BY DYLAN FLAVELL

The inception of Spring Point roused some core philosophies and principles that underpin our purpose and how we go about our work. This is the second of three blogs exploring these foundation beliefs, which I hope resonate and extend beyond the context in which we operate. In April, I explored ‘Work-Life Osmosis’; a re-imagining of the relationship between work and life. Here I’ve considered the ‘Optimism Reality Loop’.


PART 2 OF 3

Optimism and reality, and the relationship between these two concepts, are central to us and our work in three different ways.
  • Firstly, optimism and reality combined are the vital ingredients for transformation
  • Secondly, optimism and reality are the methodological foundations of our client advisory work
  • Finally, perhaps more esoteric, they serve as guideposts for making a real difference amidst complexity
INGREDIENTS FOR TRANSFORMATION
Optimism shows up in our day to day work (and life) as a vision for the future, or a purpose that conveys a challenge. Reality presents as the need to get a firm grasp and acceptance of the way things are today. Frequently, either optimism or reality are promoted as the single source of success. ‘It was the CEO’s alignment of that executive team around a powerful and compelling purpose that has enabled our transformation from a product to service company’, or ‘It was the MD’s critical analysis and understanding of our flawed customer retention processes that have shaped this turnaround’. Our perspective is that neither alone can generate real change. In fact, it is both optimism and reality, when juxtaposed, that generate the energy for change. Recently, I was lucky enough to spend a few days with strategist and master systems thinker Peter Senge, who described this as ‘creative tension’. His leadership call to action is centred on articulating the future and the present within the same narrative, to help generate a sharp understanding, through contrast, of how our current ‘system’ (i.e. our organisation, our team, our community) is working relative to what’s imaginable. Senge quips “A leader with a vision and nothing else gives visionaries a bad name. Similarly, a leader with current reality, and no vision, is an analyst. Neither are going anywhere alone.”
METHODOLOGY FOUNDATIONS
The methodology for our client work is grounded in the optimism reality loop at a very practical level. Whether it’s performance culture work, the development of leaders to execute strategy, or a change in structure or operating model, the need to start with ‘why’ is critical. Often I have seen (and been a part of) work that begins at the solution, failing to pause first to really understand or contextualise why a change is needed. What is the project’s purpose, and how does that manifest into strategy and objectives? Without this, we inevitably end up doing ‘black box’ work; wonderfully designed solutions based on real issues, but where the connection to purpose is difficult for those who will actually ‘do the work’ to see or grasp. Where this happens, the chance for traction is almost zero.
On the other hand, a lack of quality current state diagnostics to understand systemic organisational performance challenges, is just as common. ‘People’ are clearly important change agents in organisations, but too often the mental model of ‘the individual employee’ is used as a proxy to understand how an organisation works and changes. This often shows up as organisational effectiveness diagnostics based on little or no evidence base. A common example in our domain of leadership and culture is that ‘if we could only develop trust, everything will flow from there’ (ignoring process, technology and product inadequacies; easy examples of other things that ‘help organisations work’). Another example is the frequent narrative around ‘culture’ and it’s centrality to performance and risk outcomes in organisations. We agree it is a critical construct to measure, but most organisations (at our last count, less than 30% of our clients) don’t actually measure culture, they instead measure employee engagement.
Quality organisational diagnostics and analytics will soon be a ticket to the game. Fortunately, much good work has been done by the likes of Denison, Senge, and Cameron and Quinn, to understand how organisations really work in parallel with regulatory environments, customer and industry segments. Our encouragement is to look beyond popular narratives and practice to understand the established evidence base that helps us create a real picture of how organisations really work, and how they change.
MAKING A REAL DIFFERENCE
The characterisation of someone as being either an ‘optimist’ or a ‘realist’ is applied regularly to individuals. In bringing Spring Point together, we considered this question deeply. We know our method is based on quality diagnostics AND we feel the desire to help our clients generate and align around a vision that creates lasting difference. We feel that tension naturally, and believe our greatest value is in wearing both hats, to help clients iterate between an ever-evolving vision and a dynamic current state.
At a personal level, the optimism reality loop is a great source of positive energy. Cycling this ‘loop’ helps me remain buoyed by ‘what could be’, whilst at the same time recognising that small actions and frequent effort are required to bring about personal and systemic change. Similarly, it helps me recognise ‘tactical wins’ but not indulge in them so long enough to forget the challenges and opportunities abound to improve the way we work, and change the way we live.