I had an interesting conversation earlier this week where an observation was made that the job market is flooded with very competent doers but what we really need is more thinkers. That got me thinking about what mind-set and behaviours a person needs to bring to the table and, equally as important, how projects and activities should be set up in the first place.
I am constantly hearing stories of situations where project drivers are not clear and where ownership is confused. I have encountered a fair few myself. Commonly, there is an imperative to ‘just get it done’ with only scant attention paid to the measures of success and the level of enablement provided by the operating environment. In situations like these there is often a premature expectation regarding the solution based on recycling some approach that has ‘kinda worked’ before but which might not be applicable this time around. Deprived of any real opportunity to influence the direction, people are put to work executing the mechanics of the game without really having much skin or belief in it. This is clearly not a recipe for success.
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” – Aristotle
From a personal perspective, I believe that it is important to engage with an inquisitive, collaborative, results-focused mind-set and think holistically. Be prepared to challenge the rationale and dig deep to uncover the real needs and drivers. Be aware of one’s own biases and stay receptive to alternative approaches. Be imaginative and look for ways to ‘connect-the-dots’, integrate old patterns with the new and converge on solutions that map to the real, uncovered needs. Fundamentally, this is design-thinking 101 and, at its core, this is also how we, as a species, have got to where we are today. This kind of thinking is natural; it just needs the right context to nurture the spark.
The context is established in the framing or delegation. From this perspective it is important that initiation be based on needs and desires rather than anticipations of the solution. The set-up needs to focus both on outcomes and in establishing an environment that encourages and supports innovative thinking. There are several key drivers to consider.
Most important is that the goals can be related to a compelling ‘why’ and that the responsible parties have bought into them; they need to be motivated. In this context is especially helpful to establish a connection between the objectives and the values and drivers of the individual or team. Importantly, those responsible also need to be afforded some degree of autonomy and be able to relate their decisions and efforts back to the overall objectives. Together, motivation and connection will encourage ownership and promote innovative thinking.
Next, the framing needs to establish an outcomes-based engagement with a clear delivery schedule and performance indicators that both measure and define success. It is especially important that these measures are within the control of those responsible for the outcomes. If not, motivation will be severely undermined.
Finally, it is critical that the project or delegation be set up for success. It is essential that those responsible have the capability to deliver and are operating in an environment that removes blockages and promotes collaboration over competition. It is also important that, as far as is practicable, the project or delegation be established cooperatively rather than as a directive; the latter being a sure-fire way of limiting positive engagement.
Approaching things in this way will make it easier to get what you need rather than just what you asked for. With an engaged and motivated organisation the levels of trust will be higher. Consequently, monitoring can be kept simple (achievements, plans, issues, risks and financials) and a philosophy of ‘management by exception’ can be adopted. This will, in turn, free up time to remove blocks, anticipate risks and uncover and exploit new opportunities.
Hopefully, the message is clear. Set up an environment that fosters innovation and you’ll attract and nurture winning behaviours. Approach your work with an innovative mindset and it will become more engaging and, hopefully, more rewarding. Of course, the converse is also true.
“Excellence is not a skill. It’s an attitude.” – Ralph Marston (Boston Bulldogs)