Capability cultivation

Are you cultivating the capabilities your enterprise needs for the future? How do you know what capabilities you will need? How do you choose which capabilities to develop or strengthen sooner rather than later?

Last year, my son drew my attention to “Time for a new consensus”, subtitled “Fostering Australia’s comparative advantages” – an essay by Jonathan West and Tom Bentley, published by the Griffith Review. The essay in full is a very interesting read, but in this article I just want to pick up a couple of thoughts which caught my attention:

… the deeper problem is that the assumptions underpinning our current (political) consensus no longer fit Australia’s circumstances

and

… a new consensus must focus on how we construct comparative advantage in the Australian economy, by shifting from static, one-off efficiency reforms to dynamic, capability-enhancing investments

These reflect common themes facing many industries and many organisations

  • market disruption, laying waste our existing operating assumptions
  • developing dynamic capabilities, enabling greater flexibility and agility in responding to market / environmental changes, whether they represent disruptive forces or new opportunities

This aligns with key elements of the enterprise transformation lifecycle that underpins our work in developing next generation leaders and enterprises.

Using this lifecycle, we:

  • explore business models and operating models, exposing, testing and adjusting assumptions that we make about our organisation and the ecosystem within which it operates
  • maintain business models and operating models, informing the progressive development of a dynamic organisational capability portfolio
  • assess and develop these organisational capabilities through consideration of a number of different dimensions, including culture, process, practice, systems, assets and other resources

What do we need to do to successfully cultivate a capability?

We need to consider the different composite elements of a capability, be it an organisational capability or a technology-based capability. The inclusion of attention to people, culture, practices, attitudes, behaviour, leadership is one of the reasons that we have chosen to describe the work of defining and realising organisational capabilities as an act of cultivation – helping to underscore the cultural and social elements that are equally important as other elements of these capabilities.

How do we choose which capabilities to develop? Through reconsideration of our business models and operating models, establishing an understanding of which will make the most significant contribution to enterprise viability and sustainability and where capability inter-dependencies exist that influence timing and sequencing.

Change exhaustion?

A few years ago, I attended an “all staff” meeting for a business unit of 60 people within a large organisation. It was a “kick-off” event at the beginning of the year, outlining for staff the range of activities and developments that would be pursued during the year. It followed a busy preceding year, with lots of change and lots of pleasing outcomes (from a management perspective).

The Director said to the staff something along the following lines …

If you are thinking that last year was busy and this year we are going to slow down, I am sorry to disappoint you. Last year represents the “new normal”. You will need to “get used to this” and find ways to operate successfully and satisfyingly in this new mode of operation.

In one sense, this is “no surprise”. We have all heard (and therefore know, understand and accept!!) that the pace of change is increasing and that it is not going to stop. Yet, sometimes things are changing so much, we feel like we want the world to stop, so that we can take a breath and steady ourselves (or perhaps steel ourselves) for what is inevitably going to come.

So, how do we cope with the change that is occurring around us, with the “disruption” to our lives and the ways in which we are accustomed to living, working, learning and playing? How do we go about making changes so that we are not “left behind”, possibly without a job or without our traditional role or with a diminishing pipeline of clients as they no longer value what we offer?

One of the ways is to undergo a transformation … so what is different about changing versus transforming?

A transformation entails operating with a different set of assumptions.

Whilst we continue to assume the world is operating in the manner to which we have become accustomed, then we may experience the world as a spiral of diminishing circles, leading to disaster. We may see our circumstances in negative, disappointing and threatening terms.

Often, in these circumstances, it is possible to see the world and our circumstances through a different lens, a little bit like turning a kaleidoscope and seeing things in completely different ways. Sometimes this requires help from others, simply to enable us to appreciate that there is a radically different way of seeing things. You have probably heard people say …

  • There are no problems, there are only challenges …
  • There are no problems, there are simply opportunities …
  • Some people see a glass half-full and others see a glass half-empty

These expressions are all about seeing things differently.

