Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Process: A Comfortable Couch?

We are on the corporate couch, watching tv. We watch things happen. The news tells us that our customers are aging. Technology is literally redefining the very way we interact as human beings. Our politicians are acting out wars in countries somewhere else. Our children are angry. Our society is changing. Soundbites flash. War on Terror. 911. Iraq. Sale at Sears. We say we are informed. Yet how many of us do nothing? Choose not to engage? We take in an unprecedented amount of information. But we don't know what it means. Worse yet, we don't know what it means to us. We don't know what's important, and we can't see the forest for the trees. Consequently, there is no moment of insight, no point when we say, I can't take it any more, and we hit the off button.

The manager's job is to set direction, describe objectives / goals with tangible targets and establish priorities and action plans for implementation. Then we review our progress and make any course corrections. That's management 101.

But are managers slave to process so that they actually don't think? Is the process to easy? To much formula? How do managers challenge conventions, break down the walls so that new ones can be built.

Innovation is really what planning is about, unless of course you are planning to get out of business or stop producing something of value. It is the art of imagining something, and making it happen. It is profitable creativity. Something that changes the way we act, think, feel, perceive.

In my experience I have worked with many types of managers running many types of businesses - a retail focus - a product to sell - a technology focus - a solution to sell - a community focus - a dream to sell. I have worked with board members, ceos, executives, cfos, directors, managers and regular people who want to participate in the future. and there is a common theme that I have discovered.

We tend to imagine what could be based on our own experience or our ability to execute. Herein lies the opportunity. It takes two types of people to make things happen - visionaries and execution leaders.

Enter the restless visionaries. People who naturally look out and see possibility and get excited about making things happen. Visionaries are passionate about what could be and are irrepressible when they have a vision of what's ahead. Visionaries do not understand the word no. They understand when. They have a conceptual understanding of the how, but it is more like a blue print than a map. Visionaries are people who are comfortable with change, and in fact, they love change. Visionaries are all leaders, regardless of where they are in the org chart. These are the people whose optmism is infectious.

But one can't celebrate the visionary without celebrating the people who painstakingly are able to execute. These are the people who, once they have a solid plan, they move ahead, methodically achieving one milestone at a time. These people are the execution experts, and they are as important as the visionary who brings the idea to the table and keeps it alive until it comes to fruition.

Change is natural, so it follows that innovation must be natural too. However, in the corporate context, sometimes we overprocess to point where we disengage due to complexity, or the fact that it takes too long to see results.

So here is the best way to approach this with as little process as possible.

Just start. Get a bead on the future, and what it will take to succeed. Figure out what the current state is and the gap, and then lay out the first steps. Move forward in increments, using timelines and milestones as a checkin point. Finally, assess progress, celebrate and decide on the next steps.

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