this post). Do you think current understanding of strategy has compromised levels of self management?
  3. Could your organization accept an approach to strategy as described above?

 

 

 

Reducing OUCH! in Strategy

20151104_145813We’ve focused on a number of problems associated with the typical way strategy is understood in organizations. Let’s take a look at how we might be able to reduce the OUCH! in organization strategy and we’re going to do that over a couple of posts.

I don’t think there is another area where the belief that power can create certainty is more entrenched than organization strategy. So reducing the OUCH! is a large task at an organization level. And since public perception mirrors how we understand organizations, reducing OUCH! in publicly owned organizations goes beyond the organization itself.

In earlier posts we focused on the creative tension model as the mostly unquestioned way of looking at strategy and how to make it work. Two key aspects of this model are critical in producing OUCH!:

  1. The start point for strategy is far into the future and this future is idealized as vision.
  2. The cause of human behavior is structures or systems.

Quite simply, the more that can be done to alter or eliminate these two aspects, the less OUCH! there will be. This tends to be easier said than done. The patterns of interaction that have created a belief that these two things are a necessary part of strategy are very well entrenched.

Nevertheless everyday in organizations we try and avoid the OUCH! caused by the typical way strategy is understood so what will be suggested in these posts is not so much new, as making more obvious and acceptable what we already do.

To consider what might be done to alter or eliminate the two points above let’s look at what really happens in organizations regarding strategy. After the retreat by senior management to create, or update the strategy for the organization, very typically:

  1. The vision gets forgotten.
  2. Emergent issues are dealt with by patterns of interaction that have been historically established.
  3. Significant projects resulting from the strategy get acted upon through the allocation of considerable resources and become change projects.
  4. Less significant projects resulting from the strategy get allocated to specific people with little resources and often fail or get put aside.

Pretty much, business as usual and even those significant projects coming from point 3 above are often painfully obvious as needing to be done anyway. Business as usual except now we feel guilty about not making something ‘transformational’ happen.

So what’s the big deal with strategy you might ask? Good question.

There IS no big deal with strategy the way it is typically understood and acted upon in organizations today. It simply doesn’t work any better than business as usual. There is no evidence indicating organizations are performing any better than at any other point in time, regardless of the lofty visions or well crafted systems to achieve those visions.

Strategy without OUCH! exists in those four points above. What we now see as problematic actually IS strategy! In those four points above the 2 key aspects regarding how strategy is understood to work are altered or eliminated. It is also in those four points above where influence can be more effectively applied if we take those four points seriously.  Let’s adapt and look at those points and see what strategy might look like, where we might influence and how we can alter or eliminate the concepts of vision, structures and systems.

Forget about vision.

It’s almost hard to believe I typed that! After working with the idea of vision for more than a decade and then putting it aside for now another 15 years I am quite convinced that the idea of vision has very little impact on strategy. At least how vision is typically understood within strategy today.

If you forget about vision you no longer have an idealized future or destination; which is a good thing.  You still need something in addition to those strategic projects to move forward with however. I think two things are effective and I gravitate more to the second one of these:

  1. The mission of the organization.
  2. The day to day ‘intentions’ of the organization.

By mission I mean what the organization is supposed to be doing. The idea of mission has been around for a long time and I think fits well with what strategy meant before being burdened by certainty. If the focus is to be excellent at what the organization is supposed to be doing, the organization will be better positioned to act on emergent opportunities. As well mission is applicable to everyone in the organization.

By day to day intentions I mean the overarching focus of what we do in our day to day interactions. This overarching focus should inform how we move forward and approach our interactions as well as be coherent with success, however defined, and how that success can be influenced. As an example, we have three intentions in our small organization:

  • Building relationships to create opportunities.
  • Differentiation in the marketplace.
  • We need all of each of us.

We do not have a vision or a mission. We assume that by focusing on these three intentions as our interactions play out day to day, we can most effectively influence our success, in terms of how we define success (more on this in other posts). We assume that by focusing on these intentions we have an effective strategy.

What we do is an example, you may do something different. If you are trying to alter or eliminate the idea of an idealized vision and the problems associated with that in strategy, you need to have something that informs how movement forward is influenced, and can be applied, day to day by as many people in the organization as possible.

Whatever ‘it’ is, it needs to be applicable, practical and meaningful to as many people as possible when applied to their day to day interactions. ‘It’ is also a process of movement, something that gets discussed continually as different contexts emerge. There is never a set or final definition, simply further interaction about what ‘it’ might mean in the current context you are dealing with.

