In an increasingly VUCA world, the nature of change has changed, but most people’s paradigm of focus hasn’t changed with it.
I distinctly remember one time, when I was facilitating the management team at one of the businesses I was responsible for. We were exploring the full range of systemic issues, challenges, problems, and opportunities that were confronting us and testing our organizational agility. It was a very complex situation and landscape to navigate, which had proven to be largely intractable. We had been spinning our wheels and were looking to brew up a breakthrough to get back into traction. During lunch, the technical vice president asked me, with what I sensed was a somewhat condescending tone, “Which parts of this problem should we focus on?” I paused, looked him right in the eye, and said, “All of them.” He promptly broke out laughing and, in an even more condescending way, explained that I clearly didn’t understand the concept of focus!
That’s my point exactly. In my experience, most people’s concept of focus is about isolating parts of the problem to work on, at the expense of the whole, and the parts they typically choose are the most clear and present dangers:
- Clear at a tactical level, not abstract at a more strategic level (i.e., something tactical they can get into action on).
- Present right in front of them, in the moment, not something which may or may not be further down the path in the future (i.e., if they fix today’s problems, tomorrow will take care of itself).
- Dangers such as things that are broken that need to be fixed (i.e., if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it) or goals that need to be achieved, and they are in danger of not achieving if they don’t get super focused.
So focused on these clear and present danger parts they aren’t focused on the rest of the whole, of the un-clear and un-present dangers which, in an increasingly VUCA world, will be clear and present very soon! Probably much bigger and much sooner than we think! As a result, teams easily get struck in a vicious cycle, so focused on the current crisis that they don’t see the next one taking shape. They lurch from crisis to crisis, stuck in a vicious cycle of crisis-management and disorganized-chaos, which become chronic. Easily becoming a self-fulfilling, self-defeating, vicious cycle and downwards spiral.
To be successful in a VUCA world, our concept of focus must shift to one of triaging the whole, the parts and the path.
- Triaging the Whole – remaining fully situationally aware of the full set of circumstances we face, operationally and strategically, short term and long term, clear/present and un-clear/un-present. If our situational awareness goes partial in an increasingly VUCA world, things can go really bad, really big and really fast, with few second chances.
- Triaging the Parts – sure enough, inside of that full situational awareness, we must triage acutely to decide which parts of the problem to tackle. Here are some basic definitions of Triage:
- In Crisis Management: the sorting of and allocation of treatment to patients and especially battle and disaster victims according to a system of priorities designed to maximize the number of survivors; the sorting of patients (as in an emergency room) according to the urgency of their need for care. Wikipedia: Triage
- In Business: the assigning of priority order to projects on the basis of where funds and other resources can be best used, are most needed, or are most likely to achieve success.
- David Allen puts it well in his book, “Getting Things Done – the art of stress free productivity”, saying: “It is possible for a person to have an overwhelming number of things to do and still function productively with a clear head and a positive sense of relaxed control. That’s a great way to live and work, at elevated levels of effectiveness and efficiency. It’s also becoming a critical operational style required of successful and high performance professionals. You already know how to do everything necessary to achieve this high performance state. If you are like most people, however, you need to apply these skills in a more timely, complete and systematic way so you can get on top of it all instead of feeling buried”.
- Triaging the Path – in particular, we must triage our limited resources on what to do in series and in parallel, sequencing things in best service of the journey, to find the path of least resistance and highest reward to the best outcome possible and re-triaging on the fly as circumstances change. When faced with situations in which the demands for resources far exceed supply and circumstances are unfolding dynamically in unpredictable ways, we have no choice but to triage, re-triage and re-triage.
Bad News/Good News! The bad news is that triage is a 3D challenge of the Whole, the Parts and the Path. The good news is that you have already mastered the skills, as you do it everyday in all kinds of ways, not least of all when you drive you car.
Think about it, In the Driving Seat of our cars, this all comes naturally. We are calm and composed, in the flow of our real-time unfolding journey in a very VUCA environment, triaging the details and the dynamics with hardly giving it all a second thought, usually arriving at our desired destination, safely, on-time and ready for what’s next. So, when we pull in the parking lot outside our office and walk inside, what happens to these natural abilities? How do we get ourselves in the same mode In the Driving Seat of our business as we are In the Driving Seat of our car? We need a paradigm shift of focus. When we triage well we create traction on our desired trajectory, as a leader, as a team, as an organization, as a business and as an enterprise.
We help CEOs and their executive teams (and ultimately enterprise wide/deep) develop the same mode In the Driving Seat of their business using a proprietary “Traction Planning” approach – facilitating the paradigm shift of focus, engaging them in fully-triaging the 3 dimensions of their agility challenge (the whole, the parts and the path) to be creating and sustaining traction on their desired trajectory with the agility required for an increasingly VUCA world. The nature of change has changed and your paradigm of focus must change with it.
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