Tag Archives: strategy

Developing A Challenge Mindset

19 May

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the Elevate conference held at the Excel Arena, London, along with my colleague Professor Marc Jones and Dr Hannah Macleod, a Gold Medal winner from the Rio Olympics with GB women’s hockey. The subject of our talk was based on developing a challenge mindset, and I’ll summarize some of the key points below from my perspective.

Success is an interaction of skills and the environment (with some luck thrown in). Success can make us overly focus on our skills whilst paying little attention to the environment. This results in a belief that skills are operating independently of the environment, and\or have control over the environment.

Accepting that success is an interaction of skills with environment, then changes to the environment, no matter how small, can begin to affect the outcome of skills. If the effects are not initially significant, then they can be explained away, reinforcing the over focus on skills and continuing the lack of attention to the environment. This can take group culture from a positive place to a closed and defensive place, resisting change and alternative perspectives.

To avoid this situation, befriend negativity. This means that even when performance is going well and the environment is stable, imagine what could go wrong, no matter how big or small, and practice how to deal with these situations. In other words, befriend your worse fears. Doing so reduces aversion when faced with unexpected events, maintains an open mind, and places a mindful focus on the relationship between skills and the environment.

Hannah provided excellent examples of how GB women’s hockey were constantly generating “what if scenarios” to plan for unexpected and negative events. The results for Hannah and her team speak for themselves.

 

 

 

Co-Production Begins with The Barriers

9 May

Effective co-production begins with a focus on the barriers, on what could go wrong, from all stakeholder perspectives. I explain why in this article, and suggest a simple, easy to use technique which allows us to strategically befriend barriers.

Co-production makes perfect sense. In the public sector, involving citizens and communities who have lived experience of the conditions leaders are attempting to positively change, and frontline workers who interact between leaders and citizens on a constant basis, is an effective way to better, more adaptable and more resilient strategies. However, it can be a difficult process if not approached with true openness.

Essential to effective co-production is a commitment to sharing power and understanding the mind sets and experience of other stakeholders. When designing a new service, each stakeholder group has a view of what the service could look like and the barriers which might prevent the services success. The argument here is that paying attention to what each stakeholder group feels could go wrong, the barriers, provides the sharpest insight into their world view and improves the chances of effective co-production.

There can be frustrations over the barriers each group of stakeholders perceive, and frustrations over how easy to remove and how important those barriers are to different groups and individuals. Barriers are built on past experiences, unique histories and the anticipated reactions of others. This is what makes them so important and sometimes so hard to integrate, they illustrate what a person notices, ignores, fears and how they make sense of their environment. Barriers represent what keeps integration apart, and careful examination of them allows us to examine ways of removing or reducing them.

Barriers highlight what stakeholders consider risky, their appetite for innovation, technology and how much trust they have and support they feel they need. It is important to fully understand and embrace each of these view points from each stakeholder perspective as they help to construct positive approaches to change.

Data on stakeholder barriers allow strategies to be constructed on models which ENABLE people. A good strategy should aim to deliver by removing and reducing barriers, and then allowing stakeholders to adapt what they already do well to the new service. This only happens when strategies enhance people and their experiences, not put a new process first.

The above are reasons why collecting quality data on barriers requires careful thought in effective co-production. Simply asking a mixed group of stakeholders to highlight their own barriers can be illustrative, but quite often groups react to each other’s answers as opposed to providing their own unique perspective. A method of effectively collecting barriers is through the de-correlation of errors.

De-correlation of errors is very simple in this context. It removes the potential problem of everyone basing their views on the first idea which was voiced in the room as opposed to their own unique perspective. The method achieves this by asking every stakeholder to prepare their answers to a short series of questions BEFORE consultation. When the consultation begins, every stakeholder is asked to read their own unique response, whilst other stakeholders listen.

This introduces the stakeholders to each other through their own perception of the situation, facilitating richer data and greater understanding of individual and group positions. In a future article, I’ll introduce how a technique like de-correlation of errors can be used within a broader co-production frame work focused on removing and reducing barriers.

Reading

Very good 1 page co-production model from NHS England

file:///C:/Users/User/Desktop/C4CC-Co-production-Model.pdf

The value of de-correlating errors appears in this excellent interview below with Danny Kahneman and Gary Klein

McKinsey Classic Interview

Some related reading from this blog

http://wp.me/p3jX7i-ad

General reading on the methodology behind error de-correlation

Kahneman, D (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin

Klein, G. (2007) The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency

Expanding Horizons and Cognitive Computing

21 Nov

The cognitive computing software we are currently working with is methodologically based on systems thinking. A key influence was the work of ecologist and cybernetics expert, Frederick Vester. Vester argued (2007) that the failure of organisational systems occurs because only a single aspect of a problem is ever explored, a concept he referred to as “symptom bashing”.

