These may surprise you at first, but they are vital to the role. And soon as one starts looking a bit beyond methods and practices, and instead focuses on leveraging unique capabilities of a particular organization, it suddenly all makes sense. So, let’s get started:
- Mental models. Our perception of reality, as well as our ways of changing it, occurs in accordance with a mental model we operate with. How do we envision value creation process: as a set of long phases or rather a flow or something even different? How do we view a knowledge worker: as a uniquely skilled individual that requires certain environment to enable productive outcomes or as an interchangeable “resource”, a walking “capacity bucket” that can be moved around, to where such capacity is missing? How do we perceive customer value, business outcomes, sustainable success, etc. etc. etc.? Everything is governed by certain models. But rarely are our mental models perfectly accurate, sometimes they are way off the mark, sometimes they are okay, but somewhat incomplete. Adequate mental models allow to effectively problem-solve and continuously improve the system you operate as a part of. And vice versa, conceptually wrong mental models lead astray every time. Realizing that different people in the organization may operate out of different models is key, as well as the fact that getting to a better view of reality is a journey of many steps and those need proper facilitation. The more complex the system, the harder it is to have a complete and accurate picture of it, by definition, but rather the journey becomes the destination where the organization uncovers newer and better perspectives they were missing before. One common (and very serious) problem across enterprises is failure to embrace uncertainty as part of the mental model and properly understand how to convert uncertainty into business value. This often requires a lot of focus on behalf of a coach.
- Interactions. Enterprise behaviors in principle are irreducible to individual actions and thought processes. In fact, this is the reason why item #1 is necessary, but not sufficient. Effective interactions are at the root of organizational performance.
- Emergence. No new behavior, no matter how desirable, can be pre-planned and achieved in a predictable manner. Most we can do is determine the overall direction in which we want to be moving, work on the underlying factors that support/impede the process and let the rest emerge. So, if for example, we are looking to enable responsiveness to change, we have to address existing impediments to it (rigid existing processes and constraints), introduce the foundation of the new process, but then keep ear to the ground, because every organization implements this capability in their own manner, as their unique context allows them to.
- Organizational habits. It might sound surprising, but people operate out of their explicit mental models far less then we might think. Instead, implicit models account for a large portion of decisions and may come as a great surprise even to the people who make those decisions in the first place. Those implicit models are not directly affected by deliberate, conscious mental effort; they rather form as an underlying structure of existing habits. Therefore, tapping into new habits means effectively addressing a large portion of decisions made in the enterprise context. Ignoring this area leads to a lot of bad surprises later on, when it turns out that despite much training and coaching effort, people fall to their old behavior all the same, when confronted by reality. Organizational habits are the vehicle by which sustainable benefits can be achieved out of the transformation.
- Learning. Finally, the only way to validate a mental model is by comparing anticipated outcomes to empirical evidence. Did we really speed up? Is this feature-set better for the customer? Is this architectural change going to make it easier or harder to add future features? These and many more critical questions can easily be answered without any empirical evidence at all – our minds are pretty good in “constructing” reality that corresponds to our expectations as well as creatively rationalizing any undesirable input that manages to slip through; a whole bunch of super powerful cognitive biases drive us to do so. But empirical evidence, rather than wishful thinking, is the way to go. How do we measure success? Are we over-relying on outputs and never measure the real outcomes? Are we over-constraining ourselves with easy-to-acquire quantitative measures while in fact we may need more qualitative, deep feedback loops? When everything is “known”, the organization is most certainly in a big trouble, overlooking the unknowns that contain both big opportunities and really dangerous risks.
The task of an enterprise coach is one of the hardest ones out there. It is critical to view it from the right perspective.
Enjoy and focus on what really matters to your transformation success!
By Alex Yakyma, Org Mindset.