How Does Systems Thinking Improve Organizational Agility?

Systems Thinking offers simplicity, and therefore the possibility for agility both in the development and the implementation of strategies. Looking at an organization as a group of systems within a series of external systems is clearly a good start for creating agile strategies.

Further, applying a practiced evaluation of the organization by identifying INPUTS-THROUGHPUTS-OUTPUTS with a FEEDBACK LOOP, we can speed up the process of strategy development, and the creation of specific actions to implement the strategies.

Developing strategies and implementing them has been a focus of businesses for many decades and improving the processes is an ongoing conversation. In recent years, applying Agile concepts and techniques is getting more and more attention. It has even been questioned as to whether applying Agile techniques is even worthwhile. This has even been discussed on forums on startups with divergent conclusions on how effective this might be.

Using Agile techniques means that those strategies are more likely to be able to be adjusted quickly and effectively through their implementation. Systems Thinking brings a simple, reliable and repeatable rigor to strategy creation and implementation thereby offering a higher level of agility, admittedly a desirable attribute for reaching an organization’s desired outcomes more quickly and completely.

If Agility means getting things done faster, being more flexible in adjusting to changes, then Systems Thinking can help make these things occur. “Begin with the end in mind” as Stephen Covey said, is one key element both in Systems Thinking and in ensuring we are more easily able to keep focused on the long term while we adjust to the short term. This simple concept makes a huge difference to ensure we actually reach our objectives.

Fleshing out how Systems Thinking increases an organization’s strategic agility, we can consider the external environment, a natural factor in any system. The value of conducting a rigorous scan of the FUTURE environment of the organization lies largely in the relatively quick and easy identification of Opportunities and Threats. This effort results in intelligence that greatly enhances an organizations anticipation of what to capitalize on and what to prepare to overcome. Being more prepared certainly improves the organization’s Agility.

Agile Strategic Thinking Template

Using Systems Thinking, this template improves agile strategy creation and implementation

A tool we use for creating strategies is the framework “Agile Strategic Thinking Template” adapted from the Haines Centre for Strategic Management’s Systems Thinking Template  http://bit.ly/2aySbMD.

Managing the structures and processes created by the strategic initiatives is a challenge that grows in correlation to the size of the organization. Larger firms will naturally seek software to help with this and there are some out there.

Another tool we use for implementing and managing strategic initiatives is the Agile Strategy Manager SaaS at https://www.agilestrategymanager.com/strategy-framework.html .

Please share your thoughts and reasoning about why and how Systems Thinking improves the Agility of organizations in developing and executing strategic initiatives. Also, will you share with us any Systems Thinking tools you use that make organizations more Agile?

Digital tools modernize change management

Our line of work in creating strategic plans, coaching executives and managers through implementation, and change management in their organizations is constantly under pressure. there is an ever-present desire to find ways to simplify how it’s done, and shorten the time frame in achieving measurable results.

Business leaders resist the amount of work and time typically devoted to creating and updating strategic plans. The increasing pace of change in our business environment throws monkey wrenches into our well-laid plans. Yes, we are always seeking that silver bullet that will magically keep our plans on track, shorten the time frame to success, and basically keep everyone happy and productive.

Intuitively I know no such silver bullet exists, but in my own continual search for it, I occasionally come across a nugget, not a bullet, like this one that might actually help me and my clients.

An article from McKinsey by Boris Ewenstein, Wesley, Smith and Ashvin Sologar titled Changing Change Management, provides a compelling insight about one strategic element common to some recent successful change efforts.

Two clear challenges

The McKinsey article’s sub-title mentions two clearly visible issues or challenges for implementing change:
1) “Research tells us that most change efforts fail.”
2) “Yet change methodologies are stuck in a pre-digital era.”

The article’s main premise is that our traditional approach to change management is outdated and that using digital tools is the key to modernizing that approach. Aha! I say. While digital tools are not a new nugget for me, I did reap some new insights on the approaches to implementing those tools for more effective change management.

It has not occurred overnight but we have seen global companies that are now clear industry leaders disrupting their industries, experiencing astronomical growth and generally, success. Amazon, Uber and Facebook come to mind as examples of those who have employed digital tools to create their footprint in the world of business.

The McKinsey article mentions some of the digital tools many companies have employed and all have one thread in common. It is the result of closer, more rapid communication with their customers primarily and their other stakeholders as well. All brought about by the use of digital tools. That communication is now rich with data, tons of data, and not just junk data. Useful data that drives better, faster and more focused responses to fix problems and leverage successes.

Out with the old?

Does this mean we toss out our traditional methods and approaches for planning and executing change initiatives? I say no. We still need the training, practice, and discipline involved in the planning retreats, applying the best practices we can uncover for leading and managing people and for ensuring sustained continuous improvement in everything we do. Only now we must apply these digital tools to accomplish that faster, better and create more lasting change in our organizations.

