More on Leader-Leader and Autonomy-Alignment

I had some great feedback about my last post on Strategy Deployment and Leader-Leader from Mike Cottmeyer via Facebook, where he pointed out that my graph overlaying the Leader-Leader and Autonomy-Alignment models could be mis-interpreted. It could suggest that simply increasing alignment/clarity and autonomy/control would result in increased capability. That’s not the case, so I have revised the image to this one.

What Marquet is describing with the Leader-Leader model is that in order to be able to give people more control, you need to support them by both increasing the clarity of their work, and developing their competence to do the work. Thus, as you increase clarity and competence you can give more control. Competence, therefore is a 3rd dimension to the graph, which we can also call Ability to maintain the alliteration.

  • Increasing Ability leads to more Competence
  • Increasing Alignment leads to more Clarity
  • Increasing Autonomy leads to more Control being given.

The dashed arc is intended to show that increasing on ability/competence and alignment/clarity is required before autonomy/control can be increased.

 

Strategy Deployment and Leader-Leader

This is a continuation my series comparing Strategy Deployment and other approaches, with the intent of showing that there are may ways of approaching it and highlighting the common ground.

Leader-Leader is the name David Marquet gives to a model of leadership in his book Turn the Ship Around, which tells the story of his experiences and learnings when he commanded the USS Santa Fe nuclear submarine. Like Stephen Bungay’s Art of Action with its Directed Opportunism, the book is not directly about Strategy Deployment, but it is still highly relevant.

From Inno-Versity Presents: “Greatness” by David Marquet

The Leader-Leader model consists of a bridge (give control) which is supported by two pillars (competence and clarity).

This has a lot of synergy with the alignment and autonomy model, also described by Stephen Bungay, and the two could be overlaid as follows:

In other words:

  • Giving control is about increasing autonomy.
  • Creating clarity is about increasing alignment.
  • Growing competence is about increasing the ability to benefit from clarity and control.

Update: The above graph has been revised in a new post on Leader-Leader and Autonomy-Alignment.

The overall theme, which is what really struck a chord with me, is moving from a “doing” organisation where people just do what they are told and focus on avoiding errors, to a “thinking” organisation where people think for themselves and focus on achieving success. In doing so, organisations can…

achieve top performance and enduring excellence and development of additional leaders.

That sounds like what I would call a learning organisation!

Marquet achieves this with a number of “mechanisms”, which he emphasises are…

[not] prescriptions that, if followed, will result in the same long-term systemic improvements.

Instead they are examples of actions intended to not simply empower people, or even remove things that disempower people (which both still imply a Leader-Follower structure where the Leader has power over the Follower), but to emancipate them.

With emancipation we are recognising the inherent genius, energy, and creativity in all people, and allowing those talents to emerge. We realise that we don’t have the power to give these talents to others, or “empower” them to use them, only the power to prevent them from coming out. Emancipation results when teams have been given decision-making control and have the additional characteristics of competence and clarity. You know you have an emancipated team when you no longer need to empower them. Indeed, you no longer have the ability to empower them because they are not relying on you as their source of power.

That’s what Strategy Deployment should strive for as organisational improvement that allows solutions to emerge from those closest to the problem. Or to paraphrase that definition using David Marquet’s words, achieving organisational excellence by moving decision authority to the information.

 

A Strategy Deployment Cadence

A Strategy Deployment cadence is the rhythm with which you plan, review and steer your organisational change work. When I blogged about cadence eight years ago I said that…

“cadence is what gives a team a feeling of demarcation, progression, resolution or flow. A pattern which allows the team to know what they are doing and when it will be done.”

For Strategy Deployment, the work tends to be more about organisational improvement than product delivery, although the two are rarely mutually exclusive.

The following diagram is an attempt to visualise the general form of cadence I recommend to begin with. While it implies a 12 month cycle, and it usually is to begin with, I am reminded of the exchange between the Fisherman and the Accountant that Bjarte Bogsnes describes in his book “Implementing Beyond Budgeting“. It goes something like this.

  • Accountant: What do you do?
  • Fisherman: I’m at sea for 5 months, and then home for 5 months
  • Accountant: Hmm. What do you do the other 2 months?

The intent of this Strategy Deployment cadence is not to create another 12 month planning (or budgeting) cycle, but to have a cycle which enables a regular setting of direction and with adjustment based on feedback. How often that happens should be contextual.

Given that caveat lets look at the diagram in more detail.

Planning & Steering

The primary high level cadences are planning and steering, which typically happen quarterly. This allows sufficient time for progress to be made without any knee-jerk reactions, but is often enough to make any necessary changes before they becomes too late. Planning and Steering are workshops where a significant group of people representing both the breadth and depth of the organisation are represented to bring in as much, diversity of experience and opinion as possible. This means that all departments are involved, and all levels of employee, from senior management to front line workers. I have previously described how we did annual and quarterly planning at Rally.

