Strategy, Culture, Change, & Filters (Post 4 of 13)
Author: Peter Jay Sorenson CMC®, StrategicOrganizationDesign.com
13 June 2013
As I read the articles from James Brian Quinn he documented what he saw done by successful “C” level leaders in organizations. He indicated that these leaders deliberately developed multiple sources of information about what was happening in the organization so that they could get a more accurate picture of reality.
Effective change managers actively develop informal networks to get objective information – from other staff and line executives, workers, customers, board members, suppliers, politicians, technologists, educators, outside professionals, government groups, and so on – to sense possible needs for change. They purposely use these networks to short-circuit all the careful screens their organizations build up to “tell the top only what it wants to hear.” (Quinn, James Brian, “Managing Strategic Change,” Sloan Management Review, Summer 1980; 21, pages 03-20.)
As I reflected on what Jamie Houghton had done at Corning I realized that he had done what Quinn had seen done in the organizations he studied. Jamie had carefully created both formal and informal networks throughout the organization that gave him access to the reality of Corning. He was not limited to an illusion that had been created by the flow of information through filters that inevitably distorts reality. Those filters are a characteristic of organizing. They exist in all organizations. However, they are better or worse depending on the culture of the organization and the character and motivations of the individuals involved.
Principle of Triangulation
The underlying principle that Jamie and others used is the principle of triangulation.
I first learned that principle in high school geometry. Basically it goes like this: if you want to discover the location of an unknown point, you find it based on its relationship to two other known points.
When I was working for my Uncle Jack on his farm in Ellensburg, Washington we used a surveyor’s theodolite to determine the location of intermediate ditches in the large sugar beet fields that he grew. You wanted water to flow freely in the middle ditches cutting across the field so that they could feed water into the ditches between the rows of sugar
beets. Each sugar beet needed a drink of water. (Pete setting siphon tubes on the farm – 2011) To make that happen you had to harness the law of gravity by making the ditches go downhill. You found out what direction downhill was using the surveying instrument and the principle of triangulation. We used the position of known points to determine the position of a third point so you could achieve your desired objective: sugar beets that are hydrated.
I also used the principle of triangulation doing navigation in the US Navy. We flew around the Pacific in P-3 Orions and always had a destination we
were trying to get to. Runways to land on were a high priority good thing for us. One of the systems we used for determining our position, direction, and rate of speed was call LORAN (Long Range Navigation). There were LORAN stations along the coast of the US and Canada at known spots on the map. We would get an electronic signal from two known LORAN stations to triangulate our position. If we did that several times over a short period of time we could track our direction and speed. It all meant that we had a much better chance of efficiently arriving at our destination.
Now days we have the combination of the atmospheric based Global Positioning System (GPS) Satellites
and the ground based Cellular Phone Networks. Each cell tower is in a known position determined by a GPS signal. By comparing two cell tower positions to our position our smart phones can tell us our position and the cellular network computers can accurately define our position for emergency responders. It is all done using the principle of triangulation.
In organizations the same principle of triangulation applies. You know how accurate and reliable a piece of information is by comparing it to other pieces of information we have access to. When you have a broad, deep network of relationships you can access a variety of perspectives, points of view, and experiences. By mining data through conversations and interactions you can obtain the information you need to define a more objective view of what is going on and use that information to nudge and influence the individuals and groups involved to move in a specific direction.
And by having these conversations and interactions you can also modify your point of view and your plans to incorporate the data, ideas, and thoughts of others to shape your direction to accommodate reality.
So if you want to formulate and implement strategy, shape culture, create change, and manage the filters along the way, you will need to create a wide and deep network of relationships to minimize distortion and maximize your ability to move the organization forward.