Monday, 23 December 2013

To be or not to be: is it the Question or the Solution?

After a recent board meeting, I had a chat with the CEO; he was concerned about finding ways to improve his company’s operational excellence. I pointed out a few links between his quest and the strategic issues that he had brilliantly presented during the board. His answer was  quick and sharp: these are two different subjects. 

I could hear that there was no room for questions on the operational side: only flawless and repeatable execution was expected. The core and essential queries were reserved for the yearly ritual event: the executive committee strategic seminar.

He was right: leaders are often seen as heroes, bravely leading their troops through  unknown territories but delegating to their managers the boring and daily pride of delivering impeccable results.
Leaders own the big questions. Field managers must deliver reliable answers and competitive solutions.

But, in the real world, we have all attended -or even led- endless meetings debating around the “best” solutions and refining their implementation process, only to discover afterwards that these perfect solutions were useless as they were not addressing the right issues. We have also shared or built strategic visions followed by detailed strategic plans* to discover, in the course of action, that they were inadequate or not implantable.

Is it smart to separate questions from solutions? If so, where is the parting line? Strategy vs operations? Leaders vs operatives? If not, what is the way?
A few days ago, in his Gemba coach chronicle, Michael Ballé raised this issue, comparing Ford and Toyota systems: “the Taylor/Ford approach emphasizes the typical solutions (...).Conversely, Toyota’s emphasis in on the typical problems(...). In the end it all comes down to what problem you’re trying to solve.”
Our main challenge is therefore not to separate questions and answers, problems and solutions and let everyone -leader & operative- be the owner of both. This is the sure way to be kinder to the problems and wiser for the solutions.


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