“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.”
– Jimmy Dean.
Photo: Andrew Neel, Unsplash.
The vision of top universities goes beyond the immediate impact of the solutions they provide. They also observe the unique perspectives that universities bring to different social situations. These valuable perspectives are the offspring of its people. With sophisticated powers of perception, a university maintains the capacity to influence and refine key sectors of society while also understanding and addressing the needs and demands of students, partners, entrepreneurs, business leaders, government, and the broader community.
The quality of this effort can set a university (indeed, any organisation) apart when it comes to deriving impact, and it is conspicuous among leaders who sense change, learn from change, and adjust accordingly when making decisions in the face of uncertainty. An effective implementation model makes this consistently possible by fusing the required organisational direction and organisational character into a cohesive framework.
How does a university effectively implement its organisational direction and by so doing, create great socio-economic benefit?
The place to start is to understand the nature of decisions required to be made – both strategy and implementation – and what influences these decisions; viz., external and internal environments (together, the ‘operating landscape’). Also important is the impact on decision-making that the operating landscape has, particularly in relation to the nature of information gathering and the required approaches to decision-making and implementation.
From there, it is essential to recognise the ‘anchors’ for decision-making which can be used to galvanise shared action. These anchors have been canvassed in earlier blogs. Anchoring strategy and implementation decisions that are heavily influenced by the external environment is 'intent' – a combination of direction and purpose. Anchoring strategy and implementation decisions that are heavily influenced by the internal environment are the elements of an operating model (viz., core processes, enabling systems and organisational functions). Anchoring all decision-making are the critical proficiencies – those factors which a university must master to achieve its organisational direction (viz., 'curate', 'shape', and 'deliver').
Through this prism, a matrix can be constructed, revealing five key realms of decision-making and associated system-based activities.
Two realms involve strategic decision-making.
The first, predominately impacted by the external environment, is the realm of ‘sensing’ and is anchored by intent and the critical proficiencies. Here, opportunity spectrum analysis - the process of positioning, prioritising and allocating resources accordingly - is a key approach to strategic decision-making.
The second, predominantly impacted by the internal environment, is the realm of ‘sourcing’ and is anchored by an operating model and the critical proficiencies. In this realm, understanding the knowledge-capital value chain is the approach to strategic decision making. This includes determining the nature of underlying resources, the addressable markets and paths-to-markets, and associated delivery mechanisms.
And, clearly, sensing and sourcing are interdependent. Strategic decisions involve detailed, creative and continual assessment of a university's capabilities and offerings relative to those of other providers, and of the opportunities and threats posed by external environments.
Two further realms involve implementation decision-making.
The first of those, predominantly impacted by the external environment is the realm of ‘marshalling’, anchored by intent and the critical proficiencies. Here it is paramount to understand the impact that the external environment has on an organisation’s operating context, and in turn the focus of leadership, and the nature of information gathering and required implementation activities. The operating contexts can span from defined (i.e. static, relatively certain and therefore predictable), to complicated (i.e. changeable, active and therefore variable) to complex (i.e. dynamic, uncertain and therefore unpredictable). Clealry, leadership foci and decision-making frameworks must vary depending upon the operating context. For example, in a defined operating context, leadership tends to focus on objectives and goals, skills and processes, with decision-making involving assessing facts, categorising tasks and administering accordingly. In complicated operating contexts, leadership focuses on strategy, management and frameworks, with decision-making involving assessing information, analysing options and selecting and implementing the best courses of action. In complex operating contexts, leadership focuses on orientation, empowerment and learnings with decision-making involving experimentation, assessing outcomes and responding or refining accordingly.
The second of the realms involving implementation decision-making, predominantly impacted by the internal environment, is that of ‘serving’ and anchored by an operating model and the critical proficiencies. Here, how to assemble the right people and teams to implement the required initiatives is key.
In a similar vein, marshalling and serving are interdependent. Implementation decisions involve detailed, creative and continual assessment, framed around a university's strategic decisions. Because strategic decisions change in response to changing operating landscapes, so, too, must implementation decisions change. The nature of the operating landscape associated with strategic decisions influences the operating context. The operating context in turn determines the required leadership foci and decision-making frameworks that must be marshalled. Leadership foci and decision-making frameworks then determine the allocation of people and teams, and the utilisation of organisational functions that serve the needs of the university and its partners.
At the core of the implementation model, the fifth realm, is ‘harmonising’, the specific processes by which context is created in order for an organisation’s people to pull all decision-making and activities together. This realm must steadfastly keep the critical proficiencies as its anchor, and involves two key components, strategic conversations and values and behaviours.
Strategic conversations are those two-way exchanges between key stakeholders (internal and external) that are framed around the abovementioned components of the implementation model. These are the conduits to determining what needs to be discussed; who must be informed, addressed or pursuaded; what each audience needs to know; how each audience is best reached; and what is required from each audience. From these strategic conversations emerge tangible activities with goals (the results that are required); priorities (the high-impact issues that must be addressed); requirements (the specific resources required for each priority); actions (those that must be taken for each priority); and responsibilities (who takes the actions and by when).
Values and behaviours help people to make the right choices, and empower them to do extraordinary things. They can be utilised by universities to frame the organisational policies that lay out the obligatons of their people, and set expectations for their behaviours. Each realm - sensing, sourcing, marshalling and serving - and their constituant decision-making anchors and approaches, help identify and align the supporting values and behaviours. Importantly, values and behaviours must be framed around what people need to do, not what people need to think. They must reflect the nature of the choices that have to be made (strategic decisions) and the actions required to convert those choices into outcomes (implementation decisions). They must consider the factors that anchor all decision-making and the associated approaches that help frame the required information and actions.
Bringing strategic conversations and values and behaviours to the heart of all matters, ensures cohesiveness, makes everything meaningful, and embeds and aligns all activities with deriving great socio-economic benefits. And, together, they provide the way to build a winning organisational culture.
Now is truly the moment in time when all organisations need to orient toward the delivery of great socio-economic benefits. It is no longer productive to ‘free ride’, leaving the heavy lifting to others. We all need to help. It’s time to go beyond talking and knowing, and start doing.
My book The University Imperative – Delivering Socio-economic Benefits for our World is a powerful opening move. There are some really insightful concepts and examples detailed throughout.
I hope the book will help. A lot!
I look forward to our continued journey.
Nick & The University Imperative team.