Building strong foundations

When we talked about the futility of believing in strategy as a fool-proof path to success, we suggested focusing instead on developing organizational capabilities.

These, we noted, should ideally be centered on being able to sense and respond to the environment in a deliberate process modeled on how natural evolution works.

The key difference being that instead of relying on luck to develop characteristics that are best suited to any given environment, as happens in evolution, we proposed that organizations quickly develop new capabilities when they sense a change in their ecosystem.

That’s easier said than done. We can’t simply develop and stockpile a range of capabilities that may or not be useful in the future– which is the traditional approach to strategy.

We believe that a better approach is to  develop a strong core of fundamental skills and knowledge that will in turn confer the agility necessary to  quickly adapt, develop or acquire other knowledge and capabilities that are most relevant to a given environment at a specific point in time.

This suite of fundamental skills is rooted in critical thinking– the ability to examine information from multiple angles and draw conclusions about its validity based on an evaluation of supporting evidence and logical reasoning. The ability to discriminate between competing ideas and to make informed choices is essential to the majority of roles within an organization. This is true regardless of whether those are front-line clerical or retail positions, or middle or upper management ones.

Critical thinking, in turn, is abetted by the ability to read critically and communicate effectively– both verbally (when making presentations) and in writing (when composing an e-mail or preparing a narrative report).

It would be handy if we could abbreviate this into something as catchy as the “three r’s” (which in any case was a questionable way to promote literacy– “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic” indeed!). But perhaps we can be a bit more mindful by abbreviating it as “CTRW”, Critical Thinking, Reading, and Writing, although that is less memorable.

Choose whatever acronym works for you but keep the operative word in mind– the operative word being “critical” of course. Starting everyone in your organization off with these basics will, we believe, go further than any strategy that you could dream up.

We offer our clients assessments and courses to help develop these fundamental skills, but with a little effort you could create your own “fundamentals” program, if you were thus inclined.

Once it is in place, we suggest taking the next step to identify three core skills or areas of knowledge that employees in a given function need to have.

This could be IFRS knowledge for someone that works in finance or ITIL knowledge for someone  in IT Services. And it would apply equally to both customer-facing and internal support functions serving as a valuable complement to the CTRW foundation that all employees would be expected to have.

Think of these skills as prerequisites– babies learning to crawl before they walk or walk before they run; or learning arithmetic before calculus. In most cases, you can’t gain the advanced knowledge or skill without learning the basics. Indeed, the very apt analogy is that you can’t do much at all without knowing language and how to read, write and speak it.

So, too, in business, we all need to have a basic ability in the language of business before we can do much of anything useful in business.