I find myself designing strategic thinking workshops for two organisations one steeped in history and traditions which come to life in artefacts, stories, folklore, the legacies that individuals left behind that still act as beacons to guide people in decisions about what to do and what not to do.
People disappear when they die, like old photographs memory fades in quality over time . Yet for some there is an exception to this process, they continue to exist through their diaries, ledgers, structures, publications. Preserved in time. evident in culture.
The other organisation is nimble, inclusive, and used to navigating unchartered territory. They operate an inverted pyramid model where autonomous teams have control over their work and leaders are focused on supporting them.
As I design, I am acutely aware of the personal impact the new abnormal that covid presents will have upon the Directors of these 2 businesses. I need to find ways to help them to reframe the challenge to develop new mental models, new strategic thinking approaches.
Strategic Thinking or Stinking Thinking?
Those in the traditional company will guided by strong beliefs and values will revert to type. That set of robust unconscious thinking patterns reinforced over time have become mental models – mindsets, biases, and paradigms.
The leadership team will further tighten the reigns to the point of an extreme managed risk approach to planning and implementation. They will fail to collaborate with front line operational staff who have learned to self – censor so as not to upset the status quo. What they may fail to realise is the more we attempt to control and regulate risk, the more exposed and at risk we often are. That’s because the more protected we think we are, the less vigilant we become. Slow decision making, lack of flexibility and the lack of connection between the top of the organisation and the front line will frustrate employees, customers and the supply chain creating risks that the strategy was designed to avoid. Divergent thinking would serve them well and yet would require considerable coaching support to embed.
Company 2 will also revert to type with a change fast, fail fast, approach. This organisation has a history of fast thinking. The fast circuit is a machine for jumping to conclusions when information is limited and right now we have limited experience to call upon. They will fail to frame the problem, they will fail to ask “how could this go horribly wrong”? They will bypass that one essential step in their change fast, fail fast strategy which is “Learn Fast”. Learning from failure is good and anticipating how to fail can be preempted before leaping into action. Convergent thinking would serve this group well.
Mirror Mirror on The Wall
So, as I design for the two organisations I am sensitive to the need to challenge these behaviours. I am reminded of Vineet Nayar and his “Mirror mirror on the wall am I the ugliest of all” approach. How can I create an environment (both online and offline) to appropriately challenge these behaviours. An environment where people feel psychologically safe to acknowledge, explore, and reframe their thinking to develop well thought through adaptive strategies to help navigate the new abnormal.