Heraclitus had already explained two and a half thousand years ago that one cannot step into the same river twice. His Panta rhei (πάντα ῥεῖ) made us aware of the fact that the only constant is change. Our day is permeated by rituals. In addition to the morning coffee and evenly spread smoking breaks, there are business rituals that get you through the day, week, month and year – the morning meeting (nowadays Daily Stand-up), planning, budget, project and report meetings, as well as annual performance assessment, fireside chat, team development and so on. These rituals create stability in the hyper-accelerated VUCA world and prevent you from being torn away by the flood of data.
The following building blocks help looking at and developing rituals.
- Easy Structure
By the simple course of a ritual, the particular group of participants, who get together at a determined place, at repeating times and for a specific duration knows what they have to do according to their roles. Clear symbols, rules and decision paths underline the purpose and the deeper meaning – whether to steer, develop and change the area or to strengthen the sense of community.
- Purpose and meaning
A ritual has an official purpose that has different significances for the individual roles. On the one hand, the organizers pursue with their agenda business and political interests – primarily to convince the participants of their intentions. On the other hand, the participants have complex needs – they want to be informed, prepared, presented or state their own ideas. The ritual relaxes the dilemma between these different requests by ensuring regular exchange through its simple structure.
- Sense of community
A central building block is cohesion, which is strengthened by a ritual. The simple structure, the common purpose and meaning for the participants as well as the routine of the ritual will be accepted over time and provides benefits for all participants. The danger of an exclusionary self-conception can be counteracted by appropriately built-in openings – e.g. by a practiced public sphere, established tolerance and equal treatment or by a decisive condemnation of whatever-prejudice. The solidarity between the participants is underpinned by this set of values. Above all, symbols promote a sense of togetherness: logos, emblems and other trademarks.
The volatility and ambiguity of the reference points on which the members direct their actions often create uncertainty and fear. Fear is one of the greatest impediments for today’s tasks – when everyone has to adapt because they want to do less for more, or have to work with unknown people, or become harassed by pathological leaders. Contrary to fear, fun is one of the greatest accelerators. We are all charged with confidence and encouraged to perform at our best. Fun brings us into the flow that produces maximum performance. For these reasons rituals always need parts that promote well-being – e.g. meeting at eye level, respectful social interaction, demonstrated appreciation and above all the creation of opportunities to participate.
Bottom line: The group members of all kinds are constantly looking for security in nowadays VUCA world. Countless rituals offer this through a simple process, for and at definite times, and allow an individual group of participants to exchange ideas at a precise location. Clear symbols and rules create the basis for a sense of community and make it easier for those involved to have orientation and to contribute effectively. The official purpose is linked to the interests of each participant. The ritual creates well-being for the individual by overcoming fears and stimulating fun factors at work. Rituals are an integral part of our everyday life and foster stability in the flow of change.
A key without a lock is as useful as a lock without a key. In any case, these two objects serve to prevent entry of unauthorized persons. The key then becomes the symbol of the possibility to block or open access – whether the key belongs to somebody or not. Since only valuable things are locked away, the key is connected to get to a treasure. These can indeed be valuables, but also explanations, recipes or solutions.
The following features make the key the ideal metaphor for solutions.
- Clear purpose
The fact that a door or box is closed provides the indication that there is something valuable or interesting behind. The treasure that you get with the key is the real purpose. A solution also has a purpose. These can be economic objectives, improvements or a project.
- Custom-fit design
The simplest locks can be opened with the simplest keys. Since unauthorized persons gained access with the help of a picklock, the locks became increasingly complicated. For this reason, today different key types – pin tumbler lock, lever lock, tubular, or ceremonial keys. Solutions also work best when tailored to the target group and, above all, to the problem.
- Precise implementation
The understanding of the lock and its purpose is not enough to implement the mechanism. In order for the key to work, it must be precisely fine-grained. Only when all corners and edges correspond exactly to the lock, it opens. The same happens to a solution. For the desired effects the results have to be worked out neatly. You have to answer the right questions that fit the mindset and language of the target group, as well as the intended purpose.
- Everyday use
If the implementation and the material of the key are correct, the key will last long in the everyday application. The same applies to comprehensive solutions that have described well all aspects such as the intended application, the operation and the results.
- Defined procedure
Even the procedure is similar. To create a key, you first need a pattern, in the case of a solution it is the concrete situation that it is all about. Then one examines the whole and finds solutions, from which one chooses the most probable. Now the implementation is planned and installed. The key is now ready to work out the cuts and edges. In the solution the corresponding components – a business process, data model or responsibility matrix. What remain are then only the guidebook and the use of the new key.
