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By The Numbers

Workplace Survey, Findings

1.Workers are struggling to work effectively. 

When focus is compromised in pursuit of Collaboration, neither works well.

2. Effective workplaces balance focus and collaboration. 

Workplaces designed to enable collaboration without sacrificing employees’ ability to focus are more successful.

3. Choice drives performance and innovation. 

Employers who provide a spectrum of choices for when and where to work are seen as more innovative and have higher-performing employees.

 

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WHY ORGANIZATIONS NEED ADAPTIVE STRATEGIES RATHER THAN STRATEGIC PLANS

Strategy concept has military roots. Military strategy focuses on setting objectives, collecting intelligence, and then using that intelligence to make informed decisions about how to achieve your objectives.

Historically, the battlefield was a place where you could count on a few constants: The past was a good predictor of the future; good data was scarce and hard to come by; and lines of communication were unreliable at best, so small numbers of clear directives were a tactical imperative.

 

After World War II, when military strategy came into the business world as strategic planning, so did these constraints. As a result, strategic planners focused on predicting the future based on historic trend lines; invested heavily in gathering all available data; and produced a small number of directives issued from the top, for the rest of the organization to execute.

This approach to strategic planning was a reasonably good fit for the business world from the fifties through the eighties. But with the rise of high-tech tools and increased globalization in the nineties, the world began to change, and now it looks quite different indeed. The future is no longer reasonably predictable based on the past—in fact, it is liable to be startlingly different. Good data is easy to access and cheap to acquire. Communication is rapid, indiscriminate, and constant.

This has led to increasingly polarized attitudes about the value of having a strategy at all. Some leaders are trying to save strategic planning by urging us to focus even more on rigorous data analysis. Others deny the value of strategy, arguing that organizations need agility more than anything else.

Dana O’Donovan and Noah Rimland Flower, consultants from the Monitor Institute, think that what is necessary today is an adaptive strategy. It is a roadmap of the terrain that lies before an organization and develop a set of navigational tools with different options for reaching the destination. If necessary, the destination itself may shift based on what organizations can learn along the way.

However, creating strategies that are truly adaptive requires to give up on many long-held assumptions. As the complexity of our physical and social systems make the world more unpredictable, we must abandon our focus on predictions and shift into rapid prototyping and experimentation so that we learn quickly about what actually works. With data now ubiquitous, we must give up our claim to expertise in data collection and move into pattern recognition so that we know what data is worth our attention. 

Under this approach, directives from the top are frequently neither necessary nor helpful. Instead of finding ways to delegate authority, get information directly from the front lines, and make decisions based on a real-time understanding of what’s happening on the ground. Instead of the old approach of “making a plan and sticking to it,” which led to centralized strategic planning around fixed time horizons, focus in “setting a direction and testing to it,” treating the whole organization as a team that is experimenting its way to success.

John Boyd, the recognized military strategist, for example, saw strategy as a continuous mental loop that ran from observe to orient to decide and finally to act, returning immediately to further observation. By adopting his mindset (with emphasis on the two O’s, given our turbulent context), we can get much better at making strategy a self-correcting series of intentional experiments.

To provide structure to this approach, O’Donovan and Rimland Flower suggest four interrelated questions about the organization’s strategic direction: what vision you want to pursue, how you will make a difference, how you will succeed, and what capabilities it will take to get there.

The skills and mindset for a successful adaptive strategy will come from continuously asking ourselves these questions about our organizations, programs, and initiatives. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said “Plans are useless, but planning is everything”