Archives For Systems Thinking

Just as it is important for passengers to “Mind The Gap” to prevent injury, it is equally important for organizations to “Mind The Gap” so they do not fall into the traps that will keep them from moving forward – corporate culture in a global organization is extremely complex and fraught with many potential chasms. It is very interesting that people think differently, have different concepts of time, space, work, etc. – however, if we are not careful to appreciate and value the contributions and knowledge that people bring, it is easy fall onto the tracks dead center of an oncoming train! This may cause waning business results, the degradation of important relationships, the sacrifice of your own success, and ultimately – almost certain death! Because globalization continues to gather momentum, the interactions between people from differing geographies and cultures is frequent, and intensifies the complexities of organizational interactions. The more borders a company crosses, the greater the potential for misunderstanding and conflict amongst stakeholders, but also inherent is the potential for unimaginable reward. To succeed across both boundaries & borders, it is essential to break through the barriers of organizational culture and rigid patterns of thinking.

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This week, I am going back a bit to dive deeper into strategy – actually, the execution of strategy – because I was reminded, yet again, of how much time and effort companies spend in developing and refining corporate strategies. Most often, only to find themselves overwhelmed while struggling to translate strategy into an effective operational plan that will facilitate long-term success.

Frequently, organizations strain even more when it comes to prioritizing and executing these plans. I have lost count of the number of executives I have spoken with that firmly believed they had winning strategies, yet those strategies never delivered the game-changing results that the leadership team thought they would. Failure to deliver on strategy is a pervasive problem in business today – studies consistently show that 60 to 80 percent of companies fail to successfully implement and secure the success they anticipated in their strategic plans. The ability of a company to effectively execute strategy and achieve long-term adoption remains sporadic, at best. The fact remains – there is an enormous gap between strategy and execution.

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I was in a meeting with a senior executive recently, when he shared his concern that the processes and approaches the company is using to develop the corporate strategy may not take the business forward as planned, but backward. As we discussed his challenges, there were some key gaps that the organization was likely to fall into that could easily be avoided with a strong planning process. So, here are a few of the more prominent reasons organizations fall into the strategic planning gap…How many of these are evident in your business?

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Mind The Gap

August 9, 2022 — Leave a comment

The phrase “Mind The Gap” was introduced in 1969 by the London Underground to warn passengers of the gap that exists between the train door and the station platform.  Today, it is used as a warning by transit systems worldwide. Just as it is important for passengers to “Mind The Gap” to prevent injury, it is equally important for organizations to “Mind The Gap” so they do not fall into the traps that will keep them from moving forward. Specifically, organizational culture in a global organization is extremely complex and fraught with many potential chasms.

It’s interesting that people think differently, having different concepts of time, space, work, etc., however it is critical to do more than simply notice differences. If we’re not careful to appreciate and value those differences and the contributions that diverse people bring, it is easy fall right into that gap! This may result in waning business results, the degradation of important relationships, the sacrifice of your own success, and ultimately – grave injury… or even death!

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Who’s The Barbarian?

November 2, 2021 — Leave a comment

Both the ancient Romans and Greeks called all foreigners “Barbarians”. The North Africans call their mountain people “Berbers”, Arabic for Barbar. The Europeans, until the late 19th century, called everything in North Africa “Barbaria”. The word “barbarian” refers to the uncultured, or those with unrefined communication skills – both explicit and implicit. The way we express ourselves is predetermined by our differing cultures (even if we often do speak the same language).

How we communicate ultimately determines how we are viewed as global leaders. Damaging miscommunications can (and do) happen frequently when working across cultures, but they can be avoided if we apply some cultural intelligence to our diverse interactions – in particular understanding the differences between high and low context communications and leveraging both for personal and organizational gain.

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As we begin to explore and understand how cultural orientations affect our assumptions and perspectives, it is important to understand what a cultural orientation is and how it affects worldviews. Everyone has specific orientations, or ways of perceiving the world around them, primarily derived from our cultural background and the way we were raised.  These orientations, or world-views, combine to determine who we are and how we see the world around us. From that basis, we will begin to look at several layers of cultural orientation that specifically affect the way people view the world and the assumptions that are placed on interpretations in communication.

