That is the question I found myself asking. I was reading the Pulitzer Prize winning author, James MacGregor Burns’ book “Leadership” when I came across this statement; “… leadership of reform movements must be among the most exacting.” (Interestingly, reform leadership would appear to be even more demanding than revolutionary leadership – but that is a whole different topic!) However, it was as I read on and came across the statement, “… reform leaders must deal with endless divisions within their own ranks” that my brain kicked into overdrive.
Silo-thinking: even if unfamiliar with the term, you are likely familiar with its effects. That’s because the root of silo-thinking is differentiation and distinction. And this has consequences – conscious and unconscious.
You define any activity, role or responsibility according to predefined criteria, which may be shaped by the person, their applied skills and training or the way in which they create, use or adapt a system to carry out their assigned tasks. This is all well and good; only all too often we tend to identify ourselves by our roles and what we do. Even Aristotle (384-322 BCE) recognised this, as he is reputed to have said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” As result we, personally or collectively, tend to become:
- Protective and – clinging to the adage that “knowledge is power” – erect barriers to ensure that we maximise the perceived value of what we offer, and thereby our status; and/or
- Self-absorbed or unduly focused and single-minded, and thus uncooperative.
Collectively this may be at the individual business unit, functional or even divisional business unit rather than at the enterprise level. But when it occurs at the collective level – and is recognised – it is identified it as ‘silo-thinking.’ That’s when you start to take steps to remedy it. Unfortunately, even when you do, you may not realise how pervasive and pernicious it is.
VUCA is an acronym increasingly widely used to describe the operating climate you, like most organizations, face today: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. This environment makes much of what you have learned about management obsolete and demands a new operating paradigm. A bazooka, as you may know, is a portable, electrically fired, rocket launcher for launching a projectile against tank armour.
The headline is a parody of a UK television advertisement for a brand of medical gel used to treat warts that calls for you to “Bazuka™ that Verruca!” By making a pun out of their brand name, the advertisers are attempting to convince you that their product will quickly and effectively exterminate your problem. VUCA is not so one-dimensional. Yet, while retaining the onomatopoeia and, hopefully, some sense of that imperative, my headline aims, rather, to alert you to the fact that you can still ‘blow up’ VUCA.
An article from Chief Executive magazine Can you do VUCA? 5 Key Strategies for Success offers a good starting point. It not only explains VUCA and its ramifications but also clearly spells out proven, useful strategies for “doing” it. These, however, will only take you so far. They are only strategies and, as you know only too well, there is a big difference between developing a strategy and implementing it. I am offering you something that will significantly strengthen your implementation arsenal.
Synergy. That is a word that may not seem to be as popular or prolific as it once was. Yet that doesn’t make it any less relevant. Like any leader, you are likely facing the imperative to improve productivity and performance and do more with less. (It may be a new year but that does not mean your challenges are all new!) And, what is performance improvement but a quest for greater synergy?
Empowerment is another widely used term. One that hasn’t lost its popularity to the same extent, perhaps because of its promise. The difference is that synergy is an outcome – something you have to work hard to achieve – while empowerment is held up to be the magic formula for creating synergy. So, how successful have your empowerment initiatives been?
If they have not delivered, or even come close to delivering, the results you were expecting or had hoped for, let me share a few ideas that might resurrect your hopes, re-inspire your efforts and reinvigorate your results.
I suspect that if you were to do so, you will find the question more difficult than it seems. The term “strategy-execution” implies that:
- Strategy has two distinct parts – planning and execution; and
- Execution can be more difficult than planning.
This makes strategy a journey and not a destination. More significantly, though, it is not a journey you control. And that is why you will find a continuing focus on controls counter-productive. Just as insisting on adherence to a particular, pre-planned route can result in reaching your destination long after you needed to be there, when finding alternative routes would have enabled you to by-pass problems and delays and arrive in time.
Change is a fact of life. It is also a major factor in it. Increasingly so. Both the amount of change and the faster pace of change are widely acknowledged. No doubt you feel it yourself. Just imagine what somebody who died only 40-50 years ago would think if they were to come back today (as I sometimes do with my father.) And, in his book “Leading Change”, John Kotter claims that this is not going to slow down soon, but rather speed up! This makes the future daunting.
Change is supposed to make life easier. Unfortunately that isn’t always the case, especially initially. It takes time to familiarise yourself with, and adapt to, the new; let alone master it. So when change comes fast and furious, proficiency becomes elusive and mastery next to impossible. This is discouraging, demotivating and stressful. It is no wonder so many change initiatives are unsuccessful.
More frightening, however, is that the sheer volume of change makes it seem highly unlikely the proportion of successful change will improve. (The fact that this sad statistic hasn’t changed in decades, despite greater focus on change management, seems to support this prognosis.) Yet there is a way you can beat the odds. The answer is actually implied in “Leading Change,” but – ironically – has not been fully understood or applied.
“Management is not leadership.” Those bald words are from John Kotter’s 2012 updated preface to his 1996 book “Leading Change.” He makes the statement to highlight the theme of the second chapter. Yet the whole sentence reads, “The simple insight that management is not leadership is better understood today, but not nearly as well as needed.” This begs the question, “Why not?”
That question may be easier to ask than answer. After all, “Leading Change” is a worldwide best seller. A book that, in 2011, Time Magazine described as one of the top 25 most influential business management books of all time. Yet, despite its seminal significance and this ostensible influence, it seems that its lessons have not been learned.
But Kotter himself says, “That does not mean executives have learned nothing in the past few decades. They have. But the challenges have been growing as fast, or faster, than their skills.” I wonder.
There has been a quiet revolution over the past decade or two. I am referring to the shift from “Customer Service” to “Customer Experience.” This shift has been so subtle and unheralded that it has been more evolution than revolution. Yet you cannot doubt that it has taken place.
Only today, I received an invitation to attend “Customer Experience World”, the national customer experience conference. Here, apparently, I can join CXO’s (Customer Experience Officers) and others to listen to a keynote speaker talk about “The importance of customer experience design in an ever-changing Omnichannel world, and the common pitfalls businesses make.”
You cannot help wondering what management lessons need to be learned from the Grenfell Tower Fire disaster. Undoubtedly the Inquiry will highlight many. Yet it appears that there also plenty to be learned from the post-fire management.
It seems that every day a fresh incident raises somebody’s ire, and outrage and fury abound as those dealing with the consequences are portrayed as callous, unfeeling or bungling incompetents. In all likelihood some of the criticism is justified, but there seems to no allowance for the unprecedented nature of the catastrophe. For example, is it really realistic to expect all victims to be in permanent new homes just three weeks after the fire?
Goodness knows, identifying and acquiring a new home is difficult for most of us at the best of times. It certainly isn’t something that we normally do in a matter of days. So, why would we expect these poor people to be any different, especially given the difficulty of finding homes in London? So, would you or I do better if we were responsible for dealing with the aftermath of this tragedy?
If you think about it, no organisational failure of any magnitude can come as a surprise. Someone, somewhere, was aware that things were not right. Yet those people either did not say anything or their concerns were ignored.
For instance, remember the Deepwater Horizon disaster? There concerns about the equipment had been raised, but simply ignored by management. Now we have another example.