Every health and human service organization needs a strategy for the path ahead to continued competitive advantage and sustainability – and usually that path demands change of some part (or all) of the organization. But, as I’ve written about before, the track record for organization transformation in our field is spotty at best.
Recently, I was reminded that not all organizational change must be of the “all of nothing” approach while reading the H&HN Daily article by Dan Beckham, Moving into the Future Deliberately and Incrementally. He writes:
Volatile environments can be dangerous environments. Volatility can snap the necks and break the backs of those who presume to boldly shove a straight path through it. [Instead] Volatile environments demand flexibility — a willingness to go right, then left; to stop, retreat and start over again….In volatile environments, what worked yesterday may not work today, but might work again tomorrow. The path through a volatile environment is made of zigs and zags, of branching experimentation.
The solution offered in Mr. Beckham’s piece? Deliberate incrementalism – this is a planning implementation methodology that relies on making a series of small strategic adjustments, instead of what Mr. Beckham calls “Boldly heading down a straight path.” Central to this approach is a decision cycle developed by military strategist, Colonel John Boyd, and referred to as “observe, orient, decide, and act (OODA). The OODA loop looks like this:
Observe – What are the environmental patterns effecting your environment? You need to seek out and actively interact with those patterns.
Orient – What do those patterns mean? You need to make “sense” out of what you have observed, and understand how it relates to your organization.
Decide – What actions do you take? Knowing the patterns and the context for applying them to your organization will give you a number of possible strategies. Choose the right one.
Act – Make your decision reality.
I think this makes good sense – and is consistent with sound strategy implementation practices in many ways. First, to be purposefully incremental, an organization must have the end in mind. “If you don’t know where you’re going, any path will take you there”, the adage from Alice In Wonderland, speaks to this issue. Being deliberate demands direction.
Second, deliberate incrementalism isn’t possible without both market intelligence and metrics-based management (see Quantitative & Qualitative Market Research Options— You Choose and Two Uses Of Metrics-Based Management – Strategy & Business Process Management). The foundation of deliberate incrementalism is the data and metrics to measure your organizational performance in the context of the market. And, a key element of great strategy is adaptability (see Is Strategic Planning Passé?). For more, check out these resources for strategic plan development:
- Navigating Through Tumultuous Times: Six Keys to a Solid Strategic Plan
- Strategic Planning: A Structured Approach to Directing Resources to Achieve Your Organizational Objectives
- A Strategic Reality Check: Is Your Strategic Plan Prepared for This Economic Downturn?
- Strategic Positioning & Strategic Planning: Integrating Critical Marketing, Operations, and Finance Functions For Success
To me, the message here is that organizations need a bold vision for the future, and a purposeful and data-informed process to get there. Mr. Beckhams’ take on this:
Moving incrementally into the future holds the potential to generate more feedback than the big, bold jump. If there’s a feedback loop associated with incremental iterations, then lots of incremental moves generate lots of feedback. When speed is needed, accelerated incrementalism may provide the best answer….Such knowledge accumulates and, over time, can create a smarter, more adaptive organization.
I do think most health and human service organizations have faced significant volatility in the last few years (see In Planning, ‘Keep Your Powder Dry’, Earthquake Proof Your Strategy and The Unanswered Questions Of Seismic Strategy), and I do think they all need a strategic path through those challenges. But I don’t think I’m ready to say that their strategy needs to be either a bold, single stroke, or only a collection of small changes. Like so much in strategy, the correct action depends on the problem the organization is trying to solve. And I think one of the prime problems for organizations is defining a strategy that both survives the current market and develops a sustainable market positioning for the emerging landscape.
Make sure to join me, along with Dennis Morrison, Ph.D., Chief Clinical Officer, Netsmart Technologies, and James Gavin, MSW, President & Chief Executive Officer, Community Care Behavioral Health, when we present The Leader’s Challenge: Making Your Strategic Plan A Reality – Tools To Improve Strategy Implementation & Affect Organizational Change, at the upcoming 2014 Executive Leadership Retreat.