What drives agility in large, complex organisations? Most have spent a great deal of time, trouble and money creating and communicating a clear Purpose. And most are finding it’s making no difference to the behaviours in the organisation. There is a gap between the purpose at Board level and the experience of employees and customers.
Entrepreneurially-minded organisations achieve agility not by having a purpose but what they do with it. These agile and entrepreneurially-minded businesses exhibit a clearly defined set of drivers within their cultures that are the secret to bridging the Purpose Gap.
“High performance people do better work if they understand the context…the best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people”.
Reed Hastings, Netflix
Whilst trust drives a culture of agility, and ownership drives behaviours of engagement and autonomy, the ability to manage in context defines how effectively and efficiently management behaves. In my previous article I suggested that ‘with consistent and effective management the transition from control to self-responsibility will be a natural process and the behaviours of engagement, autonomy and shared commitment will emerge”. The question now is what the source of that effective entrepreneurially-minded management actually is.
Entrepreneurial management has long been adept at navigating a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world.
The answer lies in developing in the management community the awareness and skills of contextual management. In a world of increasing complexity and speed, if management at every level learns the skills to be able to use ‘context’ and not ‘content’ to make decisions it greatly speeds up the decision-making process and allows for clear-headed management, able to communicate decisions clearly to others. Much has been written recently about the business environment becoming volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA). Increasingly, people are required to manage in an environment where not only are the answers not clear but even the questions are not easily understood.
This requires a significant amount of adaptability; and that is something that entrepreneurial management is all too familiar with. Whether because of the speed of development, newness of the market or paucity of resources, entrepreneurial management has long been adept at navigating a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world.
The key skill entrepreneurial management demonstrates is the ability to make decisions contextually to create clarity and direction, ‘keeping the main thing the main thing’, rather than getting bogged down in the content. And this is a skill that can be taught.
Reed Hastings at Netflix is a passionate proponent of contextual management as the only way to motivate and retain talented people and maintain the velocity and agility required to keep up the pace of growth Netfix has experienced. “High performance people do better work if they understand the context” he says and adds “the best managers figure out how to get great outcomes by setting the appropriate context, rather than by trying to control their people”.
Where management uses a clearly articulated purpose as the context for key decisions, within an environment of trust, and where the whole team is willing to take responsibility, it creates real clarity of thinking and far greater adaptability in management.
An understanding of context allows management to pivot and creates the kind of ‘speed with direction’ or velocity typical in entrepreneurial management teams. Referencing to purpose creates flexibility in a dynamic and changing world.
Put simply, contextual management is agile management equipped to deal with a volatile, uncertain and ambiguous world.
You might also be interested in these articles: