Weeknotes: Strategy; its a tricky business


I’ve been slightly cheating on the 500 words this week as I have been doing a lot of writing for work stuff on the train and have decided to count that….so I wanted to make sure that I did a proper week note this week.

I’ve been spending the week looking at our technology strategy. We published the beta version back in the summer (you can read about it in Anne’s blogpost here). We deliberately published it as a beta as we wanted to get something out relatively quickly and then test it in the field rather than endlessly crafting it. We’re going to do an update every six months and this first update will reflect the feedback we have had and also start to shift it from being the strategy for technologists to the technology strategy for everyone – which feels right.

Strategy is a tricky business. Too much and you end up endlessly thinking and not doing. Too little and you end up just reacting. In the draft I am doing at the moment I am trying to think about how we move to a more mission led structure where we set out challenges or questions that we want to work on rather than just describing a destination. In thinking this I am very influenced by Marianna Mazzucato’s work on mission led innovation but its also representative of the fact we are trying to make sure that we embed people and behavioural change into what we do. Our destination is a more engaged, empowered and agile organisation and it seems counter intuitive to try and describe that in a way that doesn’t leave people space to explore it for themselves.

I said in my intentions for the year that I wanted to develop my leadership practice and the process of strategy development brings out a number of things that I want to work on. I want to get better at co-creating with my team and I also want to get better at creating space for people to do their own thinking and sense of ownership over what we are creating together. This is hard for me not because I don’t want to do it (or know this is the right thing to go) but because its so bloody interesting. I wrestle with two things; 1) getting focus and choosing what I should poke my nose into 2) making it possible for me to be part of the enquiry as well as being responsible for the strategy.

On the latter point, it’s very seductive to be in a leadership position as the whole system is biased towards enabling you to be right. One of the reasons that hierarchies are difficult to dismantle is that its really convenient being towards the top of one; people do what you ask! They ask your opinion! Things happen! Very gratifying to the ego and if you are in a hurry (which I always am) then also very pleasing. But of course all of this voice of one, command and control stuff misses the opportunity for reflexive practice and collaboration which will improve the ideas you are working on and fails to engage people in a way that means they can actually implement the ideas that you are directing. It’s a short term benefit. This is why we we need to co-create strategy.

I am lucky to have people in the team who share my views on the need to co-create and are able to call me out when I am imposing my views (sometimes its just irresistible – what can I say) but I struggle with signalling the difference to when I am contributing as the person responsible vs when I am contributing because as a member of the team I have a point of view and also skills and knowledge that can be applied to the problem. And this is a real dilemma. When I wrote about ‘what makes a good decision’ I called out the fact that people in leadership positions have access to different system knowledge and that sometimes this is the crucial factor in deciding what to do. There is also the question of accountability. When a number of options are all possible and seem equally good, or bad, or you just don’t know then it is not unreasonable to say that the person who is accountable for the final outcome have the final say in what we do.

So I am trying to see the strategy as a way of framing the questions and challenges we need to address and then making sure that I (and other leaders) engage in the ones where we can add value.

This links back to one of my other intentions for the year – to ask more questions – so perhaps we are on to something here….


PS. The picture is of the sunset thing evening;  a short precursor to us walking round the fields wearing head torches as we had left it a bit late for the dog walk.  This sense of stumbling around in the dark felt quiet appropriate for a post about strategy……

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