One of the great capacities that humankind has is to be able to consider situations in the following way:

  • understanding the elements that constitute the means versus the ends
  • conceive of scenarios where the ends remain the same but the means are different
  • conceive of other scenarios where the means remain the same but the ends are different

The latter allows us to explore new ways in which our own capabilities, built around our knowledge, skills and experience can be used to achieve different goals and outcomes. This is the manner in which individuals and enterprises can envisage new ways of seeing things and new ways of operating which take advantage of their personal strengths and abilities. Sometimes the new opportunities require some attention to some weaknesses in order to work more effectively in the new environment, and this presents us with new manageable changes, learning and improving, so that we can pursue new goals and new horizons.

In this way, we can turn a frustrating and demoralising situation into one which offers excitement and inspiration, enabling us to move forward with a new spring in our step, ready to meet the new challenges facing us, and with a new sense of purpose and capacity to contribute to shaping our world of work and to supporting those around us whom we love and care for.

Turning the kaleidscope may be all that is required to change exhaustion into exhilaration …

Becoming more brain and systems savvy … includes learning different ways to turn the kaleidoscope

Banning IT projects

IT-project-banBack in 2012, I attended an IT Governance seminar where Jane Treadwell, former CIO for the Government of Victoria (in Australia) started her presentation with three key assertions:

  • There are no IT projects – there are only business projects
  • There is no IT versus business – IT is part of the business
  • IT Governance by itself is misdirected

So my provocative title is more about the focus and management of projects than about banning IT.

Recently, I started a series of articles on business analysis, including:

These articles were prompted by a range of issues which I have encountered, oftentimes as a result of dealing with “IT Projects” that should be “Business Projects”. In these articles, I have explored some aspects of the relationship between what I called the “trinity of systems”:

  • Business systems (or organisations or enterprises)
  • Information systems
  • IT systems

My recent reading of “Systems Engineering: A 21st Century Systems Methodology” by Derek Hitchins has added some further understanding in this area and prompted the development of this article.

There are numerous definitions of systems – see Enterprises as Systems for further elaboration. For the purposes of this article, the following elements are important:

  • A system is a whole consisting of two or more interacting parts
  • Each part can affect the behaviour of the whole

Distinctions

It is important to understand the implications of this definition, made clearer to me in reading systems engineering papers and books. Derek Hitchins explains it this way:

Similarly, it is not helpful to think of an automobile as a system; without the driver and passengers, it is an artifact, contrivance, or — if you like — an incomplete whole. By itself, it exhibits no purpose, it does nothing, and it is inactive, inert. Add the driver, spouse and children, perhaps, and we have a socio-technical system which travels, seeks out destinations, achieves goals, observes traffic regulations — most of the time — creates a comfortable environment with constantly changing scenery, steers, accelerates and decelerates, etc; none of which the car-as-an-artifact can do on its own. And which, come to that, precious little of which the driver could do as well on his/her own. Bring the two parts together and the whole exhibits properties, capabilities and behaviors … that are, by definition, emergent, since none can be attributed exclusively to either of the rationally separable parts — automobile or driver.

The same line of argument applies to IT systems:

  • An IT system is an incomplete whole without the people who use the IT system, those who create and use information captured, stored, processed and managed by the IT system
  • The IT system may well source information from other devices and process this information into a form more usable by those using the IT system, but the IT system, like the car, is an incomplete whole without people interacting with and using the system

This is also made clear by Peter Checkland in his development of the Soft Systems Methodology, where he makes clear that people are an inherent part of an information system, as it is only people who can apply meaning to the information within the system, and hence to the information and data managed within the IT system. As outlined in Trinity of Systems, people are an intrinsic part of the information systems that enterprises establish. It is really only the enterprise-as-system that is the whole, with the IT system being a critical and integral element, but only a part of the enterprise.

Implications

There are a number of critical implications that arise from this understanding:

  • an IT system cannot be successfully created and implemented in isolation of the containing business system (enterprise)
  • the use of an IT system must always be considered in the context of the containing business system
  • the benefits of an IT system enabling and supporting the containing business system are largely realised by the business system

Isolation

In designing an IT system, account needs to be taken of how the IT system will be used. This requires the designer to conceive of the different ways in which the IT system might be used, and particularly to appreciate those ways which will be regarded as:

  • more convenient
  • more valuable

Prospective users are more likely to use the system if it is easy and convenient to use. This is part of what is considered through the lens of user experience.

