I have sat in numerous collectives, coalitions, and partnership-based initiatives for many years. And while I have seen the great benefits of collaboration work, I also cringed at some of the dysfunction manifested in the name of collaboration. Here are some of the few observations around collaboration that show how conflicting motives can hijack its value.
· Some collectives are not collaboration at all. Some are pseudo-collaborations when they appear in the guise of collaboration but are not. Partnerships that are by nature tactical, one-off, short-term do not have to be labeled collaboration. It is a mere partnership for a specific set of projects, initiatives, and agenda. Collaboration focuses on long-term strategic objectives that no one organization can boast to overcome or solve. For example, eradicating poverty, homelessness, etc.
· For one, when collaboration leads to co-dependencies between organizations, using collaboration partners to fill their capacity deficits and further discourage the organization from actually investing on specific organizational and technical capacity-building because they can get it ‘free’ through collaboration. It sounds pernicious, but this practice is very common. For example, the convenor will set up a research collective in the hope that the agenda, framework, and technical skills-set drawn from the group-those thing that they lack and cannot do on their own.
· When the convenor abdicates on its responsibilities to the whole group and delegates all the decision making, it makes the group more responsible than they should be. For example, a convenor who is legally responsible for setting the collaboration, having funding to administer and support it, abdicates its leadership role to the Chair, Vice Chair or certain organizations to decide on issues related to its functions.
· The role of the convenor is very tricky. The people in the group look to the convenor for guidance, inspiration, and smooth administration, as well as leadership. When there is no leader or sets of leaders in the group performing complementary functions, it begets the question: who is calling the shots here? How can the decision-makers contain risks in their decision-making?
· Supposedly the risks are shared equally by the whole group, but in fact, risks are shared by those who get to do more work for the group. Leaving some to do less while the rest of the group do more than what they bargained for. Studies show that the larger the group, slackers tend to arise and create more work for others.
· There seems to be no clarity why organizations and individuals are sitting on these groups and committees regarding their motivation and ‘what’s in it for them?” It is very rare when people get honest about it. Is it to get more funding? More prestige? Getting capacity when there is none in your organization? Is it for a good reputation? Is it because it aligns to your organizations’ purpose? Is it because you get more than you put in? Is it because it is easy to sit in without having more responsibilities? Being honest and candid about what you want out of these collaborations will give you an assessment in whether or not it is the right fit for your interests and motivations. It also gives everyone on the table an idea how these interests align with the groups’ aims.
· Simply getting what you want and offering to help is not the answer. Collaboration is not just the sum of all efforts if everyone likes what is going on. Any time, partners can pull out and say “we are not part of this,” because it happens more than you think. The self-interest is too high on the agenda to make it work for the group. Sacrificing your own organization’s self-interest for the collective common good may create a little discomfort or moderate pain as part of the equation, not a lot are prepared or have contemplated this. Ask yourself is being part of the collective enhances your ability to forge common agenda and interests or in short-term merely responding to your needs.
These and many more have become perplexing dilemmas. When everyone extols the values of collaboration, the practice of collaboration is nowhere near as impact-full and effectiveness as it should be. And everybody wonders why.
A few self-assessment questions will get you thinking about your role in the collaboration framework.
1. Have you clarified, explained, and demonstrated your motivation, interests, and organizational aims as part of the group?
2. Have you expressed the opinions, perspectives, and challenges that you face as part of the collective and understood each partner’s interests and motivations?
3. Have you benefited more than what you are intending to gain as part of the group or vice-versa ( meaning put more than what you expected to contribute?)
4. Have you contributed to advancing the collective good which you would not directly benefit as an organization but committed to doing it anyway?
Let us analyze; if you answer 4 out of 4, then it means that you understand the importance of honesty, candor, and exhibiting a certain level of vulnerability to achieve common goals, that at some point, will cause discomfort or pain to your organization. If you answer yes to 2-3 questions, you have a certain level of understanding of your role but not taking a proactive stance to the issues you are facing as part of the group. If you answer yes to 1, there is a great room to improve in your standing and perception of how collaboration works, gravitating on passivity, dependency, or confusion within your role in the group and vice versa.
Unraveling these issues is the start of empowering your position within a collaboration framework. It does not mean that you will not fail, it means that you can go back up again and revisit those thorny issues that get in the way of effective teaming up for success. The right frame of mind, expectations, and contributing attitude can set your organization up for greater collective impact.
sContinuing on this essay on why strategy plans fail, I am sharing two most important reasons.
4. Focus on planning and not on implementation
Lots of monies, energies, team effort, and concentration were devoted to planning and consultations and reviews but the real work to be done does not even have a budget or people assigned to carry out proper implementation, monitoring, and performance measurement.
