#27 It’s a 2016 wrap!

Image of gold 2017 with small number 6

Quite liking that my final Blog for 2016 has a seven in it – #27- especially as my thoughts include both a reflection of 2016 but my minds eye or blog finger is on 2017!

I was fortunate in the early part of my career to be introduced to the power of reflection by utilizing four questions:

  • What works?
  • What doesn’t work?
  • What would I do differently?
  • What do I celebrate?

These four questions have followed me in all that I have done in my CEO and Board roles; even structure of the PhD; and often highlighted in varied ways across the Consequences Blogs. It is therefore only right to be considering them as part of the closure of 2016. To do this effectively I will refer to the interviews of Australian leaders that I completed throughout 2016.

These interviews were based on a concept drawn from my PhD theory. My PhD theory and findings will soon become available not only for submission (fingers crossed still on track for submission early 2017!). I have always had a focus on implementation post PhD and therefore keen to introduce STRADDLE™ (see Blog #13). – not such an academic term.

Having spent much of 2016 interviewing Australian leaders across all sectors on their experiences of STRADDLE™ – meaning the tensions that exist between structure and spontaneity. I could not record every discussion I had but some have been placed in the form of short podcast sound bites and these are the messages I shall refer to as I nod a fond farewell to 2016 and eagerly await 2017.

It is wonderful to start my reflection with Peter Shergold who was not only the first to be recorded but he very clearly articulated his experience of STRADDLE™. Peter described it as on one level having to be agile, flexible while thinking on his feet, being able to adapt to changing circumstances whilst on the other hand adhering to structure and tasks. His reference was considering a role he plays in the integration of refugees particularly during quite intense political challenges.

The topic of structure and the need for regulations and rules were often reflected upon by all but David Gonski brought an interesting angle to the importance of spontaneity, which is most important to liberate structure. He referred to some of his early days within the University NSW where he believed quite passionately that this conscious effort to make the structure more spontaneous was much of the reason for the success to date.

Although my interest was around Australian leaders many of the people I interviewed had global links and one in particular was Rosemary Addis. In reflecting on her wisdom of impact investing Rosemary very astutely explained how in her experience it is important to be flexible on how we go about developing structure. She recognized that considerations of where the opportunities are and where people’s needs are identified are most important in collaborating.

Speaking of seeking balance and collaboration and the ability to make good when not all partners are in alignment is an absolute specialty of Susan Pascoe. In the interview with Susan she referred to an earlier career experience where breaches of structure at times could not be deviated. The absolute trick is being able to navigate what is integral and what can be flexible and in this she had strong views around the importance of communication to be able to STRADDLE™ any situation.

In fact communication being the primary underpinning source of the interview process was also most encouraging to learn first hand of what happens when communication is ignored. Sean Barrett identified that in his example of balancing the tension between structure and spontaneity he had gone straight to process without consideration of the purpose. Important points of communication had been missed such as what was trying to be achieved, who was being helped. Sean had learned from this experience and agreed that to STRADDLE™ without purpose was futile.

Peter Achterstraat expanded the importance of purpose in balancing tensions by providing a great example from his experience as an Attorney general. With the role of an Attorney General being to performance review government agencies there was an easy pathway to be extremely top down and structure orientated. Peter made reference to being aware of the importance of spontaneity and being able to respond to local needs and was very mindful that his actions did not put their clients in a ‘straight jacket’.

Although the words used were different Violet Roumeliotis referred to being in a ‘straight jacket’ as something that many new refugees coming to Australia often felt. For example needing to complete regulations but not understanding requirements or being able to express their queries. Under her leadership she has created a cafe environment, which serves as both a structured training provision whilst at the same time providing an opportunity for personal development of individuals like having to STRADDLE™ the tight rope between structure and spontaneity.

Simon McKeon described the STRADDLE™ tight rope like managing time. In doing this Simon brought the personal concept of STRADDLE™ into the conversation (as did many other leaders I interviewed). He noted that we all have the same amount of time and how there is no shortage of things to do. Focusing on priorities and having structure that helps to put boundaries around time to do these things is imperative. Whilst at the same time having structure that limits spontaneous opportunities only encourages tensions.

In discussing STRADDLE™ with Karen Mahlab she eloquently described her tension experiences as being and inclusive of personal and professional responsibilities. For Karen this meant working in the Not For Profit sector but as a business; experiences between the eastern world and western world through yoga (another string to her bow); life between business and children/family. To be the master of STRADDLE™ it is important to be aware of the varying hats that you wear and this goes part the way to navigating the STRADDLE™ tight rope.

Often the ability to successfully STRADDLE™ is considered as an option only available for projects or organisations of the same size. This is where Lawrence Goldstone provides the perfect example of the opposite In merging his shared start up (established to push the envelope) and merging it with PwC created much risk of the structure of the larger organization to swamp the ability of the smaller to be spontaneous. With a name like the Difference and a history of six and a half years of success not only has the balance between structure and spontaneity been achieved but in a positive disruptive way. Lawrence described this as being like a virus (a nice one of course) in the host fostering a environment which allowed them to survive and grow and continue to innovate to successfully STRADDLE™.

So as 2016 comes to an end and a big thanks to all those who were interviewed and particularly those who were recorded. My biggest takeaway for what has gone well is that the STRADDLE™ concept will be further developed in 2017 . My overall reflection what didn’t go so well is the inability to share all the interviews that were held – I did have to finish writing the PhD thesis! Things I would do differently are more around capturing the rich information I received in a more accessible way.

In celebration I complete the year with much excitement for 2017. Not just because the PhD submission is looming but I am looking forward to taking the STRADDLE™ discussion into the alignment of the macro and day-to-day measurement agenda particularly for social purpose dialogue. Spreading the word of the power of the contribution of the macro framework such as the Sustainability Development Goals presents as a powerful tool for collaboration and thus balancing the tightrope of STRADDLE™. In addition I celebrate all leaders who have intentions of building such an approach into their business model for communicating what they stand for beyond growth and for making money sake.

So 2016 for me was all about ‘let’s grow the outcomes not the organization’ 2017 becomes the action to make this happen!

All the best for this festive season.

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