Organisations, no matter what size or type of entity, will invariably have a strategic review or business planning event within their annual cycle. Such events can often take the form of an offsite with a detailed agenda, and perhaps even external speakers or someone to facilitate discussion.
If viewed positively, the experience can be informative, productive and generate a sense of enthusiasm and engagement for the future of the organisation. When well run, detailed action points emerge outlining achievable (but stretching) targets and timescales for the completion of activities underpinning the delivery of the plan or strategy.
Whereas few organisations would be so antediluvian as to ignore the people dimension of any strategy or business plans, it isn’t often the case that organisations consider the executive or senior team and their needs in what is a crucial aspect of their role. High level planning processes, possibly resulting in significant change in the organisation, will only be successful if consideration is given to the process itself – and not just the outcome.
In some instances, the prospect for individuals of spending two or three days with their colleagues imprisoned in a country house hotel will fill them with dread. Few groups of people are without any tension, or varying levels of warmth. Anxiety, shyness or ‘false camaraderie’ can all get in the way of transparency, and of individuals being able to contribute fully or to feel as though they are in a safe environment within which to question and offer up ideas and solutions.
With senior teams, factoring in the human dimension is frequently overlooked as they are often just expected to look beyond the personal or emotional dimension of group dynamics and – putting it bluntly – to ‘just get on with it’. This is folly, and can often result in poorer or unchallenged decisions taking hold and weak or ill-considered plans becoming proposed route maps to success – not a great start to business planning or strategy development.
Another possible outcome is that of individuals ‘muttering in the corridors’ and not really engaging with the new vision, undermining the planning process and potentially scuppering its success.
When business plans are subsequently rolled out to the wider employee group, the foundations can be significantly weakened if there are wide variations in the degree of enthusiasm of the top team. While it is (fortunately) rare for a disaffected individual to actively destabilise or sabotage plans, deeply-felt lack of enthusiasm will become obvious to the wider organisation, no matter how hard a senior manager might try to disguise it.
There can be a surprising level of naivety about generating enthusiasm amongst the entire workforce which, coupled with a senior team with too varied a degree of commitment, can render the change process within organisations an impossibly tough task.
The most effective organisations, when drawing up plans for the future, will invest some time in examining group dynamics, i.e. how effectively the senior group interact, whether individuals contribute at the level of their competence and if contrary views are respected.
It is a truism to suggest that ideas should be challenged, even if ultimately accepted. Within the process of sound decision making, there is a need to consider the risk of plans not working out the way we assume, and to be realistic about the nature and scale of the change proposed. Organisations that do this well have a considerable head start in rolling out what might be, for some, big changes to the way they operate. There will also be individuals whose role in the new world remains exactly as it was, but who are still important when it comes to engaging the whole organisation in the change process.
When planning to plan, organisations need to spend a bit of time considering relationships at the senior level. Working out in detail how the process will be conducted and what the ground rules will be for proposing, discussing, challenging and even opposing ideas and suggestions.
In general terms, those feared to be negative or overly cynical need to be challenged in advance and perhaps even tasked with a specific responsibility for ensuring that the process is a success; those who are perhaps more naturally reserved should be supported and strongly encouraged to contribute; individuals known to have a bombastic or aggressive approach to contradiction need to be made aware in advance that steamrolling others is unacceptable.
These few relatively simple steps, or even just being cognisant of the emotional dimension at the senior level, can help organisations manage the politics of change and leverage all of the talent that exists at the top of organisations.
Written by Heather Greatrex