Julia Gillard’s adaptive challenge?

With just two weeks to the federal election has Julia Gillard realised in time what her adaptive challenge is?  Can she make up the ground lost by being what she now calls her authentic self? The media claim that until recently she was running a so-called safe ‘technical’ campaign which seems to have lost her a lot of following. 

If we compare Julia Gillard’s dilemma to BP’s former CEO Tony Hayward we may see some similarities. Ron Heifetz, in Boss Magazine 10th July 2010, suggested that why Hayward failed was he took a technical approach to an adaptive challenge. Heifetz gave this advice:

  1. There is no substitute for presence: CEO needs to be there to manage the panic, chaos and frustration, and to provide a frame.
  2. Communicate in a way that demonstrates that one understands the difficulty people are going through.
  3. Maintain poise. CEOs have to give people confidence that a situation can be continued, even if they aren’t so confident themselves.
  4. Drive the organisational response.
  5. Frame the adaptive challenge.  Regarding the BP situation Heifetz argues Hayward should have said: “We were over our heads and in deeper water than we should be and I call on my colleagues to slow down deep-ocean work until the proper technology is developed to prevent this happening in the future.” The world is enormously forgiving when people step up to the plate, but this has to happen straight away.  The longer you wait the deeper the hole you dig for yourself, Heifetz said.

We will soon see if Gillard has waited too long.


Business Case for Futures Thinking

The business case for futures methodologies is that the futures tools and methodologies not only are challenging conventional business assumptions but they are also challenging the worldviews, myths and metaphors that created these assumptions in the first place. This allows new thinking, whilst not necessarily an easy experience, to emerge which holds tremendous potential for forward thinking organisations to significantly increase their innovation, through dialogue to co-evolve a desired emerging future as it occurs in the here-and-now as the ‘new’ strategy.


Using Futures Methods to Enhance Clarity For Your Direction. 

There are a number of futures methodologies that are used but our observation is that the most common methodology is that of scenario planning.  Whilst scenario planning is an effective methodology for creating a strategy document or intention, and are often readily accepted by CEOs and their Boards as effective strategy, from our experience, we find it too mechanistic a methodology when it is used solely on its own, which is most often the case.  There is little room for an outlier scenario particularly when the most popular ‘double-sword’ traditional matrix scenario planning method is used.

 Our experience, with numerous organisations, has been that because futures methodologies effectively enhance clarity around an organisations direction, the visioning process tends to produce more tangible results. Through scanning methods, such as emerging issues analysis our current maps of past, present and future are disturbed by having the external threats and/or opportunities more rigorously examined.  The insights derived from this disturbance improve organisational stability because of the real evidence to the organisations stakeholders that the future has been rigorously previewed and researched. 


Parallel Streams of Management and Leadership

There are two parallel streams, as I see it, one that is the role of management to focus on the issues of today, based on their knowledge from the past (programmed learning).  Learning from the past involves reflecting on our experiences from the past and is often described as act-observe-reflect-plan-act.  Two, the role of leadership which is inherently focused on creating a future that has yet to be realized, which often requires ‘constructive destruction’, the ability to self destruct in order to innovate and reposition successfully.  The futures thinking methodology will help organisations innovate and create preferred futures through the gift of insight - a leadership capability.

These two streams are both essential, but fundamentally different.  Stream one, the management stream, attempts to ‘control’ change within the current paradigm, whereas stream two, the leadership stream, attempts to ‘initiate’ change for the better by shifting the paradigm.


Futures Methodology to help shape Strategy

There is a lot more thinking that needs to be done before an organisation embarks on creating its strategy otherwise they usually get results that are consistent with current paradigms, ideologies etc., or what Arygris (1991) calls single loop learning outcomes, i.e. learning within the current paradigm.  It is this new thinking that needs to be encouraged, as a responsibility of leaders, before they engage in creating a strategic plan for their organisations. Organisations appear not to engage deeply enough in what the future holds by challenging the worldviews of its members before they even commit to a strategy.  This is a leadership challenge as it requires that decisions are often made that may alter the organisations direction and culture.  This creates enormous anxiety and is one reason that to practice effective leadership can be dangerous as Heifetz and Linsky suggest (2002) and arguably a reason why CEO tenures are so short.  They are short not because the CEO was trying to implement change, but because of it.  Many CEOs, and many management executives have not been taught futures methodologies in their executive education, and therefore do not have the navigational tools and methods to help guide them to instigate profound organisational transformation.