Prospective users are more likely to use the system if it delivers value, either by better meeting their needs (effectiveness) and more easily meeting their needs (efficiency).

Use

Not only does the use of the IT system need to be considered in the context of the business function and objective it is supporting, but there is also a need to consider the “future” of the business function.

If the function does not deliver sufficient value, it may be targeted for change, possibly eliminating the need for the supporting IT system.

If the IT system substitutes for the business function, this will change the dynamics of the broader system of which the business function is part. Consideration will need to be given to the impacts on “other parts” within the broader business system or enterprise.

Benefits

Since the value of an IT system is derived through use of the system, the primary benefits of the system are realised by the business users of the IT system.

In the past, it was often assumed that the IT organisation unit should be accountable for realising the benefits of the IT system that they delivered. Now, it is more appropriately appreciated that the business users (and business owner) are the people who have the capacity to realise the benefits. This is directing greater attention to ensuring that business practices change such that optimum value is realised through use of the IT system.

Conclusion

Organisations that:

  • bring a stronger business focus
  • consider the business systems being enabled by the IT systems
  • ensure the business owner and users make judgements about the value they can derive from the investment in establishing and maintaining and IT system
  • hold the business owner accountable for the benefits of an IT system

are more successful in establishing, maintaining and using IT systems that deliver greater value to their enterprise.

Being clear that they are undertaking a business project is a helpful step towards doing this.

Being more systems savvy

What questions does this title prompt?

  • What is meant by “systems savvy”?
  • How systems savvy am I?
  • How systems savvy are the organisations of which I am part?
  • What is the value in being (more) systems savvy?
  • Why should I bother thinking, reading or trying to be (more) systems savvy?

Being (more) savvy

Let’s start with some synonyms for “savvy”

shrewdness, astuteness, sharp-wittedness, sharpness, acuteness, acumen, acuity, intelligence, wit, canniness, common sense, discernment, insight, understanding, penetration, perception, perceptiveness, perspicacity, knowledge, sagacity, sageness

“savvy” reflects the degree to which we understand “things” and can apply our knowledge and understanding to “things” and how we create, maintain and use these “things”.

Systems

Now, what about “systems”?

“systems” are one of the common ways in which we make sense of “things”, how they work and how to change how they work. In one respect, “systems” are a figment of our imagination. Why do I say that? Well, often different people view, describe and understand the same “system” in different ways. Lots of systems are sufficiently large and complex that we can’t know all that there is to know about the system. What we know about the system is influenced by:

  • what we know, in general
  • what we observe and experience in seeing and interacting with the system

Since that is different for each person, it is not surprising that the same system can seem different to different people. Hence, I find it helpful to appreciate that others probably have “a different system in mind” than the one in my mind.

Systems savvy

So, when we speak of being systems savvy, we mean that a person appreciates the finer points of understanding, designing, realising, and operating an entity through the lens of “systems” and is effective in designing, realising, operating, maintaining and changing “systems”.

Here are a couple of critical elements that are brought to bear in thinking about systems:

  • every system is part of a bigger (containing) system
  • many systems include feedback mechanisms

Every system is potentially part of more than just one containing system, prompting us to consider how a system-in-focus must operate in the context of being a part of a greater whole, where the other parts impact on the system-in-focus as much (or sometimes more) than any change to the parts of the system-in-focus might realise.

The feedback mechanisms enable the system to adjust to external factors over which the system-in-focus may have no “control” ie. they are open systems (when often “closed system” thinking is applied to their design and operation).

In particular, we also mean that a systems savvy person appreciates and practices the finer points relating to “social systems” – systems composed of people. Why? Because there are a number of critical differences between social systems and other systems.