And when you really think about it, that’s what we do in organizations now, shortly after the flip charts from the strategy session are rolled up and tucked away. What we don’t do is take that ‘what we do in organizations now’ seriously and try to influence it in a conscious and obvious manner. We assume what is wrapped up in those flip charts will do it for us.

If we can legitimize what we do now, if we can make it more obvious, more intentional, more day to day, a considerable amount of OUCH! disappears from our strategy work. It also gets more challenging; a good trade off I think and what the next post will focus on.

Comment and discussion points for this post:

  1. If the idea of vision was eliminated from organization strategy, what effect do you think it might have?
  2. What strategically informs your day to day interactions?

 

 

Individual Strategy – A Thinking Tool

20151104_145813The last post looked at an individual perspective on strategy with the start point being a focus on excellence. It was mentioned that technique or tools that enhanced this focus were worth accessing, with a caution to be wary of the assumption of certainty being embedded in the use of the technique or tool. This post is about a thinking tool that I have found of value in this area of individual strategy. I tend to gravitate to thinking tools as I find they are of benefit to me across numerous contexts. I can use them all the time! I also like thinking tools that are very simple to remember but carry significant meaning. For me, this ‘tool’; model really, fits these criteria very well. In many ways it has influenced my view of organizations at a very fundamental level and made sense of my own personal experience in organizations. It also acknowledges rational causality (individual choice) universally within the realm of strategy and I think we are in dire need of that acknowledgement.

What typical thinking about strategy establishes, through its focus on formative causality as the cause of human behavior, is that those in power, those that create strategy are the only people whose behavior is caused by rational causality, individual choice. Those in power have the power to choose and then they develop the structures and systems that will cause the rest of us to follow along, basically with no choice.

I see this to be extremely evident now in our almost fanatical focus on leadership, be it in organizations, politics, religion, sport; almost anything. We crave the hero or heroine leader who will light the way for us, to bring us to some version of the promised land through their leadership.

What this does is establish a very clear hierarchy which all of us are very familiar with in organizations:

Manager managee

You can substitute different words such as leader/follower, coach/coachee, teacher/student or others. Since our focus is organizations and strategy we will stick with manager and managee. There is nothing inherently problematic with the dynamic this model depicts. Until it gets overlaid with an assumption of certainty created by those in power through formative causality. When that happens, as it now has, almost unconsciously so, numerous problems surface, the most fundamental being that the managee is thought to exist in a world without individual choice. The person at the top of the model above holds all the power of choice; they are accountable for our performance, our careers, our engagement, our motivation, our compensation, our status, our vision, our success and eventually our perspective.

If you take even a cursory look at what ‘competencies’ exist for managers and leaders today, almost every one of those points noted just above will be included as what they need to ’cause’ in and for their managees. The manager is supposed to create certainty for their managees. If you are at the bottom of the model above you don’t really have to manage much at all, your manager is supposed to manage it all for you!

Subsequently we are seeing less and less self management as we put our faith and trust in the assumption that those in power can create certainty for us.

And the more those in power fail at this (inevitably so) the more OUCH! we feel.

An individual perspective on strategy can alter this. An image Dr. Freedberg used to illustrate self management was:

Self Manager

In this image the Self Manager and the Managee is the same person, with the self manager representing the very real equality that exists in terms of choice in organizations between those with more power than others.

Basically the model represents a dynamic where the manager gestures to the Self Manager, that part of us that critically assesses that gesture and then metaphorically passes this critical assessment and subsequent choices made about that gesture to the Managee who then acts on that choice which would then be a response to the manager.

What Freedberg said was that this model was nothing more than a true picture of the dynamic of interaction between people of differing levels of legitimate power in organizations. Current organization theory and understanding asks us to eliminate the Self Manager, asks us to bury our belief that we have individual choice.

OUCH!

If we use this model, if we take it seriously all those accountabilities noted above are our own. We are ultimately accountable for our performance, our career, our engagement, our motivation, our compensation, our status, our vision, our success and perhaps most importantly our perspective.

Of course others have influence on all of the above, important influence both enabling and constraining but they are not the CAUSE of the above. This is not some romantic or mystical call to ‘reclaim’ our right to choose. It is simply what is! An awful lot of OUCH! is created by trying to deny this ‘what is’, by trying to deny that we have individual choice. And when we do this, the storm of blame guilt and shame continues, of our own causing.

