Reflective organization design

At this time of any year I notice the word 'reflection' coming into play. People start reflecting on the year past, setting goals for the year coming, and generally developing some kind of internal balance sheet of their efforts.

So this week Joy Costa of the Human Capital Institute makes the point that:

you may be reflecting on how you personally did meeting your goals this year, how your team and department did and how your organization did on this year's big hairy audacious goals. Equally important is reflecting on why, and even more important is drafting the right goals across the board for next year, to confidently predict desired business and personal performance.

At the same time Paul Carder of the Performance Innovation Network (LinkedIn community) that I participate posted a piece saying:

Many of you will be starting to consider your 'annual performance plan' … Hopefully you and your 'boss' … will agree on a number of key tasks for the year ahead – 2011.

But, I can place a safe bet that none of your plans include a section on THINKING TIME – 10%. That's half a day per week.

This post prompted a whole flurry of responses on why thinking and reflection is an organizationally useful capability to display. It was taken for granted that this is the case, with not much in the way of why this is so. What is the outcome of an organization that is reflectively led? What does 'reflective' mean anyway – aren't all actions preceded by thought, however brief that may be, and many organizations suffer from an excess of checks and balances requiring them to think before acting (risk assessments, peformance reviews, and business case development, are all examples of organizational reflective practices).

Thinking about this, into my inbox popped the Life Trek Provision, Attitude Matters. Bob Tschannen Moran who wrote that

Leaders are called to engage in continuous, positive self-monitoring. Continuous means that we are aware of our attitude not only after the fact – "reflection on action" – but also during the fact – "reflection in action." Positive means that we notice when our energy is life-giving and up-lifting. Self-monitoring means that we do this as a matter of habit, on our own, without external pressure or duress.

This, I think is the direction for organizational reflection – it's about the mechanisms and forums for conscious organizational-monitoring as things are going on and being alert and open to possibilities and opportunities as well as signs of dysfunction or distress.

Beyond these it's about thoughtful decision making and here Peter Drucker was good on reflective attitudes and questions. In an interview with him as she was preparing to write 'The Definitive Drucker', Elizabeth Haas Edersheim, talked to him about reflective decision making. He cited four questions to ask:

1. Have you built in time to focus on the critical decisions? While most CEOs should be making fewer decisions, "taking the time to do justice to" those decisions that are his or her responsibility "cannot be understated," he told Edersheim, who agreed that "the importance of intuition and judgment (human perception) has never been greater."

2. Does your culture and organization support making the right decision, with ready contingency plans? Edersheim explains that Drucker's goal with this question is to assess whether the organization has values that help people understand how to make tradeoffs that are not just financial. Does the organization reward some risk and recognize that it's not going to know everything and that there always has to be a backup? Have you heard ideas and perspectives on all sides?

3. Is the organization willing to commit to the decision once it's made? …
"All of us second-guess decisions all the time. What's important is that an organization supports decisions, sets them up to be successful, and-by the way, when they're not-pulls back then and reevaluates why not. But it's not every day, all the time."

4. As those decisions are made, are resources allocated to "degenerate" into work? With this question, Drucker referenced his belief that "strategies are just ideas until you have a team who can execute. Allocated resources are just ideas." (Hence, Drucker's terminology: The broad strategy must "degenerate" into concrete tactics-or "work.") In The Effective Executive (HarperCollins, 2002), he credits good leaders with knowing "that the most time-consuming step in the process is not making the decision but putting it into effect."

End note The Center for for Creative Leadership publishes a useful book Developing Your Intuition: A Guide to Reflective Practice. You can download a description here .

Another book I liked that helped me develop thinking time is by Mark Bryan and Julia Cameron. The Artist's Way at Work,