Friday, 1 May 2015

Creative tensions?

I am currently working with a number of senior teams who are developing their strategies. This is always fascinating work, not least because of the balancing act that is so often required..

On the one hand, planning is clearly essential; but on the other hand, 'if you want to make the gods laugh, tell them your plans.' (Incidentally, is that really Woody Allen (and just a singular God)? - I'd always heard it as 'gods' and assumed it was a Greek quotation...)

There are several other tensions I observe and try to help people find a way through. For example, subsidiarity versus standardisation. On the one hand, there are many merits to making decisions at the local level wherever possible: people on the spot know what will really work, and will be more committed to making decisions work when they have been part of them. Yet there are also cogent arguments for standardisation - to reduce risks, manage costs, and ensure equitable treatment of staff.

A related, though distinct, tension is that between innovation and risk, on the one hand, and quality and consistency on the other. Most organisations I work with want to be both innovative and committed to quality; and indeed set some people off on one path, to develop new ideas, whilst giving others the mandate to ensure that quality standards are observed. Then they wonder why these people irritate each other so much...

Just listen to any conversation between a procurement professional and a first line manager to see what I mean here.  This is also related to the issues of a patriarchal versus entrepreneurial culture, about which I blogged here (and in a couple of follow up posts, here and here).

And then there is the strategic versus opportunistic argument. When do we ignore the stuff that arises, and commit our energy and resources only to those priorities identified in our strategic plan, and when would it be reckless to ignore opportunities that arise unforeseen?

And there is another one related to decision making: collective versus individual. When is it better to treat the team as a collective body which reaches a decision by consensus, and to which all team members commit (cabinet responsibility), and when is it best for the decision to be owned by an individual, with team members acting as advisors?

There are no right answers to these questions for all organisations in all circumstances; indeed the answers both depend on and start to define the organisational culture. But in my experience, addressing these questions explicitly as part of the planning process is very valuable. Then the strategic team can reach an explicit understanding, which may be temporary and subject to review, but which by virtue of being explicit is both understood and discussable.

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