The change management cycle is congruent to what Colonel John Boyd articulated in military parlance of decision cycle or the OODA loop. Observe-Orient-Decide and Act. It is the complete range of activities which a business leader has to undertake in today’s competitive business environment to stay ahead of the change.
The OODA Loop
Observe. It implies undertaking all actions including collection processing and synthesizing of business activities to identify the exact parts of the process, people and tools that need a change to ensure optimization of effort. In this step the leader builds the intelligence picture and seeks to fill the gaps by proactive and engaging actions. It also leans partly on the 15% theory.
Orient. This step enables the leader to evaluate the complete information with the environment to generate a range of options with in the premise of its business, people, products and competition. It matches up the capabilities and capacities of each factor to analyze the various options with a view to evolve possible outcomes and courses of action. SWOT analysis is a part of this step.
Decide. Having undeniably oriented himself to the exact issues of various options, the leader then decides on the desired option to be adopted.
Act. This is the systematized and deliberate “slog” phase of the change management cycle where the leader along with team act upon the decided course of action.
Application of OODA Cycle
Now this is a dynamic cycle and needs to be performed repeatedly to outwit and outsmart the competition, innovate and improvise to enthuse the team, refine the processes and apply the right tools to achieve the intent of the leader.
It calls for continuous tempering by the leaders in the “flattened hierchy” of the system to put their shoulders to the wheel in generating and implementing “Blue Ocean Strategies”. The OODA cycle enables the leader and the team to stay one step ahead of the change always. It calls for continuous feedback and regular course corrections to invest in the right strategies by taking suitable risks, accepting mistakes and operating in an information vacuum under conditions of ambiguity and uncertainty. All this, without losing the sense of balance and fun.
Here the first two ‘O’s ie Observe and Orient are the most critical parts of the analysis to evaluate the environment and develop various courses of action. Information will rarely be complete and the quest for solving each piece of the Information Jigsaw puzzle can cause paralysis by analysis. This calls for astute judgment capabilities based on a 360 perspective of the 15% Theory. The more leaders “wide base” this 15% theory, better are the chance for generating coherent options, leading to the next step in the OODA Cycle ie to Decide.
Once a decision is taken based on the double O’ the team must pull out all stops in earnest within the intent of the leader. The “Intent” thus becomes critical at this stage. Once this larger construct is absorbed by cross functional teams, they can operate in a “swarmed” manner to achieve the desired goals effortlessly. This obviates the need to referring matters up or down the chain constantly saving precious resources and time. Should there be a mismatch in comprehending this, the change management cycle would cycle at the same place, generating a lot of activity without any meaningful result.
At the cost of repetition the final takeaway of this discourse of applying continuous OODA cycles to generate possible action the leader and the team must generate clairvoyance to identify what needs to change. That is critical to the success of the change management cycle.
The next essential component during “action” stage is the ability of the leader to function under the dictates of “Directive Style of Leadership”. Having given the objectives, resources and time to the teams, the leader must provide them with adequate space to execute their mission with complete confidence. Each component of the team must have their space to innovate and operate, under an “ownership” principle. This would generate desired momention to the teams efforts and enable swarmed actions to achieve the goals. The term “Deadlines” would then be made redundant by these swarmed cross functional teams which would evaluate, operate and vector under their own OODA cycles within the construct of the leaders “Intent”.
Feedback is the essence of change management and strategy execution. There should be elaborate formal and informal systems to ensure the feedback mechanism is dynamic and responsive. However, the feedback should not become an end in itself. It is just a means to enable leaders and teams to maintain direction. By no stretch of imagination should this become a barometer for “assessing” and “evaluating” leaders and teams. That would work against the principle of making “Ristakes” and lead the organisaiton to a path of mediocrity with a low appetite for risk taking an essential element of progressive change management. This alone can facilitate experimentation without challenging which it is well nigh impossible to create out of the box solutions to complex problems.
During this entire process, a few small things with major ramifications are critical. These are “playing favorites’,“ “no mistake syndrome” and “shooting down dissent”. These three are the biggest enemies of organizational behavior in cross functional teams operating under the intent of the leader. Nothing de motivates and de acceleration a team more than these evils of leadership. Leaders must guard against these conscientiously.
Fun and Balance
The aspect of “fun and balance” narrated earlier may have missed the readers. These are keys to success of adaptive organizations willing to change on a continuous basis. The aspect of OODA cycle and the change management cycle work best in an environment of “healthy mutual respect”, “space to each other” and mature conflict resolution practices. “Fun and Balance” are great enablers which facilitate change management cycle. They grease the various moving parts in an organization and make change management worthwhile. There are no One Minute solutions to keeping teams motivated. “Fun and balance” is a very serious business for the leader. It needs just as much application of OODA cycle by the leader as the entire business process.
Once again this reinforces the role of the leader as the conductor of the organsiational orchestra.
The Maneuverist Leaders
In war fighting philosophies, as in businesses, there is this penultimate philosophy termed “maneuvre warfare” as against “attrition warfare”. The major difference between the two philosophies is the approach to warfare in their application of “force on force” approach as compared to the maneuver or the mental faculties approach. The aim of maneuver warfare is to avoid enemy strength’s and attack his weaknesses by generating faster OODA cycles. This often repeated and continuous application & generation of OODA cycles facilitate, leaders to outsmart and finally paralyse the minds of opposite numbers and forces – leading them to despair and ultimate defeat.
As against this the attrition or the force on force approach is bloody, intense slog and results in victory at great costs in men and resources.
In business strategies too we often find direct “attritionist” approach being played out too often at the detriment of the larger aim of the organization. This translates into huge costs to achieve business objectives.
On the other hand smart leaders follow the maneuverist approach to outsmart the competition by playing on their
weaknesses and steering clear of their strengths. In this approach the leaders carry out intelligence preparation of the business environment and produce ‘Blue Ocean Strategies’ by a systematic approach through generation of unambiguous and faster OODA cycles. A dynamic SWOT analysis and adoption of six sigma principles to refine the processes, people and tools remains an integral part of this philosophy.
Systems Approach to Life
Thereafter, the leaders and the teams take to “systems approach” to handling their organisational aims and objectives. It entails indentifying the terminal objectives for each organsiational need and systematically approaching the problem at hand be it production, marketing or training to evolve suitable “enabling” and “learning” objectives to derive the correct course of action or approach to evolving business strategies, training plans or almost any conceivable business or life activity.
Today’s business leaders have to be armed with necessary tools of business leadership to survive and excel. The maneuver theories developed and refined overtime apply equally to leaders in any environment. Developing clairvoyance and the art of leading businesses successively by remaining one step or moving ahead of the change are critical to success in businesses as they are to any situation in wars.
In both the one quick on his feet wins.
Here’s for the Why, what and how of leading change
- The OODA Loop (fogus.tumblr.com)
- What the F-86 can teach us about software development (managingmetrics.com)