I came across a very funny story as I was reading Gervase Bushe’s new book “Clear leadership“. He says his student’s told him about it and is unable to cite the author. Never mind this story is worth telling. It’s called the plan…..
In the beginning there was the plan and then came the assumptions, and the assumptions were without form, and the plan was completely without substance, and darkness fell upon the faces of the workers. And they spake unto their supervisors, saying: “The plan is a crock of sh*t and it stinketh.”
And the supervisors went unto their department heads, and said: “It is a pail of dung, and none may abide the odor thereof.”
And the department heads, went unto their group managers, and said unto them, “It is a container of excrement, and it is very strong, such that none can abide it.”
And the group managers went before their general manager, and said unto him, “It is a vessel of fertilizer and none may abide its strength.”
And the general manager went before the vice-presidents and said “It promoteth growth and is very powerful.”
And the vice-presidents went to the CEO and said unto him: “This powerful new plan will actively promote the growth of this company and all its business units.”
And the CEO looked at plan, saw that it was good, and the plan became policy.
Why do I share this story with you? Here is a question worth pondering. Do you know what your company’s strategy is? If you do, do you really understand it and the role you play in adding value to the “plan?” If you are a manager and find yourself in this situation be scared. Your ability to lead and drive the necessary changes are pretty limited. Even worse your employees are probably more confused about the strategy then you are. In organizations with seemingly endless appetites for re-orgs employees get cynical quickly about another change effort doomed to fall short of the promises of management when they don’t understand the context behind the changes.
Another interesting dynamic I often see is the parallel universes and perspectives of people at various levels of the organizations when discussing change efforts. For example, at work I believe we have made important strides in becoming a more agile organization which is critical to our future success. In a few years time I think we could become the leading innovators of Agile at Sage. I was surprised and disappointed when a couple of valued employees advised they were pretty skeptical about the benefits of agile on Friday. From their perspective the benefits we had promoted as part of our agile transition were far outweighed by the greater overhead, coördination and confusion that goes with more delegation to employees unclear about their roles in this new world. As managers we are eager to promote the win’s without speaking candidly enough about the many challenges that our employees experience as well when we meet as a team. We need to be positive about the future but realistic about the present. Employees must feel safe to raise their concerns publicly without feeling they are undermining management. That said employees should not publicly undermine management either! This can be done, they are not mutually exclusive objectives.
I came across a very interesting group recently called RLG International. This consulting company based out of Vancouver focuses specifically on connecting company’s from top to bottom, aligning strategy at all levels of the organization and helping employees see how their performance matters to the organization. Their methodology reminds me of many of the core principles of agile development with a focus on operational rhythm, improved visibility, communication and relevant metrics. As Patrick Lencioni reminds us in the Three signs of a miserable job employees will only ever feel fulfilled in their work if they believe their efforts really make a difference to their organizations, they feel valued and there are realistic metrics to quantify and evaluate their contribution. Apparently RLG grew 20% in the midst of the brutal recession last year which is an impressive achievement. Although it seems like they operate in a niche market I believe this is becoming a greater issue for organizations as we struggle to survive and thrive in these turbulent times.
If your organization is unlikely to hire an organization to help communicate your company’s strategy what’s the number one thing you and I can do to address this pressing organizational problem? Be curious! Ask questions. Be constructive but highlight the discrepancies and have some solutions to offer to move the situation forward. If you do have a solid understanding of your organization’s strategy be sure to share your wisdom with your colleagues. Context is huge in helping people succeed with change.
As always, if anyone has any comments I’d love to hear from you.