I’ve always had an inquiring mind. My father called me ‘the Professor’. He wanted me to be a lawyer or accountant. My desire to learn more about society and human behaviour eventually led to my gaining an undergraduate degree in social sciences and humanities.
My work subsequently as a seafood industry advocate and negotiator was rewarding – particularly in persuading seafood exporters to collaborate in freight rate negotiations. But there was something missing from my professional career. While studying for an Executive MBA I realised my preferred future lay in strategic thinking.
Happily I went on to learn a great deal more while employed as the Strategy Facilitator at the New Zealand Ministry of Transport – in particular about having a tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity, and developing my capacity for systems thinking.
Having always had a willingness to engage in conversation and to tap into the creativity and wisdom that can come from shared perspectives, I happily adapted to a participative governance approach to the development of transport policy strategy. I was able to facilitate robust stakeholder engagement in workshops and focus groups by building relationships with stakeholders, listening to their conversations about policy issues, and gaining their support to shared goals and objectives.
While employed by an Australian government agency, I persuaded senior executive management to initiate environmental scanning and foresight projects. I found common ground with the CEO in fostering cross-organisational collaboration, and promoting agile, adaptive approaches in response to a rapidly changing environment. My peers recognised my efforts through awarding me a ‘brand champion for exemplifying being influential’.
Others have described me as:
- an outstanding strategic thinker
- having excellent conceptual and analytical skills
- an innovative and creative thinker
- having impressive credentials in terms of facilitating groups and individuals to work together to arrive at an agreed solution.
I’m a systems thinker – always have been. I can process a great deal of information quickly to understand a situational context and to identify pressures in the system. I’m good at asking the right questions and testing conventional wisdom.
I can help out by facilitating time-out for reflection and contemplation, to review or clarify strategic purpose and direction.
One way to do that is to appoint me as devil’s advocate where I would make some observations and interview people, asking questions about what’s going on in your organisation and why, what assumptions are being made and what the wider outcomes are. The resulting feedback prompts reflection and potentially re-thinking what your organisation is seeking to achieve.
For all of that, time and again I’ve learnt that strategy development alone is not enough… without a positive culture of engagement in place insights gained from strategic analysis can be ignored. Expressing thoughts and feelings about what’s going on should be encouraged.
Organisational culture is largely shaped by the kinds of behaviour and values that leaders demonstrate.
In a recent The Mandarin article, Michael Papay and Andrew Simon – noting how hard it is ‘…to control things in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world’ – observed that an engaged organisation culture… ‘is about empowering people in the context to volatility, to achieve those important organisational goals through agreed norms of behaviour and values that unleash initiative, adaptiveness, collaboration, local decision-making and strong accountabilities.’
I’ve been successful at influencing both external stakeholders to engage with others, and with colleagues to participate cross-organisationally, to reflect on the status quo in relation to trends and developments over the horizon, and to seek better outcomes in the public interest.