Bottom line: The key opens doors and boxes, thus allowing access to certain results that lie behind the locks. The solution has the same function. Its purpose is to achieve certain results. This similarity makes the key to an ideal metaphor for a solution.
Enterprises are always looking for new ways, in order to set themselves up in the best way by smartly distributing the tasks. In the past the tasks were divided into as small parts as possible and provided with goals that unfortunately did not always fit to each other. As a result there are the corporate areas research & development, production, sales and so on. Today everybody makes efforts to reverse this development and to implement holistic solutions with process orientation and agile organization. No matter how you set up yourself, you need a connecting element between the parts – the governance. In order to explain the purpose of governance, mortar that joins building blocks to a stable whole is a good metaphor.
The interactions of many functions, units and employees within enterprises must be ensured. The following attributes of the Governance should enable this interaction.
Without mortar, it is very difficult to build a custom-fit masonry. The unevenness of the stones corresponds to the blurring of the components of a company. The adaptable mortar compensates for unevenness and connects the blocks in the right plumb line.
Accordingly, the governance provides answers, which are not so critical within the individual areas, but ensure the accuracy between each other by balancing the scope of action across all areas.
After the stones are piled up with the moist mortar to the desired wall, the whole dries to a stone-like mass. The walls hold together as if they were made of one stone. At the same time, the joints are designed to absorb climatic fluctuations.
Governance must be prepared to cope with fluctuations in business requirements, e.g. through a common set of values that provides a framework for difficult times.
You cannot simply put stones together with mortar. An overall statics is required for the wall to fulfill its tasks. The overall plan provides the basis for this. If the static of the building is OK, i.e. if there are no imbalances that let the wall collapse over time, then the build-up will likely last for a long time.
Accordingly, it is not enough to introduce governance. The building blocks must also be meaningfully aligned to each other, e.g. through a shared vision and long-term goals.
As the mortar is the binder between stones, the jointly decided governance holds the enterprise together and ensures that everybody is aligned to the same direction.
Bottom line: There are rarely walls that work without mortar. The same applies to companies that do not function without governance. Therefore, to convey the purpose of governance, mortar is a good example, as it allows any sizes of walls and stabilizes buildings. The crucial thing is to connect the parts of the company in such a way that they stick together and perform their tasks in a stable way. In this sense, mix your mortar and ensure that way the cohesion of your area.
P.S.: See also the elements of Governance.
Change takes place constantly. As long as you are drifting, you leave your fate to others. If it does not run in the expected direction, some speak of superior forces that they cannot control. If advantages appear, then they are pleased about the fortune and the divine providence, which gives them benevolently positive results. Of course nobody would get the idea to drive a car, without changing gears and, above all, without steering. But planned transformations need a targeted strategy, even if many are critical.
The most important task is setting the direction that provides the framework for the planning in all areas. This sketch consists of
- an emotionally loaded picture of the future, which encourages the staff,
- a comprehensible reason, the mission,
- a set of premises, the critical success factors, the value disciplines and the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and risks,
- a rough direction that describes growth or contraction and/or first or second order changes,
- defined general goals that should be reached, and
- the core of the enterprise that determines the crucial capabilities, processes and deliverables.
Those who consider the individual parts can benefit from it. Nevertheless enterprises and departments allow themselves the luxury to act without a formulated strategy. What is the problem?
- Above all, many do not understand the components and the application of the plan. It is as if one would have a bow and arrows, but never saw or learned or tried their usage.
- Without a personal conception of what you want to reach, you cannot provide direction. It is as if you can shoot with the bow, but you do not know, where the target is.
- Even if some have the picture of the future before their inner eye, they let themselves too much time, in order to translate it in words and representations. It is, as if you direct the bow toward the goal, but you cannot decide of letting the arrow go.
- Frequently the plan for the future is prepared and published, but the outcome is not determined. As if you would shoot the arrow and you would not be interested in the impact in the target.
- If planning does not achieve the desired results, then many do not have the ability to readjust. It is as if you would not continue trying to hit the target after the arrow missed the target.
- If you achieved, what you wanted, then people think that they need the strategy any more. It is as if one would hit in the bull’s eye and would thereafter shoot no more arrows.
BTW, the probability of a hit without shot is equal to zero. After the shot is before the shot. In this sense the development of a strategy is a continuous task that is necessary.
Bottom line: The strategy is a fixed part of everyday business. All parts fulfill their purpose of aligning the employees to a joint goal. Daily practice is burdened by clumsy use of the parts. However, if you want to steer transformation, nothing else remains than a targeted strategy.