Social systems

There is much to explore and understand about social systems – hence, our interest in continuing to:

  • explore new territory in this field
  • apply our learnings
  • share our learnings

Here are a couple of the most critical differences from our perspective. Social systems are:

  • self-designing, self-realising, self-operating, self-maintaining
  • reflective of how we make sense of the way in which we work or should work together
  • often the means by which we conceive, design, realise, operate and maintain other systems

Further elaboration on social systems is provided in a separate article.

Being brain savvy

Given that systems exist in our minds, as we learn more about how our minds work, we have the opportunity to change how we deal with systems in our minds.

Understanding more about how we think, feel, act and learn and applying this understanding is what is encompassed in being “brain savvy”.

So, we are interested in:

  • being more brain savvy
  • enabling us to be even more systems savvy

A range of different elements that are important to understanding systems, and how we govern, design, realise, operate and change them are explored in other articles, which can be found in this index.

Who are we? We are Associates with Interface Consultants. We offer services aimed at helping clients become more brain and systems savvy.

Interface Consultants are holding a lunch and learn event on being more brain and systems savvy. Further details are available on EventBrite.

Reducing enterprise dissonance

Have you thought about the degree of dissonance that exists within your enterprise?

Have you considered what the cost of this dissonance might be to the performance of your enterprise and its future success?

Have you identified where the greatest points of dissonance exist in your enterprise?

Have you considered what you might do to reduce dissonance in your enterprise?

Exploring enterprise dissonance

You may not have considered the concept of “enterprise dissonance” before now. It was prompted by thinking about enterprise integration, wholeness and harmony, and contemplating potential antonyms. Here are several definitions for dissonance that you might use to reflect on the dissonance within enterprises with whom you are engaged.

Dissonance: lack of agreement or harmony between people and things

Dissonance: conflict or incongruity

Dissonance: uncomfortable sense experienced by people in the midst of change

Assuming you do recognise the existence of dissonance in your enterprise. What are the causes of this dissonance? What might you do to reduce the degree of dissonance (assuming that it is an unnecessary overhead and impediment to enhanced enterprise performance)?

Diagnosing enterprise dissonance

One of the key causes of dissonance, in my experience, is that people hold different models of the enterprise, the environment in which it operates, or the parts of which it is composed. This prompts engaging with enterprises to explore:

  1. the explicit models that the enterprise is using to describe itself or its intended self
  2. any gaps or inconsistencies that might be evident in these models
  3. any gaps or inconsistencies between current capability and intended capability represented by these models
  4. any gaps or inconsistencies that might be evident between the implicit models that are evident in how leaders think, communicate, decide and act and the explicit

Any of these gaps or inconsistencies can be the cause for enterprise dissonance as people:

  • unknowingly act in differing and conflicting ways
  • respond to demands which expose gaps requiring immediate response without the opportunity to agree the manner in which the issue should be addressed
  • intentionally take actions to further personal or group goals and aspirations which may not be consistent with enterprise goals and aspirations

Dealing with enterprise dissonance

Having identified critical gaps, the enterprises are more readily able to develop a more integrated set of models on which to base an assessment of capability gap and a transformation plan to address the priority gaps.

Many enterprises have well established approaches to business transformation planning and capability development. The more critical issues seem to be:

  • identifying the critical gaps
  • addressing these gaps in a more holistic manner

This is where architecting enterprises, in enhancing enterprise awareness, enables enterprises to take a more effective approach to achieving enterprise integration, wholeness and harmony, thereby reducing enterprise dissonance, and enhancing enterprise performance and enterprise viability and sustainability.

These themes are explored further in the linked articles and more fully in the following series of articles (see series index).

  • Architecting enterprises – plain and simple
  • Architecting enterprises – digging deeper
  • Architecting enterprises – principles
  • Architecting enterprises – for Directors
  • Architecting smaller enterprises
  • Architecting disability sector enterprises
  • Architecting enterprises – reflections

Enterprise pertinence

pertinence

In thinking about the problems that enterprises encounter, the following questions came to mind:

  • What problems is your enterprise experiencing?
  • What problems is your enterprise trying to resolve?
  • How do you decide that these are the most important problems to solve?
  • What questions do you ask in this process?
  • Are you asking the right questions?

