Here we examine some of the ways in which managers can adopt a more systems thinking-led approach to illuminate new solutions to old problems. This is core to the effectiveness of The Strategy Pitstop™ process.
Our innate tendency as human beings, to simplify things, is at the root of this problem. The antidote is what is called ‘Systems Thinking’ – an approach that is aimed at enabling managers to identify more sophisticated and ultimately more successful solutions to the challenges of accelerating and sustaining growth.
Getting an accurate fix on the situation requires understanding the myriad of factors that shape success. It requires a systems thinking mindset.
The warning is that as managers (and indeed as humans generally) the way we are thought to think about things is flawed. In particular we see things in a simplified linear fashion and speedily jump to conclusions as a result. That is a problem because we are living in an increasingly complex world. It is what the military planners refer to as a VUCA world.
The answer to increased volatility, unpredictability, complexity and ambiguity is not greater control and certainty. Rather it is greater agility, faster learning and accelerated innovation.
The danger is that as we try to over-simplify the dynamic complexity of our business and its environment, we risk being caught off guard. The first step for managers is to embrace or accept complexity. That makes adapting easier. It also reduces the stress of feeling the need to know or control everything.
In the mist of complexity seeing the ‘big picture’ or pattern view can be challenge for busy managers.
A byword for complexity is unpredictability. So too is the challenge of separating the web of causes and effects.
In complex situations causes are effects and effects are also causes. For example when it comes to really understanding the results from last quarter, or from a project or a person it is really complex. The old ‘A caused B’ analysis is no longer enough.
Before providing answers managers need to better understand the opportunity or challenge. In particular they need to look out for linkages, inter-dependencies, relationships & connections – this is the modern day equivalent of cause and effect. This is key to spotting opportunities or challenges before competitors do.
The secret to uncovering the linkages and connections that others overlook is to engage multiple perspectives from inside and outside the organization. It is also to engage with different options or alternatives (or what strategists call scenarios) before making a decision.
The solutions to complex problems are unlikely to come from one person, one perspective or even one function. That presents a challenge for today’s hierarchical organizations with functional silos.
To engage with complexity means to be open to more questions, more learning, more experimentation, more opportunities (as well as challenges) and more change. It means settling for less than 100% certainty and being prepared to experiment, learn and adapt without it. In facing growth opportunities or challenges managers must be prepared to admit that they are wrong and to be more open-minded and indeed curious.
Managers often feel under pressure to have all the answers. But that can be dangerous. They should not be under pressure to find the easy answer.
The Pit-Stop process engages multiple perspectives, highlights linkages/ relationships and most importantly provides a process (the 13 week race) for taking action and learning fast – this is the means of arriving at the right answer / the right strategy.
Systems thinkers don’t point fingers. The are less likely to be heard blaming others – they accept greater responsibility for what is happening within their organizations and feel more empowered to affect change not just in their immediate team, but the larger organization. They work within the system, while at the same time actively working on the systems.
Sometimes managers must develop the resilience of those in the system, particular where the system (or aspects of it) have the potential to eat away at individual motivation or potential.
The manager’s job is to ensure that people do not feel helpless prisoners of the system they work in. It is to empower them to work more effectively not just in, but also on the system. That is a fundamental underlying principle of the Pit-Stop process.