Thursday, May 23, 2013

Culture Choices for Associations: People vs Process; Game Plan vs Blueprint

Heide Thorne (@heidithorne) responded to last week’s blog Can Associations Incorporate The Neighborly Wave? with a simple: It’s all about culture.Heide’s comment came shortly after I read Anna Caraveli’s piece titled From Formal Strategic Planning to Strategic, Improvisatory Thinking.  Highlights (for me) included: 

  • Why is it that when people act on the logic by which bureaucracies operate, they seem to have allowed simple common sense to escape out the window? 
    • It could be the DMV clerk behind the counter making you stand in the line again, after you patiently waiting your turn for 45 minutes, because a form had not been filled correctly. 
    • Or it could be your organization missing an obvious opportunity because they needed to wait until their annual strategic planning meeting to consider it. 
  • If your organization is like most others, it was built on the basis of what is called the scientific management theory, first developed fully by Frederick Taylor, a mechanical engineer, in the 1900’s. Modern bureaucracy is based on the assumption that a perfect system of management can anticipate every possible risk and opportunity, increase efficiency and result in the perfect organization. 
  • The flaws of this system and its mechanistic view of the world became especially pronounced in our knowledge age, when unpredictability is the norm. 
  • While there is still an enormous gap between process-and-product-driven bureaucracies and knowledge-and-consumer-driven markets, there an increasing emphasis on the human elements of organizations and a need for strategic thinking capabilities rather than strategic planning processes. 
The ability to think outside categories is the most essential element in an organization’s ability to constantly adapt and succeed in this environment.

I really like Anna’s thinking.

As my small association management company grew, I had to add “systems” to help run the business. But, I hated it. Too much process gets in the road of creativity, innovation and the ability to change. Maybe that’s my ice hockey “change on the fly” mentality. 

I felt that people were more important that processes and systems. If we treat our people right, they treat our clients right and we all grow and enjoy the ride.

In a similar vain, I’ve heard many refer to the strategic plan as the “blueprint to our association’s future.”

That is the wrong analogy. A blueprint is static. It requires multiple approvals to make changes.

To me, the strategic plan represents the game plan for an organization. All sports teams go into the game with a game plan. All other things being equal, the winners are usually those who adjust their game plans during the game to meet unexpected threats or opportunities.

As Anna suggests unpredictability is the norm today. 

Associations that thrive will be those who give their people the flexibility to change on the fly within that strategic game plan.

After writing this post, I came across another Harvard Business Review piece called 
Great Leaders Learn Out Loud. posted by Chip R. Bell.   "Walk into the headquarters of Google in Mountain View, CA, Zappos near Las Vegas, or Pixar near San Francisco, and you can feel the heat of originality cooking in the organizational oven. What you later learn is that you are in a place with an everlasting focus on growth. The popular label for this environment is a “learning organization,” but a more accurate description is a “discovering organization.” Discovering suggests a vigorous search and a deliberate exploration. Insight is treasured over expertness." 

While not a giant corporation, I tried to instill a "discovering organization" culture in my AMC. Does your organization have or aspire to this type of culture?

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