Fear This, Not That! You May be Afraid of the Wrong Things

Misdirected fear.

When our minds focus on the wrong issues, our misdirected fear can keep us from working on the things that matter. For example, in the weekend LA Times Parade magazine, Maura Rhodes provided a short list of what we tend to focus on versus what we should really be fearing (see graphic).Fear This Not That 2

Organizations also encounter this same problem. When we focus on the wrong thing we attempt to fix the wrong problems with misguided efforts. Here are three ‘Fear This, Not That’ scenarios that I bump into as I work with organizations.

1. Fear a faulty hiring process, not problem employees! No one enjoys a bad employee. However, if we aren’t careful with who we let in the front door, we can expect a busy back-door! I have inherited more than my share of bad employees. I’ve also hired a few myself. A consistent pattern with problem staff is that they provided early warning signals about poor performance (usually in the interview or during their probation period). If your HR office is not a strong collaborator during the hiring, probation and evaluation process, you can expect problem employees. When you are supported by a robust interview (which must include the three C’s – character, competency and chemistry), you will generally make good decisions. When we don’t, low performer employees cause leaders to develop a defensive leadership style. We create better leaders by hiring better employees.

2. Fear your strategic planning process, not the future! As a futurist, I consistently speak with people who hear what I do and say, “Oh, we need to understand the future better”. Then they go on to tell me about the many challenges that an uncertain future brings. Usually their focus is on what they don’t know. Very few speak about what they do know or how they can know more. If your strategic plan is not using the tools of strategic foresight as a means to proactively engage with the future, you have reason to fear it. As we equip ourselves with future knowledge we enable ourselves to build and activate better strategy. When we don’t, we fear the future.

3. Fear organizations who focus on leadership development rather than the development of good leadership. While this phrase may seem like I am splitting hairs, the difference between leadership and good leadership is immense. Leadership development focuses on what leaders do. While what a leader accomplishes is important, it is insufficient. Bin Laden, Hitler and President Mugabe (Zimbabwe) were effective leaders who left a path of destruction in their wake. Instead, when we focus on good leadership we discuss the hard issues – why are we leading, what is good and how do we improve our collective well-being. While that statement contains a throwback hippy sentimentality, the current rise of ethics, morality and ends-focus (not just the means) is also increasing in our business literature.

As we examine our fears, we need to ensure we are afraid of the right things. This requires us to challenge our assumptions. Learning to question our fears and identify the important ones can mobilize us from inaction to action.

I’d love to hear your own versions of misdirected fear in the workplace. ‘Fear This, Not That!’.


 

Jeff SuHead Shotderman is a futurist, professor and consultant who works in the field of organizational development. He works with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and organizational FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

Rhodes, M. (2015). Fears 2015. Parade Magazine via the LA Times. Sunday, January 18, 2015.

More Agility Please! The State of Strategy

There is a strong correlation between a companies financial returns and their planning horizon.1 Effective strategy considers the future! If you know me or read my writing you know that I resonate strongly with this concept.

In recent months I have read several blogs which proclaim that strategic planning is dead. While these titles are somewhat over-sensationalized (see The Problem with 7 Step and 3 Things), I believe that the concept is correct. Strategy as we know it is dead and this is a very good thing because it is being replaced with something better. This is supported by a recent study which examined three different strategy models and their corresponding success rates (see Figure 1). The results are as follows:

1. Ad Hoc – Success Rate: 46% | Tagline: Hand-to-mouth strategy | Definition: This style develops and implements strategy as the organization wishes and there is no defined planning horizon.

2. Traditional – Success Rate: 53% | Tagline: Your father’s strategy | Definition: This is the best understood as the current strategic planning model which typically develops strategy for the next  3-5 years (though most actually plan within the 1-3 year horizon).

3. Agility – Success Rate: 85% | Tagline: Strategy which makes uncertainty part of the plan | Definition: Strategy is evaluated and regularly re-evaluated in the context of a rapidly changing environment. EffectStrategic Cycles and Successive organizations actively study the future in order to compete in the present and have strategic cycles which are longer than 5 years.

This study reveals that effective organizations apply long-term agility-based thinking to conundrums, something that planning and control sciences were unable to do.Pierre Wack, a forerunner of the agility movement, once stated, “In our times of rapid change and discontinuity, crisis of perception – the inability to see a novel reality emerging by being locked in obsolete assumptions – has become the main cause of strategic failure”

If we live in an unchanging environment, then traditional planning methodologies work. However, very few people that I speak with believe that they operate in a stable environment. The need to develop agility is supported by the fact that over 85% of executives noted that their strategy formulation failures were rooted in the lack of understanding of future trends.Figure 6 reveals how foresight tools are being used to develop agility.Foresight Case

Strategic planning may not be dead but I believe that it has morphed. Research reveals that effective organizations use planning time frames which are greater that five years. This requires that we shift from a strategic mindset of control to one of agility. Foresight and tools which foster future agility are becoming the new normal for effective strategy development and execution.

Do you work in an organization that needs to extend your planning horizon? Contact me to schedule a free assessment of your strategic planning processes (jeff@jeffsuderman.com).


Head ShotJeff Suderman is a consultant and professor who works in the field of organizational development. He partners with clients to improve leadership, teamwork, organizational alignment, strategy and their FutureReadiness. He resides in Palm Desert, California. Twitter: @jlsuderman

 

References:

1 A.T. Kearney (2014). The state of strategy today. Retrieved from http://www.atkearney.com/strategy/futureproof-strategy/detail/-/asset_publisher/A6BMR7XFiteh/content/the-state-of-strategy-today-topic-overview/10192

This concept was derived from a personal conversation with my teacher and mentor, Dr. Jay Gary

Pierre Wack (1984). The gentle art of re-perceiving. Unpublished manuscript. Harvard Business School.