An organisation, like any aspect of life, is a network of interlocking relationships, interdependencies and features, which can be referred to as nodes. The relationship which exists between the various nodes of a network is crucial to an improved understanding of a wider system. Vester observed that what seems to happen in organisational planning is an over emphasis on nodes, with very little attention paid to the relationships and arising interdependencies.

For example, in organisational change, a CEO needs to make the organisation more streamlined by reducing the number of management positions. Each management position is a node in a network, and can be identified clearly on a spread sheet.

From this spread sheet, the CEO can select which positions they wish to retain, restructure or remove. What is not fully known to the CEO is the relationship each of these nodes have with the organisation. The formal rationale for restructuring, presented as the symptoms of too many managers, too long decision making, and too much cost, makes sense, but the cost of change, which will only become apparent through time, is unknown.

In other words, the nodal management positions are known in theory (job descriptions, formal responsibilities etc.), but how this theory has been adapted to practice, and what relationships have been formed to the delivery of key business areas, could be fuzzy at best. What occurs is an initial saving followed only by the appearance of “unexpected events”, the latent effect of system neglect. Not all risk can be known by taking a systems approach, far from it, but the risks that change can bring can be better prepared for, creating a more resilient restructure.

A lot of system neglect is human nature. We, as human beings, have a natural bias to jump to conclusions, and then stick to these conclusions, explaining away any evidence or data which might contradict our initial assumptions (Kahneman, 2011 for excellent examples). High level expertise presents frequently as the ability to let go of conclusions and adapt quickly to new information (Klein, 2007). However, the conditions need to be supportive for “letting go” to occur (Klein, 2014).

A practical method of providing this support to improve strategic decision making, forecasts and analysis is to think about the system as opposed to the nodes, or put more simply, get a broader perspective. For example, affective forecasting (Wilson et al, 2003, Greening, 2014) discusses how forecasting about the outcome of an event or future state improves when the forecaster speaks to someone who has lived their future.

Forecasting and decision making in small groups can become overly focused on the perceived resources, abilities and knowledge of the team to achieve a goal, the inside perspective (Kahneman, 2011). However, this type of planning leads to over optimism and no consideration of what time and uncertainty will throw in their direction.

However, if the team speak to someone who has made and lived through a similar decision and faced the unexpected events, then the team is being exposed to the outside view. This takes their focus away from the nodes (the closed attributes) and broadens the perspective to the potential relationship of the nodes to the system, the outside perspective, through a period of time.

This is one of the aspects the cognitive computing software we are working with aims to achieve. It aims to collect a wide range of experiences, forecasts and anticipations from variety of decision makers and make these available to a user so they (the user) are able to view their environment more as a system and less as a series of nodes. The software is able to present information to a user in a time critical format, so the user is able to see the latent effect of decisions and the emergence of potential unintended consequences.

Viewing a decision as being part of an interconnected and changing system broadens the perspective. A broadening of perspective allows a decision maker to let go of initial assumptions and adapt to changes in a system. This can be achieved by accessing the knowledge and experience of people who have experienced the topic system through a period of time. For the CEO in the earlier example, this means a sharp analysis of the key relationships the managers have built up in their role. The result is discreet knowledge of what the CEO will be actually restructuring beyond spread sheet nodes, and the risks which that brings. For a user of cognitive computing software, this can mean exploring a topical system through the eyes of potentially thousands of people who have already lived a similar future.

Reading

Wilson, Timothy D.; Daniel T. Gilbert (2003). “Affective Forecasting”. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 35: 345–411

Kahneman, D (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin

Gilbert, D (2013) (p.45) AFFECTIVE FORECASTING…OR…THE BIG WOMBASSA: WHAT YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING TO GET, AND WHAT YOU DON’T GET, WHEN YOU GET WHAT YOU WANT in John Brockman (Editor) (2013) Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction. Harper Collins

Klein, G. (2014) Seeing What Others Don’t: the remarkable ways we gain insight. Public Affairs.

Klein, G. (2007) The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency

Vester, F. (2007) The Art of Interconnected Thinking: Tools and concepts for a new approach to tackling complexity. Malik Management (English language edition)

Why Focusing On Catastrophe Is So Effective

3 Oct

Gary Klein’s pre-mortem technique has a long and effective history in improving forecasting, plans and decisions (Kahneman, 2011, Klein, 2007). The technique is incredibly simple, as the below example illustrates-

You and your team are about to agree a decision. Before you do so, imagine the decision has turned out to be a complete catastrophe. Everyone, working on their own, takes 5 minutes to write down the history of this catastrophe. Each individual history is then shared with the team.

I recently wrote about an interview featured on McKinsey Classic with Gary Klein and Nobel Laurette, Daniel Kahneman. The two psychologists discussed the role of intuition in executive decision making. Naturally, the pre-mortem technique came up as a highly effective method of improving decisions.

