Our Systems Approach to Strategy

Posted by: admin on Thursday, September 11, 2014.



Our Approach to Strategy


What do we mean by “Strategy?” Here’s how we approach business strategy for sustainability at Seed Systems.


First, first and always first comes Vision. What do we want? What do we want to create in the world? What will be different because we were here? What legacy do we want to leave for those who follow in our footsteps? Make it as big and audacious as possible. Shoot for the stars. Re-create the vision as often as necessary to keep it fresh, alive and inspiring.


Next, describe your Current Reality. What is the unvarnished truth of our present experience? What is our day-to-day life look like? How can we come up with a shared view of the problems that face us? How can we look at them honestly, dispassionately and together?


Now comes the “rubber band”- the stretch between where we are and where we want to be. The gap between our audacious vision and (sometimes painful by contrast) current reality creates what we call “Creative Tension”, a term first coined by Robert Fritz. That’s the energy in the rubber band metaphor. And as we’ve seen, the more audacious our vision, the more tension there is in our system. The key is to keep that tension “creative,” compelling and propelling us to our desired future. Neither letting ourselves ease off the tension, but not creating so much tension that we freeze or drop into despair.


Bridging the gap between our vision and our current reality becomes the work of strategic planning. Note the use of the adverb here and not the noun (strategy.) “Strategy” in our approach is not a thing, but an evolving living process that is very user friendly! We create stretch goals, like the tension in the rubber band, to propel us forward in bridging the gap to reach our vision.


How do we know what issues to prioritize in the massive and sometimes daunting gap between Vision and Current Reality? Here is where Systems Thinking comes in, and what I think differentiates our approach to Strategic Planning at Seed Systems from the classic Business School methods, which trend toward strictly quantitative cost/benefit analysis: more top down, less grass roots emergent.


How does Systems Thinking help make our strategic planning process more organic, alive, useful? When we draw dynamic interactive maps of the systems we are working within, “leverage” points emerge. When we focus our intention, attention and resources on these leverage points, we’ll get more – to use an old expression – “bang for the buck.” The most reward for the least action. The highest ROI. In other words, acting on leverage points accelerates our path towards our Vision.


Thus systems mapping, leading to leverage points, helps lay out the blueprint or pattern for strategic planning. The top leverage points become our priorities for action. And action items, in priority order, in turn emerge from each leverage point. Add accountability for deliverables (Achieve X, By Time Y, By Person Z), sprinkle in clear metrics to measure success (we’ll achieve Q% reduction in R toxic chemical) and voila, you have a strategy!


Note that this overall approach combines right brain (mapping, dialogue, vision, exploring mental models) with left brain (show me the numbers). The circular and the linear. A powerful combination.


Here’s where an Excel spreadsheet that a team works on comes in. Identifying our purpose, leverage, key players (Z), timing (Y) and high priority actions (X) in one place, simplifies and clarifies the process. It also gives us a clear and compelling argument for asking for resources.


So in sum strategic planning involves:


1)   Vision


2)   Current Reality


3)   Identify Gaps


4)   Create Stretch Goals


5)   Systems Map


6)   Identify Leverage


7)   Create Actions for each leverage point


8)   Engage players on “system wide” teams


9)   Do the work!


10) Reflect, report back


11) Re-envision


Remember to:


·      Continue to align local visions vision with the broader organizational vision


·      Set a pace that works for everyone in the system


·      Balance doing work in new, engaging and effective ways while honoring and working with existing organizational culture. (So as not to trigger an “immune systems” response)


·      Make specific asks for resources informed by this planning process and get those resources!




Have Fun!






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