This happens more than regular. The initial sizzle and excitement about the plans get dissolve as time passes by and newer issues and challenge preoccupy the organization leaving the real tasks of implementation to lower-level staffers.
5. Lack of proper controls and measurements
A lot of strategy plans fall by the wayside because there are no systems set to monitor, control, and measure performance in a regular fashion. A high-level executive should set clear guidelines in terms of how the implementation will be reported, checked, controlled for slippage, delays, and inaccuracies, and measured for effectiveness and efficiencies.
There is also a need to have a regular check-in rhythms with all critical team members to provide corrective actions to lagging and ineffective performance, set up standards of excellence, and increase the confidence of implementers to report early signs of detours from original plans, and account for new realities in the environment where plans need to be tweaked here and there. This is a major part of the commitment of management to see the plans through and make it work.
I hope these give you a sense of the critical misses around strategies and how these can be avoided by creating contingencies and systems in place to avoid the common implementation and planning errors that most organizations make.
Critical strategic thinking does not end when the plans are written out and publicly acclaimed. The real test of strategic thinking is when management takes the plans and makes it work in an environment where it is easy to abandon the plans that have become obsolete as a result of changes in the operating environment. Avoiding the plans obsolescence is critical, and this shows how the management can be more intentional, strategically focused, and adaptive through the implementation and its successful wrap-up.
These and some other important questions will be discussed in my Strategy Development Workshop in Red Deer, Alberta this week.
80% of plans do not get implemented because of many reasons. Here I enumerate the top 5 obstacles to effective implementation.
•Management needs to ‘own’ the plan
A lot of organizations invest in planning but forget that the strategy is implementation. Management needs to own the plan, create contingencies when there is a major shift in external environment making the plans unworkable, and instill performance measurement at all points of the implementation. Management should consult the stakeholders concerned but the end of the day, it rests on management that knows the business from inside-out and are not afraid to take responsibility for its success or failures.
•Confused planning with strategy
When management started planning, they confuse it with strategy. Planning is done at the lower end of the organization, while setting strategy is primarily a management function. It cannot be delegated to staff or mere customers dictating how the company should be run. A decisive, informed, and well-represented management team should undertake their biggest function- which is to set the general strategic direction of the company. This biggest function is what creates the impetus for the company in the next 3-5 years aligning all resources, assets, culture, and processes to meet the goals, and forsaking other fruitless pursuits.
•INERTIA, ATROPHY, & FALL-BACK ON PAST PERFORMANCE
Organizations who are undergoing maturity or who are the in peak of their organizational or product success would have the mentality that they are invincible and unassailable. When in fact, past performance does not lead to future success. The market volatility and disruptive nature of businesses and megabrands call for adaptability and nimbleness that can prevent massive investment on futile and unproductive projects. Inertia is what prevents innovation from happening. When there is ego or greed or plain stupid management that does not listen to customers, clients, or stakeholders, it is on its way to its own demise. Take the case of Sears.
When companies become too comfortable with their success or good fortunes and don't have the predilection to move to the next level or raise the bar notch higher, the writing on the wall will be there pretty soon. If they are not afflicted enough to move to plan and manage risks, competitors that have faster sprint and stronger kick will rush in and eat their market share. Competition is not just the next vendor like your business, it is also the changing trends, mores, norms, and behaviors of society that may have a profound impact in your business.
(more on this, next time!)
I met an acquaintance again after six years. While meeting her, it brought back memories to the time where I was thinking of doing a strategic pivot in my career. My mentor would say to make a ‘sharp right turn’ as part of evolving my professional contribution. It gave me a sense of fulfillment in what I found.
How far had I come from 6 years ago to this year?
What happened if you looked back at your past and asked yourself, how did I do it? It was a mix of serendipity, courage, and doing everyday work that led me to opened doors of opportunities in the last five years. These were very instructive for me. I have seen a lot of growth in those five years that I could not believe that I have accomplished, more or less completed!
We have some metrics in our minds as to what constitutes success, having arrived, being ‘there, on fulfillment, happiness, and never-ending joy. These metrics can be people we meet and hold to high esteem, situations where we deemed that’s “it,” the spotlight we crave, and the validation that we seek from others. These are all ephemeral after all.
The real metrics that matter are the metrics that we create for ourselves. It is not what others impose on us and those that we copy and use from other people’s lives. We alone can create the path to real and genuine joy and fulfillment that we seek out in our lives not what others in Facebook or the guru in TV proclaim to work.
Do not be a copycat of some persona. Famous on the outside, hollow on the inside. Do not be a slave to the life that you created. The life you created should produce the abundance, freedom, and meaning that can be discovered through reflection, focus, and perseverance. It is possible.
Live your life you dream everyday - one that is uniquely yours!