Leading in times of great opportunity (keynote briefing: Department of International Trade)

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Last week, I delivered a keynote briefing (leading in times of great opportunity) to senior leaders within the Department of International Trade (UK) at Lancaster House in London.

Given the importance of the topic (leading in uncertainty), I am sharing the slides for those who are facing similar issues (briefing notes below the SlideShare presentation).

Slide 2: Great opportunities can only be realised if leaders can rapidly sense and adapt to the world within which they lead. 

  • High-Reliability system failure (story)  – high impact – high potential for replication.
  • Didn’t understand the environment, the system – The behaviours and processes that had been created were not fit for purpose, they didn’t fit the world around them.
  • You will shape the system…great opportunities require leaders to be committed, accountable and responsible to/for high-reliability and high-performance behaviours, process and structures that fit with the world within which you operate.
  • DG – Provide insights into the environment through to practical decision-making methods.

Slide 3: Interdependence – what does your challenge look like:

  • You are coming together with a variety of starting conditions and stakeholder experiences – you now have to embrace interdependence and develop common behaviours, processes and structures that can realise the great opportunities available to you.
  • Three variables (paper-rock-scissors) – what behaviours, process and structures will you need to design/develop to harmonise your approach to the same objectives?
  • Great opportunities bring great challenges – if you are not anticipating negative consequences from your policy and practice you are vulnerable to unintended consequences of your actions.

Slide 4: The problem is that the world around you is not static.

  • You are not only leading in a time of great opportunity, you are leading in a time of rapid change, where starting conditions are not solid foundations but shifting sands.
  • If you don’t anticipate and respond to change your policy & practice will not achieve your desired outcomes.
  • High performance/high-reliability behaviours, process and structures need to align with the nature of the environment you are operating in.

Slide 5: Sense the domain and design/develop/apply appropriate behaviours, processes and structures.

  • DG explanation of Cynefin and links to IRGC: Simple (which side of the road do we drive on in the UK); Complicated (quickest route from New York to Los Angeles); *complex example: tumour example (wherever you have competition or collaboration, you have complexity); Chaos (911). Chaos – complexity – No bouncing back only bouncing forward!
  • Focus on ‘conflict’ in context of learning (Hattie & Yates) – Simple (no conflict, but people create it – thereby wasting energy and resource); Complicated (Guided conflict); Complex (Seek conflict – link between lack of conflict and decision-making bias).

Slide 6: The tortoise does not beat the hare in today’s world – you need to match your environment!

  • High performance/High reliability means that leaders have to rapidly sense change – this means developing behaviours, processes and systems that accelerate knowledge and learning flows.
  • Get this wrong and you could miss the great opportunities open to you.

Slide 7: Don’t let culture become an excuse for failure – high performance/high-reliability leadership means that you must be constant and obsessive in your desire to make sense of the system. 

  • DG explanation.
  • Don’t set out to build culture, it will be a job you will never finish, it will frustrate you and it will become an excuse for failure. Instead on shaping high-reliability and high-performance behaviours, process and structures.
  • complexity/interdependence requires new metrics – new thinking – without such metrics, you will deal with a variation on the Schrodinger’s cat paradox (debunk of Copenhagen experiment) ***super position of states as leaders you are both dead and alive state*** — your work is both succeeding and failing at the same time – without looking in the box, without the right sense, you will never know.

Slide 8: To deliver on high performance/high reliability you need a common framework through which to establish sponsor and trust people upon whom you are dependent.

  • Distributed decision-making framework as an example if any of these first three areas are not clear you increase your vulnerability to unintended consequence from your work – where are the gaps (common purpose, values and standards).
  • To not address these gaps, is equivalent to crossing the M25 blindfolded – if you survive it will be by luck, not design.

Slide 9: End

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