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Divided We Fall

Optimize Blog - February 6, 2017 - 0 comments

Celebrating diversity is key to a healthy organization and we don’t just mean in terms of ethnicity, gender etc. We mean celebrating the fact that others have different opinions, perspectives, motivations and viewpoints than our own. Differences in opinions in a trusting environment almost inevitably leads to better decisions because you have considered the problem from multiple angles.
However, dealing with people’s different perspectives is not always easy and we can encounter significant challenges in terms of achieving alignment – perhaps when trying to get everyone on the same page to effectively execute the strategy.
One of the keys to being successful is to try and affect people’s orientations. The best way to accomplish this is to craft a sufficiently compelling vision for the future, so that even those who do not start off with an initial preference for the direction of travel may get on board the train now leaving the station.
The potential success of this option will turn on one critical factor and that is whether people’s orientations are relatively fixed, based on underlying personalities and preferences. You need to understand if they can be persuaded to see the upside of the vision and the strategy.
If you have people whose orientation toward teamwork and time horizon is context-specific (i.e. dependent upon the particular team and strategies being proposed), then there is hope that some process of building commitment to a strategy can successfully forge collective action even from those that were initially unwilling. However, if there is a relatively sizable fixed component in a number of individual’s attitudes, then no strategic planning process can be successful. The choices will either be to abandon the strategy, or to separate from those who do not wish to join us on the journey.
Our experience would demonstrate that the fixed component in many people’s personalities is relatively high. People really do differ as to how they want to live their lives. Lone operators rarely develop a preference for team play, and people who want immediate gratification rarely develop the patience to sacrifice even a portion of today for an uncertain future – especially if they have to make that investment in conjunction with (and be dependent on) others.
In this view, it is not the clarity or the glamour of the vision that affects people’s lack of buy-in to the collective, future oriented strategy, but their willingness to participate in strategy at all. So what can we do? Well, it will be hard, if not impossible, to reconcile differences through pay schemes: it will be hard to change working behaviors based on deep personal preferences through the clever construction of incentive schemes.
People who do not match the basic orientation of the company should either be in or be out of your organization depending upon what it wants to accomplish. Companies must achieve a consistent philosophy by being careful about the kind of people that they bring into their organization.
Initially we must define what it is that we wish to accomplish. Second, we should define what wins and losses are. And finally we should find the players that can help us (and want to) achieve the vision and purpose. This suggests a degree of selectivity when it comes to key players that many organizations fail to achieve.
It is not easy, but it can be done. People will, in fact, choose to accept a well-articulated vision, purpose and philosophy, even if it is not the ideal one that they might have chosen for themselves. The relatively fixed component of people’s collaborative and future-orientation is not completely determinative.
If your organization is prepared to bring the issues of collaboration and future-orientation to the surface, and (through some open process) ask participants to commit themselves explicitly to building the future, then significant degrees of buy-in can be obtained.
One thing that must not happen however is avoidance of the issue, papering over the differences, ignoring the problem, or (worse and most common), complaining all the time that everybody wants different things, and nothing gets done. This does not necessarily lead to disaster (particularly since it is so common). However, it will almost certainly prevent the organization from making any strategic shifts.
It is commonly observed that the biggest problem with developing strategy is implementation. It may be the case that the problem is more profound – that the members of the organization have insufficient commitment to each other – or their mutual future – to pull off any strategy. In a world in which many organizations have been put together with mergers, acquisitions and extensive use of lateral hires, the underlying problem will grow in importance, rather than diminish….

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