ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

November 1998

Articles

Xerox Documents Success

Soup's On

The Power Of Senior Teams

The Talk Around The Office



Columns

Total Quantity Management
by Peter Block

New Tools For Business Success
by Gregory P. Smith


Features

Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Pageturners
Book Review

 
Views For A Change

Myron Kellner-Rogers answers:
Let me begin with this bit of heresy: Over the past decade, the elegant solutions and sophisticated methodologies that failed to transform the business sector have been imposed on our community-based institutions. Public schools have been urged to adopt the methods of total quality, continuous improvement, customer satisfaction and strategic planning as the salvation for what ails them. As the methods have infiltrated the corridors of schools across the nation, they’ve limited our language—students have become customers—and diminished our relationships with one another—we’re now stakeholders. We have developed an unconscious mythology about the value of these tools on the work of the people who live in our organizations and our communities. Yet as the techniques have become orthodoxy, have we lost our connection to the purposes the tools were created to serve? If we are to fairly assess the impact of planning processes in our organizations, we need to return to the purposes we pursued them for in the first place, and look unabashedly at what the processes have produced.

Why Plan Anyway?
What is the purpose of planning? In my view, planning is about freeing an organization from the limitations of its history, liberating its capacity for creativity. At its best, planning is both a reflective and creative process, allowing an organization to reinterpret its history in the context of its present experience and projected future. Whatever methodology is used, this undertaking should produce a change in what we know ourselves to be in the context of the world we live in. Planning is about changing the identity of the organization.

The purpose of planning is never to produce a plan. Creating intelligent plans is easy and satisfying, but we all know that they often collapse at implementation. Planning is about creating the possibility of new and different action; action that is coherent with the identity of the organization and the needs of the community it serves. This possibility for acting differently and coherently springs from people’s ability to enter into a shared sense of what is significant, what really matters, in their past, present and future. We act on what we know ourselves to be.

Measure What We Do
Judge strategic planning by what the organization does. Are its responses more intelligent, creative and congruent? Are individuals and groups within the organization better able to make local decisions and act in ways that serve the desired direction of the organization? Can people recognize the significance of unanticipated changes in the environment and respond, or are they confused and in need of direction? Can people learn quickly, translating new actions into deeper meaning? Is the organization becoming more intelligent and more responsive to the community it serves? If administrative leaders, teachers and parents looked at the same event would they see the same thing—or do multiple meanings still paralyze people?

As any organization generates a deeper shared sense of who it is and what its environment means, its capacity for rapid, flexible, congruent action will increase. If the outcome of a planning process is that people require more management and guidance—in the form of rules, regulations or incentives—to act intelligently, then your planning process has failed to produce a shared basis for interpreting the world.

Next Steps: Deepening Meaning, Liberating Action
Learning is absent from most planning processes I see. Every plan has intended outcomes, the statements of results we desire, stated as objectives. But from the moment any plan is implemented, unintended consequences instantly appear. Usually, the evaluation of the plan is against objectives, and we deny the real experience of people, searching for what we hope for rather than what is showing up. It is in the unintended consequences, however, where the greatest possibility of learning.

We should create forums where people can connect with one another around their real experience, through conversations about meaning and origin. People will begin to see the sources of incoherence—from lack of information to relationships—limiting their shared capacity. Conversations about what is really happening allow people to see the conditions they have co-created that limit their ability to move into the future. They also create the possibility for changing these conditions.
Connecting the System to Itself
Most strategic planning processes begin from the invisible assumption that this is the domain of a few smart people, who then can turn over their work to be implemented. Implementation is then a gargantuan task, because those not involved in creating the plan do not share the meaning the creators intended.

Remember that what we do is what we know, and none of us own what we don’t create. Processes that engage the whole system in the creation of the plan will always produce better results, since people will collaborate in meaning making.

There are many whole system planning processes around these days, from Future Search to Real Time Strategic Change or Open Space.
What links them all are some shared assumptions. They begin from the assumption that the information needed to solve a problem or create a future is already in the system. The need is to bring the people in the system together so they can connect with each other around questions that really matter, and create a collective intelligence that is capable of a new possibility. When the planning process is a system-wide shared endeavor, the commitment to coherent and creative action is awesome.

 

H. James Harrington Responds

November '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
 
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