Planning is an annual event 2 day event which answers the following questions:

  • What is our current situation?
  • What aspirations define our ambition?
  • What are the critical challenges or opportunities to address?
  • What strategies should we use to guide decisions?
  • What evidence will indicate our strategies are having an impact?
  • What tactics should we invest in first?

Steering is then a 1 day quarterly event which answers the following questions:

  • What progress have we made towards our aspirations?
  • How effective have our strategies been?
  • What evidence have we seen of  improvement?
  • What obstacles are getting in our way?
  • What tactics should we invest in next?

Thus annual planning is a deep diagnosis and situational assessment of the current state to set direction, aspirations and strategy, while quarterly steering is more of a realignment and adjustment to keep on track.

Learning

The high level tactics chosen to invest in during planning and steering form the basis of continuous learning in Strategy Deployment. It is these tactics for which Backbriefing A3s can be created, and which generate the information and feedback which ultimately informs the steering events. They also form the premise for the more detailed experiments which are the input into the Review events. In the diagram, the large Learn spirals represent these high level tactics, indicating that they are both iterative and parallel.

Reviewing

Reviewing is a more frequent feedback cadence that typically happens on a monthly basis. This allows each tactic enough time to take action and make progress, and still be often enough to maintain visibility and momentum. Reviewing is usually a shorter meeting, attended by the tactics’ owners (and other key members of the tactical teams) to reflect on their work so far (e.g. their Backbriefing A3s and Experiment A3s). In doing so, the Review answers the following questions:

  • What progress have we made?
  • Which experiments have we completed? (and what have we learned?)
  • Which experiments require most attention now?
  • Which experiments should we begin next?

Refreshing

Refreshing is an almost constant cadence of updating and sharing the evidence of progress. This provides quick and early feedback of the results and impact of the actions defined in Experiment A3s. Refreshing is not limited to a small group, but should be available to everyone. As such, it can be implemented through the continuous update of a shared dashboard, or the use of a Strategy Deployment “war room” (sometime called an Obeya) . Thus the Refresh can be built into existing events such as daily stand-up meetings or can be a separate weekly event to answer the following questions:

  • What new evidence do we have?
  • What evidence suggests healthy progress towards our aspirations?
  • What evidence suggests intervention is needed to meet our aspirations?
  • Where do we need to focus and learn more?

In the diagram, the smaller Refresh spirals represent the more detailed experiments, again indicating that they are both iterative and parallel.

The X-Matrix

At the heart is the diagram is an X representing the X-Matrix, which provides the common context for all the cadences. As I have already said, the exact timings of the various events should be tuned to whatever makes most sense. The goal is to provide a framework within which feedback can easily pass up, down and around the organisation, from the quarterly planning and steering to the daily improvement work and back again. This builds on the ideas I first illustrated in the post on the dynamics of strategy deployment and the framework becomes one within which to play Catchball.

What I have tried to show here is that Strategy Deployment is not a simple, single PDSA cycle, but rather multiple parallel and nested PDSA cycles, with a variety of both synchronous and asynchronous cadences. Each event in the cadence is as opportunity to collaborate, learn, and co-create solutions which emerge from the people closest to the problem.

If you would interested in learning more about how I can help your organisation introduce a Strategy Deployment cadence and facilitate the key events, please contact me and I’d be happy to talk.

What is an X-Matrix?

An X-Matrix is a template used in organisational improvement that concisely visualises the alignment of an organisation’s True North, Aspirations, Strategies, Tactics and Evidence on a single piece of paper, usually A3 size (29.7 x 42.0cm, 11.69 x 16.53 inches).

The main elements can be described as follows:

  • True North – the orientation which informs what should be done. This is more of a direction and vision than a destination or future state. Decisions should take you towards rather than away from your True North.
  • Aspirations – the results we hope to achieve. These are not targets, but should reflect the size of the ambition and the challenge ahead.
  • Strategies – the guiding policies that enable us. This is the approach to meeting the aspirations by creating constraints which will enable decisions on what to do.
  • Tactics – the coherent actions we will take. These represent the hypotheses to be tested and the work to be done to implement the strategies in the form of experiments.
  • Evidence – the outcomes that indicate progress. These are the leading indicators which provide quick and frequent feedback on whether the tactics are having an impact on meeting the aspirations.

The alignment of all these elements is shown through the 4 matrices in the corners of the template, which form an X and thus give the format its name. Each of the cells in the matrices indicate the strength of correlation (e.g. strong, weak, none) between the various pairs of elements, forming a messy coherence of the whole approach.

Completing an X-Matrix is a collaborative process of co-creation and clarification to get everyone literally on the same page about the work that needs to be done to succeed. Used to its full potential, the X-Matrix can become a central piece in Strategy Deployment, helping to guide discussions and decisions about what changes to make, why to make them, and how to assess them.

You can download a copy of my X-Matrix template, along with some related ones. Like most A3 formats, there are many variations available, and you will find that a lot of other X-Matrix versions have an additional Teams section on the right hand side. My experience so far has been that this adds only marginal value, and have therefore chosen not to include it.

If you would like help in using the X-Matrix as part of a Strategy Deployment improvement approach, please contact me to talk.