The logic behind why the technique works so well has been covered several times in articles on this blog, and covered extensively across research and corporate literature. However, Klein’s simple explanation of what lies behind the technique’s success in the McKinsey interview is incredibly insightful, and worth sharing

“The logic is that instead of showing people that you are smart because you can come up with a good plan, you show you’re smart by thinking of insightful reasons why this project might go south. If you make it part of your corporate culture, then you create an interesting competition: “I want to come up with some possible problem that other people haven’t even thought of.” The whole dynamic changes from trying to avoid anything that might disrupt harmony to trying to surface potential problems”

Reading

Kahneman, D (2011) Thinking Fast and Slow. Penguin

Klein, G. (2007) The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency

http://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/strategy-and-corporate-finance/our-insights/strategic-decisions-when-can-you-trust-your-gut?cid=other-eml-cls-mkq-mck-oth-1609

 

 

Motivating Teams with Focus

26 Sep

Below is an article published by the company In The Moment (link to their website). In The Moment specialize in coaching, team dynamics and organizational behaviour, and in the excellent article below discuss how project focus plays such a positive influence on performance. This might seem obvious, but it is certainly taken for granted in organisations. We have seen in our research that clearly communicated, and understood, objectives are too often assumed. The article drew me to make comparisons between two areas of communication we have researched- 1) sharing objectives and focus, and 2) the cost of not having clear objectives and focus.

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Human Judgement and Cognitive Computing

13 Sep

McKinsey have published an outstanding interview with Gary Klein and Danial Kahneman. The interview is a reflection on Klein and Kahneman’s classic paper- Conditions for intuitive expertise: A failure to disagree (2009). Whilst the interview reflects on the two authors positions when it comes to intuitive decision making, the prime focus is on executive judgement- is intuition a good basis for top level business decision making? In this article I’ll briefly reflect on some of the key points raised by Kahneman and Klein, and how aspects of cognitive computing could potentially support some of the author’s suggestions.

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When Expertise Works And When It Doesn’t

25 Jul

At this link is a Google talk delivered by psychologist and Nobel Laurette, Daniel Kahneman. The topic of the talk is expert judgement in decision making, and Kahneman discusses the collaborative work he carried out with Gary Klein.

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The Problem With Declaring Success Too Early

19 Jul

The most common complaint I’ve heard people make about the books of sci-fi author, Philip K Dick, is that the books don’t end, they simply drift off. I’ve noticed the same thing when reading Dick’s work, but the slow drifting away is one of the things I liked most about his books. The reason is that the endings mirror real life very closely.

In many of Dick’s books a relatively normal person is swept up in extraordinary events, only to drift back to a life which the protagonist didn’t particularly enjoy or troubled them. In my mind, these endings were realistic, as many of us hope that big changes, decisions and restructures will transform ourselves, lives, teams or organisations only to see everything slowly drift back to the status quo. And this is the problem when trying to judge whether change has been a success, at what moment, if any, do you chose to declare there has been a successful transformation?

I was thinking this whilst reading some successful organizational change management case studies. The results had been frozen at a particular moment, where it was clearly possible to declare some form of success. However, the problem with change and life is that there is always a sequel, always a next day which unfreezes the frozen moment of success. This was a popular criticism of Peters and Watermans book, In Search of Excellence (1982). Fast forward a few years, and the companies researched for the book were no longer performing excellently.

This point does not mean that any change really works. Nor does it mean that if you wait long enough all change ends in failure. These are just straw man arguments. What it does mean is that some decisions do not, and should not, end with a moment, they are a continuous cycle of sequels which require constant management. In other words, we cannot just freeze a moment, declare success, and then take our eyes off the ball. If we do, the change might end like a Philip K Dick novel, a sleep-walk back to the status quo.

Reading

Peters, T. Waterman, R.H. In Search of Excellence-Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies. Collins Business Essentials.

 

5 Golden Rules for Flexible Project Management

13 Jun

I previously wrote about methods to improve two aspects of project management

  1. Knowledge capture, and
  2. Communication

A focus on the importance of capturing knowledge and improved communication was inspired by a recent publication by Raconteur (Project Management, raconteur.net, #0376, 22\05\2016). Within this Raconteur publication was a piece entitled “The Five Golden Rules of Project Flexibility” (p.4), and provides the inspiration for this article.

Flexibility is essential for sustainable success, but for human beings, it can be very difficult to think and behave with flexibility. Below, I’ll outline some reasons behind this difficulty, before revealing Raconteur’s 5 Golden Rules.

