The challenge of disconnected Plans.
In a previous series of blog posts, I described what I’ve come to call a ‘human organisation’. ‘Human organisations’ engage customers in the development of new products and services, unlock staff from being fragmented across their organisation, and diffuse the intense pressure that executives are often forced to handle. In short, they make the experience more human for everyone involved.
I see three main barriers to an organisation becoming more human; and in this blog series I’m going back in history to explore how these barriers came to be.
The first of these barriers: disconnected plans.
It is taken for granted in the majority of modern organisations that there are senior leaders who make the plans, and those in lower levels who execute them. Formalised lines of responsibility and accountability ensure the people working in the business stay aligned with the plans of the business.
One way of understanding the dynamics of this approach to planning is to go back to the Ancient Greeks, who formed the key ideas behind modern organisational planning. In particular, Plato, one of the biggest contributors to the development of modern western thought.
Plato considered the world as a shadow of what it could (and should) be. He formulated the model of an ‘ideal world’ in which things are perfect, making the world in which we live just a degraded version of that. This model of thinking inadvertently cemented power in the hands of those who could most pursuasively conceptualise this perfect world, which tended to be the elite of society. Those in senior positions in society would create the picture of the world as it “should be”, and those in lower positions contribute to the world developing into this perfect picture. In the modern organisation this dynamic is still seen in the setting of strategy (the world as it should be), and execution (working to make it become so).
The problem with this model of the world is that it isn’t actually true.
Organisations today battle with the constant tension of plans not working when they try to execute them. The reality is that those is senior positions making the plans just can’t know everything that is happening on the front lines, let alone what is changing with customers, to inform their planning. One way to overcome this is by connecting the different layers of an organisation in the development of plans, and keeping plans “live” so they interact with (and can be informed by) reality.
Plans are only as good as the relationship they have with the people they effect. The future is inside the people you serve. It’s not best discovered in offices behind closed doors, but out with customers and being surprised by who they are and what they need.
There are multiple ways of setting up the processes of staying close to customers, and engaging the entire organisation in testing new business ideas with them. Disciplines including engineering, management, marketing are all working on this challenge. My experience is in the field of design.
Design is the process of ‘creating with those you serve’. It involves methods of developing empathy to find real problems, and quickly prototyping to find the best solutions. Activities that change the way plans are made and executed. The key is that they are all relational methods, making products, services and systems with the people that are going to be using them.
Whatever the approach, the important point is addressing the problem of disconnected plans. If organisations are to become more responsive to the needs of the customers they serve, and more engaging to those that work in them everyday, they need to involve the entire hierarchy in making plans.
For organisations that address the problem of disconnected plans, not only will their plans and strategy be more executable, but also more effective in the real world of changing industries and markets.
In my next post I’m going to explore another of the main barriers I see to an organisation becoming more human: specialisation. We’ll again go back in history to explore why we divide up human talent, and how we can reintegrate those who come to work for us everyday, and make their experience of our organisation more human.