The start point for all of us to consciously and actively engage in this ‘what is’ is with an individual perspective on strategy. Beginning  with a choice to focus on excellence, with a short term focus and to pursue the opportunities that emerge.

In other words to be individually strategic.

Comment and discussion points for this post:

  1. Who do YOU think is accountable for all those things noted above?
  2. If you are a manager of others do you have formal performance objectives / accountabilities for any of the above FOR your managees?
  3. What do you think is the state of self management in your organization?

Strategy – An Individual Perspective

20151104_145813Most of us work within an organizational strategy that we had no involvement in creating. There is nothing wrong with this, it makes sense and most of us are quite happy to contribute to that strategy. It also means we are subject to the impacts of that strategy, good, bad or neutral and we have very little control over that as well. We also have very little control over the strategies of our organization’s competitors, customers, governments and the myriad other things that are part of our organizational experience.

However we do have a fair bit of control over one of the most important things of our organizational experience – ourselves. Ok, that may sound an awful lot like complete rational causality but please just let it ride for now… transformative causality is important here too….

The really good thing with this situation is that we can take an individual perspective on strategy. What is even better is that individual perspective can be much more closely aligned with how strategy was treated and acted upon before it became so severely constrained by certainty. As we have noted in previous posts that approach was:

The start point was excellence, the time frame was quite short and the opportunities were more opportunistic than planned.

Another important point to remind ourselves of is that certainty was not assumed. I cannot overemphasize how important this is at an individual level. It gets us, as individuals out from under this heavy weight of certainty and it is only at an individual level that we have the actual power to make the choice to get out from under this weight.

In order to look a little closer at an individual perspective on strategy let’s split the approach in bold above into its three components:

  1. The start point is excellence
  2. The time frame is quite short
  3. Opportunities are more opportunistic than planned

The start point is excellence.

From an individual perspective strategy starts with excellence. Trying to be the very best we can be at what we do, regardless what that is. It’s pretty simple, personal and individual if we don’t burden the effort with certainty. It’s nothing more than doing our best to become the very best we can be at whatever we do.

Historically this was the start point of strategy, so by choosing to do this we, as individuals are being strategic. It’s also the one thing we can do that we have the most control over that will buffer us against all the normal uncertainty in our organizational experience.

Whatever tools or techniques we may need/want to strive for excellence should be accessed but be cautious that most of those existing techniques or tools will be founded on the idea that power creates certainty and the power you need is located in the tool! If we discard that assumption many techniques and tools have value. More than anything however, this is a choice, an important intention in the interaction model.

Interaction Model

The time frame is quite short.

Strategy is process of movement, it is interactive. If we choose an intention of excellence it feeds back into our interactions which means others are involved in that intention of excellence through our various gestures and responses. This keeps our intention centered in the present, a shorter time frame. We are then creating a pattern of behavior for ourselves (the left loop) that is informed by our intention of excellence. And since we are more focused and serious about our day to day interactions (our gestures and responses) than anything else we are smack dab in the middle of transformative causality.

Opportunities are more opportunistic than planned.

With an intention of excellence seen as a process of movement driven through our day to day interactions opportunities WILL emerge, positive ones, negative ones and neutral ones. That is what transformative causality does. This is strategy at its best I think, the capacity to recognize the opportunities available and then choose which to act on. Interestingly, it is also at the individual level where strategy, understood like this is most possible. It is at an individual level where we can set aside the typical ways of understanding strategy and align it much more closely with our actual experiences.

Keep in mind that the above does not guarantee success, however defined. It does mean we are actively engaging with our day to day interactions and taking them seriously, informed by our intention of excellence. The entire interaction model will be at play, in all its paradoxes. It also means we are doing the one thing, the one thing we have the most control over that helps us accept and who knows, perhaps even thrive in the uncertainty we exist in.

There is much less OUCH!

Above I mentioned the use of tools and techniques to help us focus on an intention of excellence. I’m going to devote the next post to one conceptual, or thinking tool that I have found very valuable in recognizing personal choice (rational causality) into our organizational experience which is so dominated by the assumption of formative causality. Then we will move onto strategy at group and organization levels.

Comment and discussion points for this post:

  1. Much current content on individual strategy mimics the thinking of organizational strategy; set a distant goal and do not waver in your will to achieve it. Do you think this is a good approach to individual strategy?
  2. What is your individual approach to strategy?