Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Intentional management 27: contextual management 5 and building for an effective balance 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on December 18, 2015

This is my 27th installment in a series in which I discuss how management activity and responsibilities can be parsed and distributed through a business organization, so as to better meet operational and strategic goals and as a planned intentional process (see Business Strategy and Operations – 3, postings 472 and loosely following for Parts 1-26.) This is also my fifth installment within this series on an approach to business management that I have come to refer to as contextual management.

I offered a brief set of key-term defining points towards the top of Part 26, that I repeat here in order to help set up and orient the discussion of this posting:

1. If the goal of intentional management is to arrive at and follow a standardized best practices management approach that is optimized for the specific business and its circumstances,
2. Then the goal of contextual management is to add adaptive flexibility into those intentional management systems, and structured allowance for exceptions and course deviations as need for them arises.
3. While intentional management as a basic approach is about structure and consistency, contextual management is included to add flexibility and resiliency, where a more rigid and unaccommodating alternative to this combination would be less likely to effectively, sustainably work and certainly long-term and in the face of change.

And I proceeded from there to start a fuller discussion of more balanced business systems that coordinately include both fixed and flexible elements, focusing on the more obligatorily fixed and rote elements that come into play in such an organization.

I stated at the end of Part 26 that I would turn here to consider the question of where flexibility enters business operations and practices. I will do that but I begin by noting one further area of obligatorily fixed and consistent business practice, which I add is the first one that would come to mind for most anyone in a business who works in finance – and certainly for their accountants: adherence to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) in all accounting and bookkeeping performed. It can be argued that this example actually fits into the first, legally-mandated example of set and fixed processes that I addressed in Part 26, as in most jurisdictions adherence to standardized approved accounting practices is a requirement that businesses must follow. But I raise this example here, as an immediate point of comparison for what follows:

• Innovation: a driving necessity for any business in a rapidly changing industry or sector, in effect demands flexibility and both for when a business and its employees seek to creatively innovate and invent for that organization itself,
• And for when a business has to be able to adaptively respond to the emerging competitive threat of new innovation as it arises in rival businesses.

I have been writing extensively about innovation in the workplace and about developing systems that foster it. See, for example:

• Keeping Innovation Fresh (at Business Strategy and Operations – 2, postings 241 and following for its Parts 1-16), and
• Innovators, Innovation Teams and the Innovation Process (at that same directory page, postings 366 and following for its Parts 1-13 and that directory’s Page 3 continuation, postings 402 and following for its Parts 14-19.)

A primary goal that informs those series and related discussion is:

• The need to develop basic systems in a business that can actively support and foster the flexibility that creative innovation calls for,
• And within an overall stable supportive organizational framework that can smoothly and efficiently promote successful innovation achieved,
• Bringing it into the ongoing mainstream of that business – and into its production lines as a flow of new sources of realized value.

Innovation is one area where flexibility is needed. And to repeat a point made above, this holds both for any business that would seek to be innovative on its own initiative, and also when that business has to be able to adaptively respond to the challenges imposed by competitive innovation. For an alternative perspective on innovation and responding effectively to the challenge that it creates when coming from your competition, and for background material that I have posted in that context, see virtually anything that I have been writing in this blog about developing a more effective business, and certainly when I focus on agile business approaches. See for example: Building a Business for Resilience as can be found at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 as postings 542 and loosely following.

But the complex of issues that come from innovation and responding to it, represents only one aspect of a business that I could cite here where flexibility can be essential. Another that is worth mentioning in this context can be found in Sales and when working to meet customer needs, and particularly when working in highly competitive markets. That can mean being able to negotiate product customization, including allowing purchasing business customers to apply their brands to goods that your business produces and sells to them, that they would offer as value added options or special features for their own products. And it can mean negotiating terms of sale such as number of days receivable before payment is due for goods or services received. There are, of course, other possibilities here where Sales can require flexibility and support for making negotiated agreements that can lead to completed sales and revenue generation.

Personnel practices enter in here too, to add in a third and very different arena where flexibility can be essential, from the now two that I have just at least briefly addressed. Consider, for example, the issues that arise when finding mutually acceptable ways to meet both business and employee needs, for special needs employees who require flex time in order to care for their children or for other family members (e.g. an elderly parent.) If a business wants to bring in the best possible employees and to hold onto them, then a measure of flexibility in meeting their needs is essential and certainly for employees who would be difficult to replace for their skills and experience, who the competition would like to hire away, and whose needs could be readily met. (This specific scenario of accommodating employee needs should be understandable, at least in principle and for addressing time-limited needs that would not limit overall performance for the employees involved. But it is often difficult to acknowledge and effectively manage this type of more individualized employer/employee relationship in practice and for many businesses.)

At this point I am going to step back to reconsider intentional and contextual management approaches in more general terms. And after that I will turn to reconsider what “optimized for the specific business and its circumstances” means, as used in the text of my first numbered bullet point at the top of this posting. There is a saying to the effect that the devil is in the details. I will at least briefly consider some of the types of details that come up in the intentional management/contextual management context in my next installment to this series. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Business Strategy and Operations – 3 and also at Page 1 and Page 2 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.


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