I know I can’t tackle rewiring my home’s electrical system on my own without training in basic and advanced principles and practices. But, possibly, I can get that training faster with digital training tools. However, the practice is essential to prevent a disaster to myself or others, so a wise move would be to apprentice the work. Likewise, I know a business can’t avoid the work required to create long term plans and deliberately create the processes and systems to support the resulting change initiatives. They can only enhance the speed of achieving results and sustaining those results with the digital tools mentioned in the McKinsey article.

In our business, we are using more and more digitally-based communications with our clients, such as webinars, online courses, feedback resources, and more regular communication. We are still working on finding more effective touch points that are not intrusive. These all involve changes in practices and the culture of our business, just as it does for everyone else.

Engaging Volunteers Through Social Media

By Jeri Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Engaging volunteers through social media offers many opportunities to motivate and inspire volunteers to support your organization. Focus on their interests and skill sets to design activities that will engage them more.

Last year I wrote a short article about Ten Ways to Engage Staff with Social Media. It was designed for large and mid-sized organizations seeking ways to get staff to support the larger organizational initiatives. We continually hear that the key challenge organizations have is not in creating the strategic plan and identifying the strategies and actions, but “implementing” the plan at all levels in the organization. How do you tap into the hearts and minds of your staff to motivate them to support these strategies while they perform their daily work commitments?

These 10 techniques I suggested in the article are also relevant for non-profit and charitable organizations with limited staff and which rely on volunteers to do much of the organizational work. This occurred to me the other day as I led a group of volunteers through a review and update of an association’s social media plan. We generated many ideas, but haven’t identified who will execute and how they will do this. So we face many of the same challenges as well.

In these busy times when everyone is over-tasked with work and family responsibilities, how do you get those same people to commit to helping your non-profit organization grow? How do you get your board members to actually do the work rather than just show up for meetings?

Social media offers a variety of platforms to keep volunteers engaged and informed. It’s important to think of creative ways to help them share information, to inspire them to action, to make the volunteer work fun, rather than a chore. Here are five ideas to help you understand and inspire your volunteers.

  • Think about who your volunteers are. What’s the average age? Do they work full-time in high powered jobs? Do they have long commutes between home and office? Or do they work from home or have flexible hours? Do they have young families or elderly parents to care for? Are they fully committed on weekends to soccer and football matches, ballet and music lessons, or elder care concerns?
  • What time commitment is needed to achieve your outcomes? Let your volunteers know what the expectations are. Can they support the organization while commuting to and from work? Social media can help them do this. Does their employer support volunteerism and give them time and budget dollars for this? Social media offers many ways to promote that organization’s support of your non-profit.
  • What are your volunteers’ other interests? Think about how you can weave support of the non-profit into their daily lives and interests – through contests, online games, online auctions, sharing stories, etc. Create platforms that are easy and fun to use, making it enjoyable to participate. Share heart-warming stories that inspire them to be involved.
  • What are your volunteers’ individual talents? Ask each one to identify their one specific talent, something they excel at doing and therefore really enjoy. If they could spend 8-10 hours a day doing just that, what would it be? Then build the volunteer activities around those skillsets. That way you have people pursuing their own passions rather than agreeing to take on a task they don’t really want because no one else has stepped up or that’s the vacancy that exists. Focus on their skills and interests, and you’ll eventually fill the needs for the major job functions and then some. With their help, you may find creative ways to outsource some of the more mundane, but necessary tasks.
  • Ask your volunteers to manage one of the social platforms – the one they use the most. You may find several agreeing to manage together as a group because they understand that platform and use it every day for themselves and/or their work. Set minimal criteria for branding and messaging, but give them creative license to create fun and interesting ways to engage others. Set challenge stretch goals with rewards to turn their activities into fun competitions with other volunteers. Regardless of our age, we all love to win!

Those are a few ideas I hope to implement with my social media committee. Perhaps I‘ve stimulated other ideas in your mind. If so, please share. If you would like a copy of my article about Ten Ways to Engage Staff With Social Media, click the button below.

Get the article

Trends for Managing Change in 2015

By Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International

Takeaways: Review of ten trends for managing change in a practical context. Think more clearly about the impact of the trends. Consider if any external help can improve your performance. Refocus on the speed of change and the need for greater agility in adapting to changes.

