Archives For Systems Thinking

I wrote recently of how it had occurred to me that it was absolutely critical for academia and business to come together for the greater good of global business and inter-culturism. Oddly enough, as I spoke recently on a global stage, my views were reinforced ten-fold.  As, on this particular occasion, I addressed a global audience of primarily academic and administrative attendees, it rapidly became apparent that they were not too accustomed to hearing from the business sector.  As I made my points and finished by commenting on the need for global business and academia to partner for the betterment of us all, I was greeted with applause and standing ovations. I thought to myself, “How remarkable – we all know we need to work together, yet the mention of actually doing so is a revelation.”

The idea that business and academia would partner to create stronger graduates and leaders seems to be quite novel. Until recently, I had not given it a lot of thought, but I was challenged by a respected colleague  to provide some ideas as to how this could effectively work. Experience has shown me that business struggles to transform leadership and management theory into reality, and academia seems to struggle in the areas of really understanding how to develop, at an experiential level, anything new or innovative that can actually be leveraged to impact business. Here are some of the things I have done personally, and with clients, in the past that could be effective for others moving forward:

  • I have, from a corporate and coaching perspective,  partnered with universities to come on site and teach courses that incorporate solid global management principles and theories, but that are backed up with real-time global client business cases. These cases are pertinent to current business issues the company is facing and current employees are responsible for managing. Employees actually talk to the clients about the cases and potential solutions – this has repeatedly been wonderful for relating theory to experiential practices.
  • Sandwich learning is highly effective  –  I encourage clients to support employees alternating relevant periods of education with professional application.
  • Training in conjunction with Coaching always has a stronger outcome due to the repeated reinforcement and targeted approach. Extended, reinforced methods of educating both leaders and employees facilitates true growth and development in both the individual and teams.
  • At conferences that attempt to bridge the gap between academia and business, I tend to see two types of presentations: 1) purely academic that seem out of touch with business and 2) purely business with no real interest in what academics have to say. Wouldn’t it be interesting to pair an academic professional and a business professional and ask them to partner for a joint session presenting a multifaceted problem with potential for a joint solution? Could we derive some unique, joint perspectives?
  • Create and deploy joint think-tanks with membership split between academia and global business – with the express purpose of deriving joint solutions to move both camps forward. I have in the past run both Technical and Strategic Advisory Councils that had similar, but not expressly the same, missions – they were both based on corporate/client think-tanks instead of academic/business think-tanks…

If we are to evolve meaningfully, we will need to look to Translational Science – we have it in medicine and we need to bring it to global business. Translational science is scientific research that is motivated by the need for practical application. The term is used mainly in the health sciences and refers to things like the discovery of new drugs that directly help improve human health through alternative uses. Thus, translating bench or “lab” science to clinical practice and real people. In essence, the same principle applies to business. We need to translate the research that is done on management and leadership into practical applications that can be effectively deployed. It seems an easy concept, but experience tells me that today, most executives out there can not translate theory into application. As such, they do not apply potentially impactful research findings to their business environment – thus making the valuable research that is done essentially useless in real-world business application.

So you may ask, “how we can apply Translational Science to global business?” While certainly not the all-inclusive answer, I do believe that the five points made above could be a valid start to the process. We have got to find ways to bring academia and business together to leverage the best in both for the betterment of the whole. If we don’t, we will never actually move forward.

You can contact me at Sherilmackey@gmail.com with your thoughts or comments. Check back soon for the next installation of Leadership Across Boundaries & Borders.

Being a great leader is more than just a title – it is hard work.  It requires unprecedented levels of innovation and a commitment to the organization and its constituents, as well as the ability to continually inspire and motivate others to succeed. One key way to achieve ongoing innovation and sustainable results is through the creation of an execution culture.

You, as a leader, have an opportunity to accelerate progress in your organization through the deployment of Rapid Result Initiatives (RRI’s), which can be used to:

  • Increase current performance
  • Strengthen collaboration
  • Facilitate innovation
  • Demonstrate success in the process of executing your long term vision and mission

RRI’s are small, high-leverage, short-term projects that generate immediate impact and measurable results, while tapping into hidden capacity and building momentum to drive large-scale change – usually in 100 days or less.

Exceptional leaders understand they must calculate their steps and fully understand what they have and how to use it most effectively to continually move forward. One very beneficial way to do this is to structure your organization as a portfolio of RRI’s leading to the achievement of ultimate vision. This approach creates the opportunity to pursue strategically critical goals that deliver real impact, while  linking directly to the long term plans and objectives of the organization. Each RRI becomes a vehicle for achievement, learning, and the advancement of long term goals.

The core of Rapid Results Initiatives involves working with your teams to set and achieve small (but aggressive) goals in one or more key areas of performance. From this perspective, teams are compelled to tap into hidden reserves of capacity and energy to get the job done, taking action and testing assumptions to determine how to best achieve the desired objective on a compressed timeline. Through a succession of fast-paced, results focused initiatives, you can make remarkable gains toward major goals and objectives.

