the context of this article was from my time at rock church in san diego. the original was posted on linkedin, you can read the original here.
the environment i serve in is tough (most workplaces are). but, what is unique about what i do (interaction+communication) and where i do it (rock church san diego) is that we do not move from project to project or deadline to deadline. we move from week to week. every week we provide church services for 15,000 people (about 24,000 unique individuals a month). there is no downtime, there is no time off. either we do, or do not.
my role is both simple and complex. it is simple in explanation: to make sure that the departments, teams, and volunteers that i serve execute the plans of our senior pastor, and meet the needs of the ministry of the church. it is complex in dynamics: coordinating the support of over two hundred ministries, hundreds of events, and the people involved (both staff and volunteer).
we do not just do church, we do it at scale.
i am always on the lookout for tips, tricks, motivation, information, or whatever i can find that challenges, enhances, and pushes our ability to execute more efficiently with less disruption. many of the conversations floating around the Interwebs in this space focus on quick pithy wit or catchy one-liners. all in the hope of compelling readers to dive deeper into the conversation (but never really getting there).
this content takes form in either open critique of concepts (this from hbr) or “quick tips” articles are written to make you think about things, grab a nugget, and then realize that there is nothing there to actually help you do anything with the information (i tend to write those from time to time myself).
to be honest, i love those articles. not for the content that they have, but for the thoughts that they provoke (sometimes the thoughts come quickly, sometimes they gestate).
in a conversation with my creative director, one such thought occurred to me: the strategy, execution, planning, project management, or any other methodology you employ or seek to employ, is secondary to the understanding of how you mean to accomplish things.
stay with me here.
if we leave the conversation at the level of the semantics behind how one person defines strategy or another defines execution or another defines projects, then all we are doing is having a conversation about how we view the work we actually do. let me tell you a big secret, we all view the work we do differently (this largely depends on your background and disposition).
what occurred to me as i was pushing for my creative director to justify a decision he recently made (and it was the right decision); i realized that there was a gap in our understanding. we were operating under a different set of assumptions regarding the nature of our work (not in the why do we do it, but in the how-are-we-supposed-to-go-about-doing-it sense). in short, we had a difference in our philosophy of work.
in walking through the conversation i took the time to explain the base assumptions that i operate with, identifying where his assumptions differ from mine, built an understanding between him and me, and employed a new way to articulate all of that as a paradigmatic methodology (more on this soon).
why is this important?
in organizational dynamics, base assumptions are rarely talked about. culture, artifacts, values, mission, vision, methods, systems, and environment are all that is discussed. those are influenced by our understanding of organizational being – the ontology of work. by that i mean, everyone brings into any organization a set of base assumptions about work itself. those assumptions (whether they be motivational values, worldviews, or epistemological underpinnings) guide how we, both you and i, think about what it means to be a member of an organization and how we are supposed to do work.
this means that anytime you are put in a situation where you find yourself not comfortable with a decision or do not understand why a decision is made you are viewing the situation through the lends of your work philosophy. so when your base assumptions are different than your bosses, your coworker, or your clients, there will always be friction when there is a lack of clarity.
in the conversation about work and organization, there are many experts and many with strong opinions about how work should be done. they may be right, or they may be wrong. nevertheless, they all are based on a set of assumptions that the opinion holder has.
what to do?
this may seem a bit heavy or deep (and it can be) but moving forward is really quite simple. take some time to identify what you believe about work, what you believe about business or organizations, and what you believe about the purpose of what you or your organization does. and do not just recite a mission statement (even those get interpreted differently based on the assumptions people hold).
the next thing you do is to talk with your boss, your coworkers, or your employees and share the assumptions with them. find out where your assumptions overlap and where they diverge – and be honest with them.
finally, when there is ambiguity or a difference of opinion, go back to those assumptions and work through them. when you share the same assumptions about what you are doing it is easy to focus the conversation on what is at hand, not what you agree with or disagree with.
so instead of having conversations about what the definition of “strategy” or “execution” should be you can have the conversation of where your strategic execution is breaking down and how to fix it.