I strongly believe in whole systems approaches; that is when there is a problem in an organisation the solution is to fix the WHOLE organisation, not just a part of it. But you need to start somewhere, so in this five part series exploring the concepts of Strategic Space we’re going to start at the top.
A common challenge is finding strategic space at the senior level.
The role of the top tier of an organisation is to set direction and articulate vision. The senior leadership should be focussed on the future, identify opportunities and working to overcome obstacles. But too often those at the top get distracted and embroiled in the ‘Now’.
Five symptoms of Strategic Overload:
If you recognise the symptoms below the, chances are those in leadership in your organisation have been seduced by the cult of busyness and need to find some strategic space:
- Front line staff feel demotivated and micromanaged;
- The organisation is slow to react to crisis, change or new opportunities;
- Middle management find it hard to communicate difficult messages to the top;
- Senior leaders feel overloaded, and under pressure; and
- The whole system is focussed on ‘fire-fighting’ immediate problems, long term planning has been lost or neglected.
The good news is that there is a way to unpick these pressures and to find strategic space. Read on to find out how (and then forward this e-mail to anyone still suffering!)
Five Steps to better Strategic Health:
1. Start by making simple changes to resist the pull of the now. For example Phones should be off during board meetings. Take a robust approach to time allocation in the diary; without effort the ‘now’ always wins, so planning, research, reflection and thinking time should all be scheduled in and jealously guarded. How about planning a genuine away day, where you can undertake valuable reflection and productive planning free from the stress on the ‘Now’.
2. Look ahead, think big! The majority of time in the Strategic level should be spent on considering the future, looking for opportunities, considering risks, setting direction and articulating vision. Clear, jargon free, communication is key to ensure that messages are transmitted throughout the organisation. Consider using narrative communication and scenario planning tools.
3. Front line delivery issues should be resolved on the front line and with the support of middle management. If you are a senior leader, try to resist the urge to get involved yourself on the frontline; if you must, always engage and involve someone from the middle. The middle needs to be encouraged and empowered. Clear job roles and training in skills such as negotiation, communication and briefing should be in place for newly promoted managers. Systems and process should be in place to enable swift and accurate communication across the organisation. Consider learning from Private Office or Staff Office models.
4. Ask for help… Individuals in the Senior level should always be able to draw support and resources from outside the organisation. Coaching, networking, or virtual board set ups can add real value by widening the perspective of those at the top.
5. Beware of being forced to take false binary decisions under pressure. With time and consideration, there is often a better third way or synthesised solution to be found. Again, good middle managers should be able to process and present information in a way that offers better options for senior leaders. Perhaps they might benefit from structured Policy Development or Options Generation training?