Continue Reading…

Last week we discussed working across boundaries and implementing a systems approach. This week, I am continuing the theme with an expansion of what it means to work across boundaries and some suggestions to help you do so successfully.

Working across boundaries means many things to many people… It can mean:

… working across organizational lines

… working across supervisory or leadership levels

… working across functions

… working across corporate entities (partners, resellers, etc.)

…working across customer lines

… working across physical confines

… working across cultural differences

Continue Reading…

Let’s talk about what it means to work Across Boundaries…. because the reality is that it can mean many things to many people.  In my world, working across boundaries is about lateral thinking… really comprehending that you are a single piece of a much larger puzzle and that your piece has a significant impact on the larger whole. It also means having the capacity to move across those boundaries to absorb knowledge from one context or discipline and apply it back into your area of expertise to create a free-flow of information – increasing your knowledge and the potential to “create a better mousetrap”. Think Leonardo DaVinci:

Slide1

Working across boundaries, more than anything else, means working together to solve problems that cannot be solved ~ or easily solved ~ by a single person, department or business unit.  It is critical that you, as a leader, consider (and learn from) the overall system and expect every person across every department to work together to figure out how to improve the overall experience for customers both internally and externally – the rest will naturally follow. The reality (whether you want to acknowledge it or not) is that you are part of a system… a network… an interconnected structure involving many people and multiple linkages.  Without each component part of the whole, there is little to offer the customer… or the market.

Despite the necessity of collaboration,  organizations are complex – engaging across boundaries can present several challenges. Because Networks are inter-organizational, cross-departmental and interpersonal, different stakeholders across that network have differing:

  • Points of view (by default)
  • objectives and missions
  • micro-cultures and perspectives
  • methods of operation – purpose, policies, procedures and systems.
  • financial models (i.e. cost centers versus profit centers)
  • degrees of power
  • challenges/opportunities
  • decision-making capacities
  • Sources of conflict within network and with the customer

Despite the challenges, continually improving organizational performance is what matters and that can only happen with collaboration across both horizontal and vertical boundaries. It is critical for your company to get everyone working together in order to “build that better mousetrap”. We all know how important it is to work effectively across organizational boundaries, however multi-functional, multi-cultural, multi-level teamwork is unnatural. The innate tendency of organizations is to optimize within a business unit or department rather than understanding that every aspect of the company is part of a living system and optimizing for the global customer experience or enterprise acceleration. Too often, the sum of the parts doesn’t create a high-performing whole. Getting people to collaborate and learn from one another across boundaries typically requires a crisis… or aggressive edicts from organizational leadership (which can also backfire if not delivered appropriately).

Suppose for a moment you are the Chief Operations Officer of a multinational company and you want to improve the experience of customers worldwide, while also reducing the cost of overall operations. Who do you need to involve in improving the process?

Product Development creates the product…

Operations produces it…

Sales sells it…

Legal reviews it and creates the contracts…

Implementation Management implements it…

Customer Relations maintains the relationship after the sale…

Finance invoices and tracks financial progress…

BUT the customer will ultimately pay for the product and decide if you are a good partner overall.

In a typical scenario, each department is a separate business with its own objectives, business practices, culture, and information systems.  However, without all the component parts coming together to deliver the product or service, there is nothing to offer the market.  As a leader facilitating people working effectively across boundaries you need to understand, accommodate and help people understand that:

  • Departments and their people have ongoing, critical inter-dependencies that require cross-boundary interactions on a regular basis
  • It is natural that every department or business unit will have both common and competing goals – they must find common ground and “third best ways” of operating for organizational and customer benefit
  • As part of an integrated workplace, your people work in an elastic environment – groups will expand and contract as needed
  • Members need to be both participative and authoritative, depending on the circumstance
  • People need to see both the forest and the trees – understanding the system as a whole is critical, but they also must consider the people and components within the system in order to be successful
  • They must balance advocacy and inquiry, again depending on circumstance

If your organization truly wants to maximize shareholder value (and be around in another 10 years), continually working across boundaries to improve organizational results and the customer experience is the answer – which will drive competitive advantage, revenue and contract viability.

With the inherent challenges  (and opportunities) that come with working across boundaries:

How can you, as a leader,  leverage a multi-functional, multi-level, multi-cultural network of people to optimize overall operations… rather than optimizing each business units objectives?

How can you create an environment that embraces  the objective of cost reduction, while at the same time “thrilling” the customer?

And how do you do this when changes to the system may create winners and losers – internally and externally?

Leonardo da Vinci once said:

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.”

He was right. Taking action is critical to enhancing operations and elevating the customer experience. Every single BU has the capacity to see through “new eyes” and gain new perspective by working within the system, as opposed to working only within its own boundaries. Remember – Arms, Wings, Flying Machines… the possibilities are endless!

Please engage the discussion and let us know how you view working across boundaries.

Stay tuned – we will discuss the answers to these questions!

Have questions or need an expert to help you in your global organization? Contact me at SheriLMackey@gmail.com.