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Becoming Greater Than the Sum of Your Parts: In Three Steps
Becoming Greater Than the Sum of Your Parts: In Three Steps
Daniel Forrester, CEO
By Daniel Forrester, CEO
October 30, 2013
Executives today face a multitude of pressures that diminish their ability to achieve success. Not only are they bombarded with increasing amounts of information, which oftentimes must be analyzed and synthesized, but they’re also often asked to respond to problems almost immediately and around the clock.

Executives today face a multitude of pressures that diminish their ability to achieve success. Not only are they bombarded with increasing amounts of information, which oftentimes must be analyzed and synthesized, but they’re also often asked to respond to problems almost immediately and around the clock. This constant availability, constant attention, and constant inputs is a recipe for disaster; how can managers and boards avoid action bias and choose what’s right for their business?

I recently gave a talk at a conference entitled “How Organizations Must Become Greater Than the Sum of Their Parts,” which challenged executives in the room to think about how they operate in an age of immediacy. A Stanford study shows that we’re not very good at coping, and so I argued that executives must anticipate and plan for these pressures to remain competitive. Here’s three steps your leadership can take towards becoming a high-performing organization and greater than the sum of its individual parts:

Reflection

A recent McKinsey study found that executives spend little time (alone or in groups) of reflecting about the performance and future of their businesses. In the same study, they found that executives who self-identified as being satisfied with their time management spent 24% of their time alone.

We all understand the importance of creating time to think; the difficulty lies in making sure we don’t succumb to the pressures of the day and forget to do so. Colin Powell recognized this as weakness and would book a meeting with himself every week to ensure that he had that essential alone time. If the tactic works for Colin Powell, maybe it can work for you.

Generate big ideas

I often find myself asking people how they describe their organization’s challenges, and whether various stakeholders would agree with their phrasing. As Admiral Art Cebrowski says, “Language conveys culture. In order to change the culture, you must change language. You cannot expect old language to carry new ideas.”

In order to confront challenges and think big, you first have to understand the problems you’re trying to confront – so language is an essential starting point. Once you have consensus around what problems you’re trying to solve, you have a good base from which to start thinking big and pursuing new solutions.

Create space for dialogue

Throughout my career, I’ve had the opportunity to facilitate many different groups in key strategic conversations. What I’ve found is that people often don’t know how to have productive dialogue with their employees, and that without a simple set of communal rules, conversations often quickly derail or fail to be productive.

In my experience, conversations within an organization can be classified into two different types: operational dialogue or expansive dialogue. Operational dialogue is the conversations that employees have to take care of business, and are driven by the regular battle rhythm of the day-to-day. Expansive dialogue, on the other hand, is the critical conversations that you have to get to the next big idea for your company. Expansive dialogue is never just an accident; leaders must seek to create the right space and authorize employees to dissent, while those invited to the conversation must question orthodoxy, be additive, and think big.