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Improving Project Management

6 Jun

The special interest publisher, Raconteur, recently produced a paper on Project Management (raconteur.net, #0376, 22\05\2016). Two reoccurring themes ran through the collection of articles

  1. The importance of knowledge capture in project management
  2. Effective communication when managing complex projects

As both of these themes frequently appear throughout the articles and research featured on this blog, it’s a good opportunity to share methods we’ve applied to improve knowledge capture and communication across projects, and with teams and organisations. So firstly, knowledge capture.

In their Raconteur contribution, Jim McClelland, addressed the importance of knowledge capture in his article entitled “Mindset and not toolset-it’s all about people…” If a project is complex (multiple partners, sites, boarders, regular surprises, changing environment etc.) then the degree of learning is potentially high. Managing a complex project involves multiple frontline adaptions as initial plans and strategies run into the “friction” of everyday life (Freedman, 2013).

The problem identified in the McClelland article is that the knowledge gained from managing project friction, remains the tacit property of frontline workers, and\or project managers. This problem is aggravated when project managers and key staff are transient, they move from project to project, company to company, taking their knowledge with them.

A potential solution is the implementation of methods which capture knowledge. This means frequently capturing and evaluating what project managers and frontline workers notice and prioritise in a work situation, how they notice contradictions to initial plans (when something starts to go wrong) how the contradictions are made sense of, and what adaptions take place to course correct or innovate around problems (see Starbuck, 2001, Klein, 2007, Rankin et al, 2014 for examples of this in various project environments).

Below is quick example of a method, a debriefing questionnaire, focused on capturing knowledge in a fast paced project environment. The questionnaire is designed to capture problem solving, with an emphasis on changing expectations, situation recovery and risk analysis-

What did you notice?

What surprised you?

What did you do?

How would you advise someone else to tackle a similar situation?

What should they avoid doing?

The second theme is communication. I would argue that a key component of effective communication is shared sense making, being able to shadow the thinking of someone else (see Klein et al, 2013 for examples).

Communication between different partners, professions, organisations, sites etc. is inherently problematic. The instruction of “fast” for example, has a lot of potential responses, all dependent on individual sense making. Unless organisations, teams and individuals develop methods which allow the intention behind plans to be fully understood, then regular problems can occur.

Communication problems are particularly acute when teams are distributed across organisations, geography, professions etc. As discussed earlier, plans encounter friction and need to be adapted. Projects run more efficiently when these adaptions are carried out by frontline workers with intimate knowledge of a current situation, and a real time view of what’s going on in the environment. Without clear intentions, adaptions can either be completely out of kilter with a plan, or frontline workers lack the clarity to deal with a problem, and keep referring to management for further instructions.

Both of these intention problems have significant consequences for the success and safety of a project. For example, adaptions in the wrong direction can correct a local deviation but weaken the broader project. A project may be running over budget and a team leader is told to cut costs. During this period an engineer gets a new job and leaves the project. To save money the leader of the engineer’s team decides not to re-recruit. The team leader adapts by carefully reorganising the remaining team member’s roles. Short term it’s a success. Then an unexpected event occurs and the team lack the flexibility to absorb and correct the shock.

The other side of the problem occurs when no adaptions take place. This occurs when frontline workers lack the clarity to adapt to changes in local circumstances. As a result, when an unexpected event or obstacle occurs on a project, instead of applying initiative, the frontline instead seeks instructions from further up the hierarchy. This situation eats into time, reduces the amount of available options to tackle a problem, places responsibility in the hands of someone who is nowhere near the situation and who only has a limited understanding. All these issues create extra demands and increase management pressure, destabilising the project further.

Communication problems can be avoided by applying methods which calibrate sense making. A useful method of communicating intent is a script developed by Karl Weick (see Weick et al, 2007 for examples). Below is a version of Weick’s intent script, and similar to versions we’ve used in our work with clinical decision making and organisational change-

This what I think we face

This is what I think we should do

These are the reasons why

This is what we need to look out for

Now talk to me

This article has featured quick examples of how to improve knowledge capture and communication. I would strongly agree with McClelland that successful project management is a mindset. I would also add that applying simple methods designed to collect knowledge and improve communication, develop and support the best conditions for project management success.

Reading

Starbuck, W.H. Hedberg, B. (2001) Handbook of Organizational Learning and Knowledge; M. Dierkes, A. Berthoin Antal, J. Child, and I. Nonaka (eds.); Oxford University Press, 2001

Klein, G. (2007) The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work. Currency

Rankin, A. Woltjer, R. Rollemhagen, C. Hollnagel, E. (2014) Resilience in Everyday Operations: A Framework for Analyzing Adaptations in High-Risk Work. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making March 2014 vol. 8 no. 1 78-97

Freedman, L. (2013) Strategy: A History. OUP USA

Klein, G. Hintze, N. Saab, D. (2013) Thinking Inside the Box: The ShadowBox Method for Cognitive Skill Development. International Conference on Naturalistic Decision Making 2013, Marseille, France.