The answers to some of the questions will provide some insight into the measure of your enterprise pertinence.

Enterprise problems

All enterprises encounter problems. Yet, I wonder how well enterprises deal with the problems they encounter, and more particularly, how well enterprises deal with determining which problems to resolve, what priority to give to resolving them and how much to invest in resolving them.

The constant references to failed enterprises, failed business strategies, failed change initiatives, failed IT projects, … suggests that there are no shortage of problems to address and no shortage of opportunities to get better at solving problems!

Given how many problems might be encountered and the investment in effort to analyse the problem, design and assess potential solution options, develop and integrate these solutions into our enterprises, there is a need to:

  • assess and prioritise the problems, their solutions and the value they will deliver in terms of enhanced enterprise performance and outcomes
  • assess the cost and value of assessing and prioritising any prospective problem

This is what leads to considering whether we are asking the right questions about:

  • the problems we are experiencing or might experience
  • the extent to which these problems might prevail given changes in the ecosystems in which they operate or in the directions we might pursue (whereby some problems might not arise)
  • the root causes of the problems we are experiencing
  • how we perceive the problems that might or might not arise

Attention economy

What is the attention economy? How is it relevant to enterprise pertinence?

The attention economy reflects a view of our lives as being awash with information commanding our attention. Think of all the information coming to you via:

  • television, radio and print media
  • emails commanding your attention and action
  • social media – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter feeds

There are only so many “waking hours” in a day, so there are only so many “signals” to which you can give your attention. Here we have a supply and demand problem – one where “economics” comes into play. There is more demand for your attention than there is supply of attention that you can give. How do you decide which to ignore and which to consider? We make choices as to the allocation of our time and attention. We deem one signal to be more pertinent to our life and the various enterprises in which we engage. This is the “stuff” of work / life balance, of strategic versus tactical, of relevant versus irrelevant, of attention versus distraction.

It is as much about how we spend our “personal” time as it is about how we spend our “work” or “enterprise” time. Our awareness of problems and attention to problems is part of enterprise pertinence.

Power of questions

How do we identify problems? How do we assess problems? How do we assure ourselves that we are assessing problems well (right) and assessing the right problems?

This is the business of quality, assurance and governance, asking questions and asking the right questions. In governance roles, one learns to ask questions and one learns to recognise powerful questions. An example is the question all Boards must ask themselves and should be able to answer:

  • What constitutes success? How would we recognise success?

This is also the field of learning, single, double and triple loop learning:

  • Single loop learning – are we doing things right?
  • Double loop learning – are we doing the right things?
  • Triple loop learning – how do we decide what is right?

In understanding and exploring any area of activity, it becomes evident when asking a leader in the field a particular question, and they respond “That’s a good question” or “I have thought of asking that question”. Such situations of evidence of high individual and (potentially) enterprise pertinence.

Enterprise development

With the increasing complexity of the environments in which enterprises operate, we appreciate that enterprises must adopt an adaptive approach, where they need to learn about their situation and the associated problem space before being able to consider potential solutions. This will engage us in asking a range of questions, often around the five interrogatives:

  • Why?
  • What?
  • How?
  • Where?
  • When?

Deloitte University recognises this growing dynamic, and advises clients that we are transitioning:

  • from the industrial age where successful enterprises successfully scale efficiency
  • to the knowledge age where successful enterprises successfully scale learning

That entails developing the capability of asking and answering the right questions – the capability of developing enterprise pertinence.

Are you asking good questions in your enterprise?

Enterprise awareness

This article extends the thinking outlined in Enterprise Development which encompasses those capabilities required by an enterprise to support its adaptation, development, or transformation towards its intended future state. It explores enterprise awareness as a key capability within the enterprise development domain, and considers enterprise awareness in terms similar to those of individual self-awareness.

This is the first real expression and articulation of the thinking around enterprise awareness. I expect that further discussion and exploration will lead to progressive refinement and expansion of the thinking around this concept and its application to enterprises and their development. I would like to acknowledge Doug McDavid who prompted this thinking through his long-standing advocacy for the value of establishing and maintaining a repository of the architecture of enterprises.

