When I was writing the previous post on Zero-Base Budgeting (ZBB), I looked out some old papers dating back to the 1980s. By chance, I came across a copy of the thesis that I had written 30 years ago, as part of a post-graduate management qualification.
The document, with its matter-of-fact title of The Planning Task in Power Station Management, sounds less than riveting! However, I was pleasantly surprised to read the definition of "specialist planning" that I had put together at that time. This early thinking on organizational dynamics has clearly influenced my view of the leadership and facilitation of organizational change; much of which has now found its way into the principles and practice of informal coalitions.
Back then, I suggested that specialist planning was …
a continuous process intended to influence the station’s decision makers in the acquisition, deployment and management of resources under their control so that, under conditions of uncertainty and complexity, their decisions and actions will affect the future of the station in a consistent and realistic manner and in line with the organization’s objectives.
If we substitute "change facilitation" for "specialist planning" and "organization" for "station", I would be reasonably happy to embrace most – if not all – of the above statement as descriptive of the change facilitator’s role.
The thesis explored each of the italicized phrases in turn, in relation to the specialist planning task. I thought it might be interesting (for me at least!) to use the next few blog posts to check-out the relevance or otherwise of each of these points to the dynamics of organizational change as I currently view them. This will be something of a voyage of discovery, as I haven’t yet re-read the bulk of the text!
However, as a preliminary to this experiment in ‘time travel’, I’ve picked out a few statements from the Abstract and Introduction. Pleasingly, all of these resonate strongly with my present thoughts on organizational dynamics. So it looks as if the thesis might provide a sort of coarse-grained version of my current views on the topic. Hopefully I’ve ‘polished’ this somewhat in the intervening years. But, it will be interesting to see if the main thrust of the argument remains broadly in tune with that set out in Informal Coalitions - and if there are any surprises along the way.
Unless otherwise stated, all words and phrases shown in italics in the following extracts are as written in the original text.
- Extract #1 - Focusing on process rather than outputs:
The specialist planner’s role "is intended to bring about beneficial changes in the organisation’s activities, capabilities and performance, which otherwise would not occur. The emphasis throughout is on improving the planning-decision making process rather than on the plans it produces."
Extract #2 - Challenging the myth that there is "one best way":
"The complexity and uncertainty which is characteristic of all but the most routine and closed-ended of decisions … [shows] the inappropriateness of a simplistic, universally applicable method of planning."
Extract #3 – Emphasizing the critical importance of ongoing informal interaction:
"The purpose ascribed to the specialist planning task in the above definition cannot be achieved solely by the use of formal planning systems … the planner must interact continually with line managers and other specialists to influence the multitude of individual and group decisions which cannot be adequately dealt with by the formal planning mechanisms."
- Extract #4 – Highlighting the need to engage in the specifics of ongoing interaction, rather than relying on generalized strategies, plans and programmes:
"Above all, the planner must recognize that the organisation’s decision-makers will not wait for him (sic) to give their activities meaning and direction. The planner must act positively in ongoing situations if he is to make a meaningful contribution to the management of the organisation."
- Extract #5 – Escaping from the constraints of established practice:
"One problem facing many planners is that, constrained by their traditional role, they usually lack the time or sometimes the inclination to consider the wider implications of what they are doing. Consequently, they frequently underestimate the complexity of the problems which confront them and simplify to a degree which does not adequately reflect the realities of the situation."
If we substitute "managers and change specialists" for "planners" in the last extract, it's interesting to note how closely this aligns with what Ralph Stacey would call "the dominant management discourse" in organizations. "Why", he asks in his latest book (Complexity and Organizational Reality), "Do we continue to talk, explain and prescribe on an intellectual basis which completely contradicts our experience?"
Why indeed? Over the next few blog posts, I’ll share a little of what (if anything!) the unlikely titled paper, The Planning Task in Power Station Management, has to say on the subject. I hope you'll come along for the ride and share your own thoughts on any of the ideas, issues and insights that might emerge.