Many people around the world have been shocked by the gridlock and uncertainty that has crippled the Brexit negotiations between Great Britain and the European Union.
Ricardo Vargas is not among them.
As the Executive Director of the Brightline Initiative, a think tank operated under the auspices of the Project Management Institute, Vargas has spent most of his professional life studying the gap between ideas and execution. When he looks at the Brexit situation, Vargas sees a classic example of failing to find the ways and means to deliver on an idea.
“I realized pretty early on that there was going to be a problem with Brexit,” Vargas said in an interview. “I’m not British and I respect the right of the British people to determine their own future. But they voted for something, an idea, yet there was no concrete plan on how to achieve it.”
People turn ideas into reality. They are the embodiment of strategy.
The list of unresolved issues in the Brexit debate is long and complex. “The specifics of the Brexit debate are certainly unique, but the chief dynamic at work reflects a challenge that many countries and companies face as they try to plot a path forward into the future,” Vargas noted. “Between an idea and execution, most organizations face a massive gap. Most people simply don’t focus on the need to bridge this gap. It’s a massive disconnect between strategy and management.”
At Brightline, Vargas and the coalition of organizations, including LHH, that contribute to the Initiative’s thinking and research have committed themselves to finding the best practices for bridging the execution gap. Over and over again, this work has arrived at the same critical understanding: to execute on a great idea, organizations must have the right people and the right organizational culture.
To a great extent, most businesses focus the majority of their energy and talents on creating the next great idea, rather than figuring out the resources or operating model needed to actually deliver on those ideas, Vargas said. Of greater concern, most organizations are simply not training people to have the right skills and mindsets to thrive in an atmosphere of constant transformation and build the bridges between ideas and execution, he added.
Vargas noted that, despite being acknowledged as the most important resource any organization can possess, employees are frequently the least leveraged asset. That is a problem because people will ultimately form the link between strategy design and delivery.
“People turn ideas into reality,” Vargas said. “They are the embodiment of strategy. We need to understand our people and how they relate to each other better if we’re going to bridge this gap.”
It’s a simple enough concept, but most organizations are doing a woeful job of preparing their people for the challenge of change.
“Our research has shown that 80 percent of the global workforce today needs to be retrained and culturally reframed to embrace constant transformation,” Vargas said. “That is a huge challenge for all of us, and it’s going to require us to rethink all aspects of process and culture.”
To help organizations navigate future challenge, and build the workforce they need to bridge the gap between ideas and execution, Brightline’s coalition members forged the People Manifesto. The manifesto is a short list of principles and ideas that organizations need to succeed in future challenges.
Leadership is Over-Emphasized
Most organizations understand the importance of leadership, Vargas said. Everyone needs a type of worker that can speak convincingly on change and act as a role model for new behaviors. Less emphasis is placed, however, on learning how to effectively follow. Vargas said that no organization has a workforce of people who are all prepared or equipped to lead. Organizations must help their employees learn how to be effective followers, rather than trying to train everyone to be a leader. We can do this by emphasizing the value of being an effective follower.
Collaboration is Key But Isn’t Everything
Everyone understands that success requires teams of people who can, when necessary, work together on a team. At their best, effective teams help break down silos, improve diversity in the creative process and generate outcomes that are far greater than what individuals could have produced on their own.
But according to the People Manifesto, not all initiatives require a team dynamic. Sometimes, it’s best for people to work independently. When the time is right, give individuals the authority to make decisions and drive execution on their own, Vargas said.
Culture is Developed, Not Built
Culture is a key element of strategy, but it can’t be built using a blueprint or a checklist. It is a dynamic, living organism that is created from the chemical reaction between the behaviors and responses of a workforce. Although culture itself cannot be created out of thin air, it will come from creating a shared sense of purpose and trust among workers. These are the building blocks of effective culture.
People Act in Their Own Self-Interest
Even when there is a sense of shared purpose, people are still individuals with their own interests, motivations and tolerances. This means that even when they have accepted the notion that change is in everyone’s collective interest, people may still resist, particularly if the cost of change is too great for any one person to accept.
Vargas said that organizations must be explicit about the consequences of resisting new behaviors and thinking or rebelling against change by continuing to embrace old ways of working. Organizations must accept that not all workers will make the transition, Vargas added.
Ultimately, the People Manifesto is Brightline’s effort to help organizations understand that managing human behavior is the key to bridging the gap between idea and execution, but some current people management practices are limited, Vargas said.
“We need to understand how people react when they are faced with change, and it is not usually obvious,” he said. “The organizations that succeed at change are the ones who understand this and take steps to manage that behavior. A key part of that will be understanding that what is needed is an alignment between a company’s interests and people’s interests. When that happens, the sky is the limit.”
About Brightline Initiative
Brightline Initiative is a Project Management Institute (PMI) collaborative think tank with leading global organizations dedicated to helping executives bridge the expensive and unproductive gap between strategy design and delivery. LHH is an active member of the coalition together with the Boston Consulting Group, BMS, Agile Alliance and Netease, as well as academic collaborators at University of Tokyo, Technical University of Denmark, MIT and Duke University. Learn more about Brightline.