Change for meaning: Strategic clarity, and what it means to me

Feb 7, 2012 by

Change for meaning: Strategic clarity, and what it means to me

Do you have a mission? A vision? A strategy? –  this is a set of questions that any director of a modern company needs to have an answer to. An answer that is most often developed behind the close doors, put up the website and left untouched, like a wax figure, beautiful  and lifeless. For show and for clients.
The times have come when this approach will not do, any more. More and more frequently people look for meaning and purpose in their work.  Colorful graphics on the company’s websites or speeches of a public policy representative do not suffice.  The boundaries between life and work have become fluid and the need for an all-encompassing purpose, stretching from dawn to dusk, from desktop to bed, is becoming more and more prominent . “What world do you live in?” asked a skeptical friend of mine when I told him all that. “In literature classes, we called it utopia. In business you call it corporate social responsibility or sustainability, or any other of these I-ties”, he continued. “A world of the future”, I said, smiled and promised a blog post.

Making sense of the invisible

But how do you make a case for a soft factor, such as meaning, or a soft strategy tool, such as change communication? By soft I mean immeasurable, too complex to be put in tables or numbers, because it concerns human psyche and this is complex indeed. You can make a case for such a “soft approach” through literature (or blogging), a skillful use of stories, or by dint of a new kind of models, such as change management theories and tools. They integrate the new with the old: they provide scientific or at least systematic accounts of invisible, soft factors. They are like a bridge from the old to the new age, from the world of mechanical work (remember the image of a XIXth century worker in industrial England? remember the words: Entfremdung, alienation, fragmentation of work…) to the work with purpose (that is all the “I-ties” that my friend is so skeptical about).
“Strategic clarity” or a GRASP model is one of such models.  I came across it recently, stumbled upon it, so to speak, and never got up. There is this expression that Brits would probably give me a scorned look for, but I dare to say: get hooked. In a more literary translation: realize that a model (an idea, a poem, or anything)  explains to us more than we thought it would, that it changes your perspective on things outside the office, beyond the computer screen…
The models I speak about aim, among other things, at reducing complexity of human interrelations. This approach in itself you could call “superficial” if you’re a poet or “strategic” if you’re a businessman. I would not classify it yet, but just say what it can achieve and what it came from. And it came from…America. The strategic clarity is for me first of all a psychological trait of Americans, and only then a change management tool. Why? A couple of aspects I have already described  in my previous post, but here I will serve a new portion…(bon appetit)
The skill of selection
Models which aim at visualizing reality in as few words as possible, focusing on the key-elements, come from America and exemplify a typically American approach to life and communication in general.
While in university I was struck by  the courses in which in eight or twelve weeks you could go through 20 centuries, looking at this huge spam of time from a specific angle, for example: “varieties of capitalism”. Some might see such a selective approach as gliding through history (again a nice version of superficiality) others – as an innovative way of looking at history (or literature, or economics): choosing the key-elements, juxtaposing them, contrasting and comparing, and coming to insight that you would never have without such gross leaps in time and space. Without selection and daring to leave certain things out, no bold thesis, no new perspectives  and no new solutions to old (and new) problems will see the light of the day.
Directness of communication
The American way of communication is direct (which in another post I called a refreshing trait…), straightforward and  free from conventions (which some might call brusqueness). These traits are coupled with American pragmatism that is the need to change and improve things and their American ubiquitous focus on finding solutions to problems. The structure of the English language, simple as it is, supports the achievement of strategic clarity in everyday conversations; it allows for no refuge behind convoluted structures as German has them or impersonal constructions of which the Slavic languages pride themselves (which, allowing for beautiful poetry and discrete expressions of emotionality allow for no clarity on who is the subject of the sentence, making strategy difficult!).
Strategic clarity in businesses
The strategic clarity models (or, more generally, the change management tools) offer a new way of drafting the invisible and often immeasurable aspects of human and corporate ways of fthinking and functioning onto maps, granting logic to the interactions between people, their relationships to the mission and vision of the company, allowing for changes otherwise inconceivable. Verbalizing the invisible aspects of work such as our beliefs, our norms, our emotions, our relationships, is the only way to change the way a company operates for the better. Putting the inside of peoples”s minds outside, onto paper, is not a trivial task: it requires a strategic psychologist, a person combining the skill of human resources and management, or, in more universal terms, soft and hard skills, flair at communication and focus on strategy…(to be continued as it all develops)

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