Have you ever asked the question 'why we continue to make life so difficult for ourselves'? Even in the face of ever increasing complexity we choose to add fuel to the fire rather than choose to simplify. For instance, at a macro level in organizations many paradoxes prevail: globalization vs. localization; profitability vs. responsibility; cost-cutting vs. investment; short-term vs. long-term; control vs. chaos; competition vs. cooperation; compliance vs. choice; creativity vs. logic; stability vs. change; transparency vs. opaqueness; and diversity vs. meritocracy.
At a micro level, it gets hairier as the boundaries between practice, behaviour and emotions become both intertwined and blurred. For instance - why the persistence of silos? Why inconsistent communications? Why is conflict swept under the carpet? Why the duplication of effort? Why the 'push and pull' between the corporate centre and business centres'? Why do leaders behaviours not mirror the values that they espouse? Should I be bold or be cautious? Should I invest my energy in work or invest my energy in my family?
I don't know about you, but from where I'm standing I need to choose to simplify my life. And, as a huge part of my life is spent in organizations this is my starting point. For me, it begins and ends with strategy. Strategy equals simplicity. It's finding that equilibrium and balance that enables us to focus and align our purpose and objectives with our practice. Say a BIG 'hello' to strategy. Whether it's evolving, emergent, deliberate, analytical, visionary, transformational, reactive, experimental, thoughtful, or a collective process - simplifying organizational life begins and ends with strategy.
So what exactly is strategy? For me strategy is knowing where we are at (point A) and where we need to go (point B) so as to grow and develop. What do we need to do? How do we get there? Who is involved? And when does it happen?
Why is strategy pertinent to leadership and diversity & inclusion (my pet topics)? At the leadership level, leaders have the responsibility for mapping out the direction of the organization. Leaders are the chief architects of their organizations' culture and climate. They are the key connectors to their workforces. They have followers who appreciate being led both artfully and with courage, and it is they who define the future of a diverse, inclusive and sustainable working environment.
At the diversity and inclusion level - diversity itself is a strategic intervention. It is not a bolted-on/"nice-to-do" activity but rather, it is a measurable business objective that adds financial value to the bottom-line. It is building an inclusive culture where all are valued. Further, in addition to employees, it is about influencing and engaging with a wide variety of stakeholders that include customers, suppliers, competitors, regulators, and governments.
This is where strategy transcends into strategic alignment between the organizations overarching strategy and its diversity strategy. Understanding where we are and where we want to be is key. Strategic alignment enables diversity and inclusion to become 'a way of how we do things around here'. And, as with all strategic processes, resources and capabilities must be assigned to serve the diversity agenda as well as, diversity measures put in place to measure contribution and track accountability so that diversity performance is aligned to organizational performance.
So let us translate how diversity and inclusion plays out into the scenarios that we witness on a day-to-day basis in our organizations:
• How often have you heard leaders (who have every good intention) say that they want a balanced workforce by having more women in senior positions then shortly after women have been promoted into a senior position they leave due to an unsupportive culture?
• How often, have you heard leaders cry out for the need for ever-increasing innovative products only to close down creative problem solving and empowered decision making because they do not fall within the boundaries of 'how we do things around here' and/or conflict with bureaucratic structures and processes?
• How often have leaders set in motion a series of new 'ways of working' programme only to abandon efforts because they encroach on others territories or, take too long to embed or, all consuming political behaviours?
• How often have you been a part of a performance system that measures your individual contribution rather than the collective efforts of the team although collaboration is one of the values that the organization purports?
• How often have you seen leaders who are high-performing in their own contexts crumble when they are transferred to a different cultural context?
This leads towards a bug-bear of mine: fragmentation. Organizations have a habit of implementing a variety of random activities, systems and processes that do not cohesively serve the organizations strategy and inevitably lead to fragmented structures, services and deliverables. Strategy helps us to focus on all elements of the system and how they come together to align and achieve the organizations goals. It enables us to think about how one part impacts on the other and ultimately, what the outcomes might be. An integrated strategy that enables focus means that all voices are singing from the same hymn sheet and all feet are dancing to the same tune on the floor. Strategy helps us to put the pieces of the puzzle together to achieve a coherent whole.
Lastly strategy helps us to articulate the behaviours necessary to activate the strategy and motivate our performance. For instance, is the strategy aligned to behaviours that dissect, challenge and interrogate, or is the strategy more aligned to behaviours that engage, facilitate and support? Perhaps executing the strategy calls for a blend of all of these behaviours, and if so, how does the organisation way of being enable the balancing act that is often required?
Do the behaviours that are visible in the culture lead us towards achieving the organisations objectives, serving its purpose, living our values and enhancing our ways of working?
Strategy goes a long way in helping us to focus on what helps rather than hinders. It sets out a roadmap that reduces complexity and leads to simplicity. It establishes a sound, robust and strong foundation that enables engagement with difference, fosters inclusivity, advances sustainability, cultivates community, and respects stakeholder health. Please join me in saying HELLO to strategy.
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