It seems like I touched a nerve with my two recent blogs on complexity. The feedback I’ve received from clients and business associates reinforces my belief that managing complexity represents one of today’s most compelling leadership issues.
With that in mind, here are some more strategies for keeping your organization ahead of the complexity curve:
Identify your thought bubbles. Thought bubbles are the unspoken limiting beliefs that drive our decisions and behaviors. They tell us we don’t need to pause to get clear on winning. They cause us to overlook evidence that contradicts what we know to be true. And they get in the way of developing appropriate responses to changes in our markets. Thought bubbles sound like: “It’s too much work. We already tried it that way. Our customers would never pay for that.” The frenetic pace of today’s business world makes it easy to buy into statements that have no basis in reality or are outdated. Don’t let your thought bubbles lead you into making decisions based on data that is no longer true.
Make your thinking process visible. Develop a checklist for reviewing all major decisions, using it to evaluate the quality of information, group mindset, and overall decision-making process. For example, did the data gathering process include multiple independent sources or just one source saying the same thing in different ways? Did the group automatically accept the data or was there lively discussion around its accuracy and relevance? Did the team rush to achieve consensus (thereby avoiding conflict) or did it engage in spirited debate with all opposing viewpoints being heard? Using decision checklists before implementing strategic decisions enables you to get it right the first time and avoid costly “do-overs.” The world’s best fighter pilots use a checklist every single time they get in the cockpit. Is your organization so good you really don’t need any prompts to get it right every time?
Practice scenario planning. These days, competition can come from anywhere at any time, usually when we least expect it. Scenario planning involves looking at demographics, trends, technologies, and events external to our industry to see how they might impact our customers and markets. It involves gathering information from a variety of sources and using the data to ask “what if?” questions. What if we are wrong on this issue? What if there is another way to look at it? What if there is something else that we aren’t seeing? Companies that learn to ask the right “what if?” questions will enjoy a huge advantage over those that don’t.
Get all your people thinking strategically. Teach people at all levels of the organization to anticipate opportunities and threats while managing their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. Give them the training, coaching, and mentoring to become more responsive to changing customer needs. Help them understand how their decisions and actions impact the business in the future, as well as today. When everyone begins to act in concert with the strategic plan, your ability to respond with focus and flexibility will soar.
Have the courage to fail. Most business leaders have a hard time with this principle because we get rewarded for success and punished for failure. Accept that mistakes will happen. Instead of seeking to avoid mistakes, design plans that allow for the occasional setback. When you experience a failure, don’t drag it out. Cut your losses quickly, learn from your mistake, and move on. If you’re not making mistakes you’re probably not keeping up with your market.
Unlearn to learn. This is perhaps the toughest principle of all because it often requires letting go of the ideas, practices, and behaviors that made us successful in the first place. Why change what worked well in the past? Because it may be based on ideas and assumptions that no longer fit today’s market realities. A trapeze artist can’t move to the next swing without letting go of the one she is currently holding. Similarly, we can’t embrace new ways of delivering value to our customers until we let go of the old.
Put all these strategies together and you get the #1 principle for managing complexity: slow down to go fast!
Pause to identify what has changed for your customers, your market, your industry and the world at large. Think about where you’re going and what you need to do to get there. Use a framework for making and evaluating major decisions. Focus by keeping the things in front of you that contribute most to reaching your destination. Communicate constantly to keep others focused. Once you’ve got a clear bead on where you need to go and how to get there, implement quickly and run like the wind.
Learn to manage complexity (rather than it managing you) and start leaving your competition behind!
Holly is the CEO of THE HUMAN FACTOR, Inc. (www.TheHumanFactor.biz) and is a highly sought after and acclaimed speaker, business consultant, and author. Her unique approach to creating strategic agility, helping others go slow to go fast, will change your thinking.