Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Intentional management 29: contextual management 7 and evolutionary and revolutionary change 2

Posted in HR and personnel, strategy and planning by Timothy Platt on February 26, 2016

This is my 29th 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 1-28.) This is also my seventh installment within this series on an approach to business management that I have come to refer to as contextual management.

To connect this posting into the flow of series entries that have led up to it, and to help make this installment more readable as a stand-alone essay too, I begin it by repeating a set of three orienting definitional points that I have been using here since Part 26:

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.

Intentional management approaches require contextual management flexibility and adaptability if they are to work, and contextual management requires a more solidly established intentional management framework to function in, else it simply drift into ill-considered ad hoc activity that is pursued under the guise of a more management-sounding name.

Turning to Part 28 in this orienting initial discussion and with that point in mind, intentional management has to be able to accommodate change, and even if it does not explicitly organize it in and of itself. And very importantly for purposes of this posting, I also noted that intentional management in and of itself deals primarily with the here-and-now of a business and its context, and the short timeframe context at most. Contextual management is where longer timeframe considerations enter into management planning, as change only becomes apparent and significant when viewed over a timeframe that is significantly longer than that of the immediately here-and-now, essentially static snapshot view.

I have been addressing short-term change, and primarily short-term deviations from an ongoing functional norm in the past few installments to this series. Then I briefly and more peripherally began addressing longer-term structural change in Part 28. I turn to more explicitly consider those longer-timeframe issues here. And in keeping with the basic thrust of this posting’s discussion, that means using contextual management as a tool for understanding longer term, structural evolutionary change, and for bringing insights gained from that analysis into the unfolding and advancing here-and-now, intentional management context. Businesses have to function in their here-and-now and in effectively addressing here-and-now challenges and opportunities. But ways also have to be made to help those businesses to course-correct as their here-and-now changes too, and for all of their ongoing business development and maintenance processes.

• I begin this posting’s main flow of discussion by posing what at least sounds like a simple question, at least when it is posed entirely in the abstract,
• That becomes anything but simple to actually address when it is posed in the real world context of specific businesses, as they operate in the flawed communications restricted, information gap-ridden reality of real world economic and business process friction.
• How can you more readily and accurately know when the change that you face is more short-term and business process exception in nature, and when it in fact represents an indicator of a more fundamental, long-term structural (e.g. evolutionary) change?

I begin addressing that question by noting that there is no single simple formulaic answer to it, that could be algorithmically applied to any and all businesses in any and all circumstances as a “one size fits all” solution. And I begin this discussion by picking up on a detail that I have at least briefly touched upon in other, earlier postings. When a business process seems to break down recurringly and repeatedly, this can be seen as a strong indication, if not as presumptive proof that that process is fundamentally flawed and in need of change.

1. That in and of itself does not indicate whether this is a business process that is and always has been limited in its range of valid applicability, or otherwise innately flawed and a single point of failure weakness of perhaps long-standing,
2. Or if it has simply become that way after having been effective and I add effectively complete for being able to address all realistic contingencies that might be faced.

If the former of these two possibilities most fully applies here, then the change event faced that created a single point of failure event out of it, can be seen as highlighting an operational weak point that might be recent in origin but that might just as easily trace back to the beginning of this business – and to even before that if this is a process that was brought to this business by its founders and simply dropped into place there on the basis of prior work experience elsewhere. And this problem process might be a more localized exception in the overall operational system in place.

If, on the other hand, the later of these two possibilities is more accurate here, then the emergence of problems, and even consistently recurring ones with a business process can best be seen as proof of the accumulating impact of a more evolutionary, ongoing structural change that the business has to face and address, and probably across a wide sweep of its ongoing operations and their underlying strategy. Then, think of this (now-) problem business process as serving the role of a miner’s canary and a warning flag. And think of it as playing a useful and even invaluable role there, and particularly if the problems created by its breaking down are localized and minimal in overall impact – but they can be used to identify where more significant break-downs would be possible or even likely, with changing and newly emerging circumstances.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, where I will discuss causal linkages and how problem processes have impact that radiates out – and regardless of whether other processes that are functionally impacted upon share faulty underlying strategic reasoning underpinnings with the source single point of failure processes that have just expressed themselves. And after that I will discuss business evolution per se, and in its more gradual and more punctuated equilibrium model forms, where steady and even linear changes and upgrades in technology represent the former in a business evolution context, and disruptive innovative change creates the later.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings and series at Business Strategy and Operations – 4, and also at Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3 of that directory. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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