How to Lose Your Strategic Thinkers

Paul Oldfield |


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I noted on one of the forums a few weeks ago, one lady commented that she knew her efforts to instil new thinking had been successful when the subjects started claiming her ideas as their own. 

To many of us this is indeed a success; the ways of thinking that we have been trying to instil, often over a period of years, show themselves when the people concerned start thinking in these new ways and coming up with ‘new’ ideas that germinate from the seeds we carefully implant.

This raises several problems, however, when traditional performance measures are applied.

  • The results don’t appear until 2 or 3 years after work starts
  • The people claim the ideas as their own (something we want to happen)
  • We get no recognition for the groundwork that allowed the ideas to germinate

There are two criteria traditionally that make individuals difficult to ‘Manage’; firstly where their expertise is considerably greater than that of their managers, and secondly, where the results they deliver are intangible. Now we may add a third; where the results they produce take several years to bear fruit.

Clearly many “Thought Leaders” fall into all these categories, particularly where their thinking is strategic in nature rather than tactical. As a thought leader, one could “big oneself up” and claim ownership of the ideas, but this is not a good way to succeed in propagating the ideas; what really marks the ‘stickiness’ of the ideas is when those people who we need to apply them claim the ideas as their own.

Deming Point 1
This brings me back to a general observation with respect to Deming’s 14 points; they rarely get quoted in full. Relishing in the sheer novelty, here is Deming’s point 1 in full:

Constancy of purpose: Create constancy of purpose for continual improvement of products and service to society, allocating resources to provide for long range needs rather than only short term profitability, with a plan to become competitive, to stay in business, and to provide jobs.

Many of you will be seeing that bit about “allocating resources for long range needs rather than only short term profitability” for the first time. Leaving that part of the quote out is totally missing the point. Short term profitability matters, but long term profitability matters more.

You need your strategic thinkers, and if as an organisation you think only in the short term you will end up having no strategic thinkers.

What is an Organisation to do?
What type of organisation are you? Is the work you do predominately Simple, Complicated, Complex or Chaotic?

For organisations working in the Simple domains, you can probably ignore the problems; you only need strategic thinking at board level (though it could help elsewhere). Your hierarchy will be adequate, if not very competitive. For Complicated or Complex domains an early solution was found in the Middle-Ages.

The Lord of the Manor didn’t have the skills of the artisans that worked in his towns, but the quality of work was controlled by a Guild who acted among other roles as a steward of the body of knowledge; who were qualified to recognise their own innovators and strategic thinkers. The world no longer had a simple all-encompassing hierarchy. Yet even the guilds suffered from ossification of ideas and could not cope with the degree and pace of change that is needed in Chaotic environments. Here the idea of “recognition” needs to be devolved to the person needing a service; that person is the only one who can make a timely decision.

The “reward” is that the provider’s service gets used.

Here’s a PDF that gives an interesting modern take on “Guilds” as knowledge guarding and growing organisations; within an organisation that works in a ‘Complex, bordering on Chaotic’ domain.

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