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Nearly every business executive I've worked with knows first hand the daunting challenges of business in the twenty first century: rapid and disruptive change, fleeting opportunities, incomplete information, and an overall sense of uncertainty and disorder.
Under such circumstances, there is a natural desire to fight back by increasing controls, limiting risks and managing the details. The trouble is, it's now clear that the exact opposite is required. What they need is a focussed, fast and flexible organisation.
If you feel overwhelmed, overladered and overworked, you're not alone. Increasing options and information may seem like advantages but because they have become almost unlimited they are paralysing, lead to feelings of organisational powerlessness, anxiety, stress and even anger.
The one thing all managers agree ... there's not enough time. Attention is our scarcest resource. The only solution is to use time differently. The organisations that find ways to bring space, time, calmness and order to their staff and customers will be the big winners in the future.
When I talk about focussed, I mean doing less of what doesn't matter and doing more of what does matter. Focus simplifies. It clarifies. It eliminates all the conflicting priorities and allows everyone to cut through the confusion and achieve the essence. Focus helps individuals become far more effective, but its true power is when everyone is focussed and clear about the same results and strategies to achieve them. Just imagine for a minute the energy this creates. The analogy I like to talk about is the picture on the front of the jigsaw puzzle. It's easier to do the puzzle if you've seen the picture first. And you can see how your piece fits into the whole.
The very definition of strategy is to be strongest at the decisive point. To know what matters and to put your horsepower at this point. The first law of strategy says, if you build your business around achieving the big strategies first, then there will be time for all the other things that have to happen. But if you don't, no matter how hard you work, you won't be successful. I am often asked to review strategic plans and the first thing I look for is how many strategies they plan to implement. If they have more than four strategies I can almost guarantee they don't know what matters and will not succeed in implementing them. For the Strategic Plans I facilitate I aim for a one page summary including the Environment, the Vision, the Business Model and the Strategies.
There's too much to do and not enough time to do it. When I talk about "fast" I don't mean blindly working faster or harder, indeed I mean exactly the opposite. slow down, think, agree on direction and what matters then align all the organisation (processes structures, technology, rewards, measures, management methods, culture andpersonal beliefs) around achieving it. According to a major study by Bill Jensen (see www.simplerwork.com) this lack of integration is the largest single cause of complexity and slowness.
When thinking about speed it's very important to think at the system level (how to make the whole system work faster) not the pieces. For example, it's nearly always a good thing when the organisation delivers service faster to its customers; but it's often counter-productive to make a person or a machine work faster without recognising how that impacts on the flow through the bigger system. Holding meetings standing up may produce faster meetings but it may not lead to wiser solutions, better ideas or more trusting relationships.
According to Alvin Toffler, since the end of World War 2 the world has been split into Capitalist and Communist, North and South. However today these old divisions no longer matter nearly as much as a new division: Fast and Slow. He says that historically power has always moved from the slow to the fast whether it was in species, nations or organisations. When it comes to speed, it's not the absolute speed that's important, rather success depends on relative speed. We need to move quicker than the market, thereby forcing our competitors into a constant state of reaction. Eventually they will fall increasingly behind and be overcome by events.
Flexibility is partly about maintaining options for the future. An organisation with many options open to the future is a healthier and more flexible organisation than one that has closed off its options.
Flexibility is also the ability to move resources (people, time and money) around quickly and easily. As Muhammad Ali said: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee."
But there is a deeper and more subtle level of flexibility. It sounds weird but in todays fast moving environment more structure leads to less order and less structure leads to more order. This position is now totally accepted by nearly all scientists. The trouble is, as managers we have been reading the wrong books. To work with reduced structure and fewer controls, we need more leadership (to help build a sense of identity, relationships, information, meaning and self worth) and three simple rules built into every single person (see previous Snippet on this). People become flexible when they understand where they are going and how they can contribute to getting there. Instead of controlling the organisation in the traditional way (which science says is impossible to achieve anyway), a different kind of control is needed ... Ease off the Rule Book, unblock your structures and processes, free up grass-roots workers, increase empowerment, reduce levels, allow people to take ownership, focus on values and principles, spend time building relationships, develop P.A.L.s (partnerships, alliances and linkages) both inside and outside the organisation ... rather than over-managing.
Several managers have said to me, it sounds good in theory but it's too risky in practice. History will show, the risk is in being rigid and slow, whether it's the USSR or Andersons.
So how do you become focussed, fast and flexible? This is the hard bit and it's where I can help. Give me a call on 0800 4 virtual.
Helps large organisations be focussed, fast and flexible. Places where people have more meaning, depth and connection.
Expert in Strategy, Structure, Culture and Leadership Development.
One of NZs most experienced change agents.