While conducting a quarterly scan on trends for the next two to three years I came across a brief SlideShare presentation by Dennis McCafferty in CIO Insight, titled Ten Execution Trends for 2015, which you can view by clicking here. The overriding theme in the trends he mentions is that while planning is always extremely important, flexibility and agility in executing your plans is becoming much more important in order to overcome the challenges of doing business. This piece focuses on the IT issues of organizations but the trends mentioned affect managing all aspects of all organizations. These are the trends:

  • Real-time planning is mission-critical
  • Leading indicators take on greater prominence
  • Project management tackles enterprisewide tasks
  • Cultural difference foster collaboration
  • IT takes a seat at the “Influencers” table
  • Agility dominates
  • The “Organizational Surfer” rules the day
  • Everyone’s a designer
  • Value trumps all
  • Just do it

We see greater importance given to future trends over research on past trends. We see the increasing need for a holistic approach to how projects and initiatives are planned and executed. We are reminded of the value of embracing cultural differences in fostering collaboration. IT now wields greater influence overall on the organization. The increased speed of change in general is driving us to delegate the execution of projects more thereby increasing agility, and as a by-product, provide Millennials with a more attractive work environment.

We also see a return to the concept of “roving staff”, which I experienced in banking in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s, now called “Organizational Surfers”. This was also common in large organizations with a group of employees who would “sub” for line staff, such as tellers, on vacation or sick leave, but are now found at all levels in the organization. There is also a notable increase in cross-functional collaboration and training in design thinking to extract great ideas from everyone possible in the firm regardless of whether those ideas pertain to their work or department.

Creating value for the customer is now job #1 over cost containment and problem solving. The final comment of the piece is titled “Just Do It!” It points out the danger in over-thinking things to the detriment of simply getting them done, thereby “staying ahead of change”.

Do your executives and team leaders have the skill sets to make the proper adjustments on the fly? Have you identified the leading indicators that will help you focus on future trends? Are your projects managed in a silo or are they directed with an enterprise-wide view? What initiatives are you implementing if there are multiple cultures in your business or you have an international presence?

At what level of your organization does your head of IT sit? For that matter, ask the same question about HR, Design, R&D, Safety and Security. Are your leaders capable of managing and even accelerating change with agility, and how are you including your younger staff members in the process? Are you creating a cadre of line staff, managers and executives that can support different functions either executing initiatives or performing training and coaching?

Is your organization capable of extracting creativity from folks other than those whose job is to design products and services? How are you gauging, measuring or tracking your leaders’ contribution to creating value for your customers and your stockholders?

Each of the 10 trends mentioned in the SlideShare piece broadly addresses issues that are clearly compelling to nearly every organization. Which one or ones compel you to make them a priority and how will you gather support in skill development and coaching to accelerate the effectiveness of implementing your initiatives?

I invite you contact me if you wish to explore how we might be able to assist you.

Strategy Execution is Key to Success

By Jeri T Denniston, Chief Marketing Strategist, Denner Group International 2-20-2013

Takeaways: The area where most companies fall short is in strategy execution by not tying individual performance to the key strategies they need to implement. Y-Change provides an organization-wide tool to track projects and strategies across the enterprise, including individual performance.

We’ve heard it time and again – the area where most companies fall short is in strategy execution. They spend countless hours up front planning and engaging their staff in providing solutions and getting their input on the key strategies. But then when they begin to implement them, they usually fall short of plan. Why?

Many companies do a lot of things right. They dig deep to find what’s working and what’s not. They involve their key stakeholders both within and outside the organization. They ask for and integrate feedback into the plan. They streamline processes, create new structures to improve communications and work flow. Yet, the old habits still creep in and it’s back to business as usual.

A June 2008 Harvard Business Review article by Gary L. Neilson, Karla L. Martin, and Elizabeth Powers of Booz & Company, shares the case of “a global consumer packaged-goods company that lurched down the reorganization path in the early 1990s.” It’s a perfect example of where many firms fall short on the execution side. They overlook the key ingredient – the people in the organization who have to execute the strategies.

Tie annual reviews to strategy execution

By not tying individual performance to the key strategies, the company found that their people weren’t being held accountable for executing the strategies well and effectively. People do what you “inspect” not what you “expect”, as our former mentor Stephen Haines liked to say. In addition to creating the right structures and providing people with adequate resources to do their work, it is critical to tie their annual reviews and the rewards system to the key strategies you want everyone to focus on. Without that, they will naturally revert to doing the work that generates the rewards. It’s human nature.

Y-Change Cascade of Planning and Implementationg

Cascade of Planning

A key tool for managing strategy execution at all levels is Y-Change. This online software tool tracks all the strategies and key actions at every level in an organization, along with accountabilities and project deadlines. It’s even possible to tie in each individual’s performance review plan to the high level organizational strategies so you can see the chain and interrelationships from the lowest level all the way up to the CEO’s office. This powerful tool is used by many organizations of all sizes and in any industry because it is fully customizable to the needs of the organization.

If you would like to see a free demo, click here.