Concept

When we are more self-aware as an individual, we are able to act in more effective ways in challenging situations. In this regard, I am suggesting that when enterprises are more self-aware, they are more able to recognise and respond appropriately to situations they encounter, whether these be threats or opportunities. In effect, an enterprise is more able to sense, respond, adapt, transform or develop:

  • than it would with lesser awareness
  • then other enterprises in the environment in which it is operating.

Application

What is required to be more enterprise-self-aware? In its most simplest form, it is to be aware of its existing and potential capability.

How often do we encounter:

  • The left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.
  • The divisions are silos with no collaboration between them.
  • Duplicated capabilities in different parts of the organisation

These and other similar situations are symptoms of an insufficiently self-aware enterprise.

What does it take to redress this situation?

  • Some minimal diligence in maintaining models and views which reflect the way in which the enterprise is organised and operates
  • A place where these models are visible across the enterprise and able to be explained and shared as part of the enterprise narrative
  • An assurance mechanism which monitors the maintenance of the models and views and the quality, integrity and usability of their representation
  • Appropriate skills and experience to provide support for this activity to occur in a sustained manner

Implementation

If this makes sense to you, you might be asking how you might explore and apply this concept to your enterprise? There are a number of minimum essential elements to consider and pursue:

  • Leadership
  • Learning and development
  • Scalability

Leadership

Developing enterprise awareness requires leadership to effect a cultural change which creates an environment in which enterprise awareness can develop and thrive.

An effective starting point is simply for the Executive team to test their own shared awareness and consistency in understanding and expressing:

  • the business model(s) underpinning their enterprise
  • the operating model for their enterprise
  • the desired culture and values for their enterprise
  • the means by which the performance of the enterprise should be assessed

Failure to be able to do this in a consistent and coherent fashion prompts serious questions as to how well others in the enterprise understand these fundamentals about the enterprise.

Exploration of the differences and development of a consistent expression with a shared narrative will then enable the Executive team to undertake this process with their direct reports. There will need to be, in conjunction with this activity, an organised way of recording the shared expression of the business model, operating model, values and principles, which can be used in common by all who engage in the progressive development of greater enterprise awareness.

Learning and Development

As the enterprise leadership engages in establishing greater enterprise awareness and greater enterprise alignment, the recognition of differences in understanding and practice are part of learning about the reality of the enterprise, and about deficiencies in its current organisation to achieve its desired goals and aspirations.

This is part of a self-discovery and learning journey. It should be treated as an open enquiry process where no participant is “wrong” and where no “blame” is attached to the existence of differences. These value arises in appreciating the differences and being able to attend to them, as they are, in part, one of the fundamental reasons that the enterprise is unable to realise its aspirations and its full potential.

Deficiencies in the current business model(s) and operating model will prompt revisiting of business strategy, which in turn will require the development and transformation of the enterprise to realise revised business strategies, business model(s) and the associated operating model.

Scalability

The approach which have been outlined can be applied to any “enterprise”. This means that it can be applied to:

  • an entire organisation
  • a division within an organisation
  • a team
  • a cross divisional function (eg. people management system)
  • a cross organisational system (eg. criminal justice system)

For each, it is entirely appropriate to consider:

  • business model (customers, services, channels, value proposition, capabilities)
  • operating model (operations, development, resources and governance)
  • culture, value and principles

For enterprises that are part of an organisation, there will be a need to determine the manner in which the enterprise integrates with other parts of the organisation. This may prompt a broader approach being taken, having determined that value has been derived in considering a smaller part of the organisation.

Facilitation

How might you facilitate the exploration of your enterprise and its self-awareness?

There are often a range of people within enterprises who are well placed to support such an activity. These include staff in the following functions:

  • Business strategy
  • Organisation development
  • Quality management
  • Business architecture

If your enterprise is not of sufficient size to have these positions, then a consultant with appropriate understanding of the architecture of enterprises could facilitate such an activity.