Time to Clean the Management Lens
by Joseph Pistrui

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Management is a lens. It’s the best way yet invented to focus the organisation’s capital, human, and time resources toward the goals of the business. Many have observed that companies can have admirable goals; but, if poorly managed, success proves elusive.


Suppose the management lens was smeared, even opaque. In this case, management could easily misapply its resources. Or suppose the lens was a mirror looking only at the way resources had been deployed. In this case, management typically repeats decisions about how best to use its resources.


There are signs that this is very much the state of management today; and, with consumer and product cycles moving ever faster, the danger of management missteps increases. Too many surveys show that managers are either confused about what to do or uncertain whether to change their priorities.


  • Per a recent global survey done by the Institute for the Future, “Business Leaders Admit ‘We’re Not Ready for the Digital Future.’” Only 30 per cent of those surveyed felt they could act on the data they had, and half of those surveyed said they did not know how to get value from all the data they receive. Less than one in 10 firms said they “innovate in an agile way”.
  • A 2014 survey of top US business executives revealed that most are confident about beating the competition in the future. “However, they are not acting with confidence when it comes to making business decisions or addressing specific obstacles,” Deloitte said.
  • A 2015 survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers of 1,300+ CEOs in 77 countries is equally alarming. Reported The Irish Times: “Business leaders are increasingly pessimistic about the outlook for global economic growth this year. The number of chief executives expecting a decline in growth has more than doubled to 17 per cent…. Sentiment was generally poorest in Europe and strongest in the Asia Pacific region.” My conversations with top-level business managers reveal that most are in a state of disruptive ambiguity — they are overwhelmed by conflicting data about what’s happening in the world and in their marketplaces. As a result, questions abound; answers are scarce. All forecasting models they learned seem broken because it is increasingly hard to interpret the data. With their management lens clouded, any step is timid. Many simply stick with how they managed in the past.


Cleaning the Management Lens


The world cannot be changed, but managers can change the way they think and act. As part of our Nextsensing Project , we deduced that managers would be wise to cultivate four “nextabilities”.


Stretch sensibilities Managers need a change of mindset and a commitment to exploration, moving beyond reading business bestsellers for guidance.


What’s needed is the formation of a leadership circle that brings in many views about trends in the world, shares those viewpoints widely, and organises them into probable patterns of the future. The idea that one person, or one small group, is smart enough to know and command all is outdated. The goal must be for the circle to arrive at some foresense of future possibilities that might serve as a springboard for action.


Stand for change Soon it will be 60 years since the first satellite launch. All the global interconnectedness we now take for granted was then impossible. Satellites happened only after the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States committed to that goal. Nothing was allowed to get in the way. Today, companies with the best chance for survival have leaders who personally stand for change — not talk about change, not hint about it nor suggest that others change.


Create a new order Purpose is the first step in creating a new order for an organisation. Leadership must begin to shape new priorities and norms that are more productive and harmonious with the firm’s mission. It is critical to make adherence to the status quo less appealing than shaping a new and better way of doing things.


Lead with foresense Most companies now have a “vision statement”, but many lack foresense. To lead an organisation to a new place, the entire company must become aware of the desired outcomes and be convinced that its leaders are serious. Thus, the fourth nextability is to remove any and all doubt that everyone needs to develop the skills and behaviours that will achieve something that’s novel and special.


Using Your Own Lens


Imposing the practices of a widely known company as a perfect fit for one’s own is a precarious path. I mention Microsoft’s new CEO, Satya Nadella, not as a role model but as someone, per a study by InformationWeek, whose actions have reinforced these four nextabilities.


Stretch sensibilities? The company has expanded its cloud platform so it is the umbrella for the whole company. Using the banner “One Microsoft”, Nadella’s leadership circle has been tying everyone to the cloud with data managed on servers and not on desktops or on digital devices.


Stand for change? Nadella is changing Microsoft’s culture so that the customer is the central focus. He’s branching out into the Internet of Things, so the company can be a leader when it comes to computers talking directly to other computers.


Create a new order? The new Windows 10 software has a universal app configuration and offers free upgrades to attract new users. Microsoft is also moving speedily into holography, an entirely new field.


Lead with foresense? Nadella has pushed Microsoft to create winning apps for Apple products to place Microsoft prominently on Apple desktops and iDevices. In this way, Microsoft must now forget old rivalries and think first of its own best interests.


It’s fine to observe what someone else is doing, yet every leader must cultivate these four nextabilities in his or her own way. When leaders are not sure about the future, the entire organisation suffers. Turbulence becomes the norm. Confusion reigns. What lies ahead is painfully unclear; and, for humans working inside the firm, there can be little joy.


These four nextabilities are powerful ways to equip you and your leadership circle to become clear about what’s next for your organisation. It’s past time to clean the management lens.


About the author:

Joseph Pistrui is Professor of Entrepreneurial Management at IE Business School in Madrid. He also leads the global Nextsensing Project

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