If we can leverage orientations to better understand our own perceptions, as well as help us to understand the complex network of cultures surrounding us in our work and in our lives, we can then begin to leverage cultural orientations as a communication tool for discovering creative solutions to problems – increasing the human potential of everyone involved, from every culture, and achieving success on a journey toward high performance and fulfillment that will far exceed everyone’s expectations. Let’s get started with the first set of cultural orientations…Power/Responsibility.

There are three critical elements to establishing how an individual or group may view where they, themselves, as well as others, belong on the Power/Responsibility continuum:

1) Humility: People should accept inevitable natural limitations and are not in control

2) Harmony: People should strive for balance with nature, having a clear understanding of what one can control and what one can not control… or

3) Control: People have determinant power and responsibility to forge the life they want, and are in complete control of every aspect of life

Humility recognizes that most things are out of our control. Success is viewed as a combination of effort and good fortune, but is never of one’s own doing. Humility teaches us to gracefully accept our limitations, however humility becomes ineffective when it leads to passive acceptance of fate and prevents individuals from taking proactive steps toward positive change. It can lead to self-fulfilling prophecies perpetuating the status quo and causing missed opportunities. On the other hand, humility can teach wisdom: we can learn to accept what life has for us (gratefully or with a grain of salt), relieving us of the burdens of feeling responsible for what happens –  everything is beyond our control.

Harmony is the center-point of the continuum between Humility and Control, and is all about balance – knowing when to act and when to let go; maintaining balance between opposite forces. Those who strive for harmony tend to create an atmosphere of consideration and mutual respect.  There is a clear sense of when to take control and when to fall back and accepts that there are limitations. This approach fosters an atmosphere of unity and collaborative processes that lead to global success. The leader who knows when to listen, when to act, and when to withdraw can achieve anything.

Control-oriented individuals feel they are in charge of their own destiny – a belief in man’s will over nature, relationships, and happiness, as well as academic or business success. The positive side of control is that it often leads to productivity and strong self-fulfilling prophecies – one can achieve anything one puts his/her mind to.  It exudes a sense of optimism and an ability to attain extraordinary goals. The ugly side of control is arrogance and the potential for guilt and frustration when things do not happen as planned. After all, if you believe you are in complete control, it is also your fault when success is eluded. In addition, it is a high-risk proposition to try and control your environment and relationships – you may find in others an unwillingness to comply that ultimately impedes your goals, and thus your success.

Now, imagine the difference if you could begin to leverage the richness in each orientation, while being aware of, and watching for their downsides amongst your diverse global counterparts. If you understand that your own sense of Power/Responsibility may lie toward the control orientation on the continuum (for example), but you need to successfully establish annual goals with your staff in Asia, which are likely to lean more toward a humility driven orientation, how might you shift your approach to communicate in a way that may result in better cultural understanding and buy-in? If you need to change a process, how might you leverage your knowledge of Power/Responsibility and the associated orientations to alter your communications between geographies to facilitate excitement and buy-in to change across various regions? Your understanding and use of cultural orientations communicates a sensitivity that will facilitate faster, more effective results in a fraction of the time that a “one size fits all” communication approach can ever hope to achieve.

If leveraged correctly, this concept will allow you to discover new options, shift perspectives, and quite possibly, to leverage differing orientations as you move between and amongst different geographical locations and cultural orientations. My theory…Acting Local is Acting Global.

As a global leader, how will you balance differing cultural orientations across your diverse organization?

For the next several weeks, I will be discussing specific cultural orientations that will facilitate successful communications and business results across cultures.  You can contact me at sherilmackey@gmail.com. Check back next week for the second in a multi-tiered discussion on understanding cultural orientations for successful communication Across Boundaries & Borders, Time Management Orientations.