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Trying Harder Does Not Work

Challenges of today and tomorrow cannot be met with approaches of yesterday


by Patrick Halek


Cold coffee - but very dangerous

   It's no news at all – it's cold coffee. We all know that technology, the knowledge explosion, societal developments and speed are driving organisations as change pleases. Volatility, uncertainty and complexity have become fierce companions.

   But despite all that awareness and knowledge still many organisations behave like decades ago.

   It seems that sticking to well-known approaches, methods and tools in an even more efficient way is still considered the "golden way". On a regular basis, organisations enter a state of stubbornness, a state of "We must only try harder!". There is a very dangerous side to it, though. Why? Because trying not hard enough is not the problem.


Being part of the wrong game

   The true problem is: challenges of today and tomorrow cannot be met with approaches of yesterday - because the rules of the game have changed significantly. To put it even more boldly: the entire game is a different one. So: how can sticking to well-known rules even harder lead to better results when you are part of the wrong game?

   Thus, staying relevant and agile is not about showing more effort and trying harder. It is about changing perspectives and mindsets when one wants to advance successfully. That is exactly the reason why organisations and their responsibles which created entire new ways of behaviour, products or industries are called "game changers". They did not try harder – they played a new game.


The education-trap

   In many organisations the cultural approach and the way of thinking and acting is still based on management techniques developed in the 1980's and 1990's. Since most of today's 1st and 2nd level managers' education goes back to those decades, knowledge being state-of-the-art back then is still considered profound today. So, today, many of them seem to be trapped by their educational background - being part of the wrong game.

   Step by step, though, organisations have to pay a very high price for such mindset: they fail. New developments arise, things change and some organisations stumble and fall. We all know world famous corporations collapsing after they had been leading their markets for decades. Yet more alarming: some of them do not even realise why.


A simple paradigm

   Still, managing organisations is mostly defined by a simple paradigm: grow, get more efficient and do the things you do even better. It is a set of one-dimensional and linear guidelines one has to follow. True: as long as our environment seemed somewhat stable and predictable that was a good idea. But it no longer is. In many fields of our lives no stone remains unturned making our environment multi-dimensional in the need of a lateral approach.

   The result: an almost endless playground for opportunities. But: there is another side to it. More options and opportunities mean more aspects, more players and more scenarios to be considered. That is where volatility, uncertainty and complexity come from. Well-known rules and approaches as well as management techniques do not work anymore.

   Thus, going on like nothing has changed would be like using well-known tools for new tasks just because we are used to these tools …which would be a foolish thing to do, wouldn't it? Even worse: mostly it would cause enormous damage.


Things are not simple and one-dimensional

   To put it this way: the world has never been a simple and one-dimensional place, and so hasn't managing organisations. We are just about to find out. Trying to keep things simple would lead to a downward spiral. Change does not stop – so, there is no way back.

   A system, its mindset and approaches cannot be replaced from one day to another, though. It is a substantial change of culture when creating a mindset leading to appropriate ways of thinking and acting. To be very clear: this is not just about raising issues, this is about dealing with real challenges in a real world.

   This demands a different self-concept leading to a well-known but often ignored piece of wisdom: It is not just about doing things right – it is about doing the right things. This means: what was good until now does not necessarily have to be good from now on.

   In other words: what is the use of being very efficient or cost effective when the relevance of what you do is declining? For example: major changes within the fields of "energy" and "mobility" are challenging entire industries and their business models. Some do understand that this will leave no stone unturned. Some do not.

   Thus, there is a brief guideline for organisations in taking some useful steps:

• Challenge your self-concept: What is your position in a constantly changing, lateral environment? Constantly reflect about "Are we doing the right things?" and "Will it still be relevant what we do in the near and farer future?"

• Seek opportunities and take your chances: A multi-dimensional environment is not just about threats - it offers multiple opportunities to develop and evolve. Know what your core competences are and keep developing new options.

• Education is way beyond management skills: Creating a culture and methods of collaboration and of seeking multiple perspectives is essential to ongoing relevance and fitness. Connect different minds creating multiple views.

• Challenge your habits: What was good until now does not necessarily have to be good from now on. Ongoing relevance comes from ongoing advancement and transformation.


Get out of the box

   Ongoing relevance is not simply based on adapting change and the status quo efficiently, though. It is based on creating uniqueness and their own distinct position - on a continuous and evolutionary basis. That is why it is essential to put the focus on an agile attitude and view the usual "out-of-the-box".

   Thus, this is about the very core of managing an organisation - which is not about getting more and more efficient but which is about entrepreneurship, transformation, confronting a changing environment and shaping something new. Managing an organisation is about staying vital, fit, relevant and creating ongoing impact.

   The message is: create where you can and follow where you must. Ask yourself what options and opportunities your competences and abilities can have in store. This way, your approaches, methods and tools you use are much more likely to match actual needs.

   It is like finding the right tool for the right task. Since all tools have rules how and where to use them, you are not only doing things right - you are much more successful when doing the right things.

   An essential aspect of a volatile, uncertain and complex environment is a tendency not to forgive a reluctant, passive way of handling things. Just trying to keep up with the status quo efficiently works less and less. Since patterns, players and a common environment are less predictable, organisations always must have options in store how to confront or create a new scenario.

   Organisations not dealing properly with a volatile, uncertain and complex environment miss important developments much more likely because they might run the danger of misunderstanding interdependencies and dynamics. This all calls for a lateral way of thinking and acting creating multiple options - always being prepared to question the current position.


5 petty rules

   In order to do so, these "5 petty rules" might come in handy:

1. Pre-sensing: Do not get fooled by former success. Continuously ask yourself what you could do or offer matching the market's / environment's needs 2 – 3 steps ahead. Do not cling to the status quo.

2. Thinking and acting in scenarios: It is a lateral environment. Mostly, there is not only one solution. Create scenarios and involve those who offer different points of view.

3. Integrating stakeholders and their knowledge: A volatile, uncertain and complex environment asks for multiple knowledge and abilities. Integrate and involve those who can cater to such.

4. Cooperation: The more volatile, uncertain and complex the environment the less the chances to make it on your own. Ask yourself where and how cooperating with others would make sense. Fruitful cooperation is a key-factor to ongoing relevance.

5. Values, culture and brand: The basis to an agile and vital mindset is its values - its culture and brand. Develop a culture and brand continuously carried by appropriate values - based on a self-reflecting, forward looking and cooperative mindset. Live such culture and strengthen such brand.

You think all this is still nothing new? So, here is one question:

Which concrete approaches, methods and tools have been established and used in your organisation so far to confront these 5 petty rules?


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