Executive master class

The UK Experience by Malcolm Morley*

I have been invited to provide a master class by a university working in partnership with Local Government. In developing my master class I have had to review the transformation process that we have undertaken at Harlow. I’ve also had to draw upon the private sector experience that I gained before returning to Local Government.

When I was advising a very senior executive in a multinational company I learned a really useful lesson. I was in his office and I noticed a rectangular block of wood in front of him on his desk. Looking homemade, it stood out from everything else and I was curious about it. Noticing that I was looking at the block of wood, he asked me to guess what it said on his side of the block. After a couple of wrong guesses he turned the block round. Burned into it was the single word: THINK.

With all of his huge and diverse responsibilities and the pressure with which he had to deal daily, the most important thing that he had to remember if he was really going to make a difference was to think. Not to just think about the activities and pressures he was dealing with now but about the future, about how the market and the requirements of customers were changing and about how the organisation was to challenge itself to enable it to remain ahead of the game rather than slip backwards.

How often do we get trapped by day to day activities or allow ourselves to focus only internally? How often do we resist the temptation to think strategically because it is too challenging or might highlight sensitive issues? How often do we resist the opportunity to think because we like being busy with operational things that we like doing?

My master class deals with what strategic thinking really means, how traditional ways of looking at issues and organisational responses are often constrained by limited thinking and how different models can be used in developing strategies that are likely to be owned by the organisation and implemented.

I use case studies, including one about Robin Hood, to illustrate how perception is reality and how different stakeholders with different power and interest can have fundamentally different perceptions of success and how it should be pursued.

I conclude by stating that leadership is about creating an organisation with the culture, competence, capability and capacity to develop and pursue a strategic direction with the ability to see the organisation in an external context; to change before a crisis occurs that forces traumatic change and to perform.

Core to all of the above is the willingness and ability to think strategically and to make that thinking count in practice.

If we don’t create time and a climate within our organisations to enable us to think strategically, all we will do is be left to react to external changes and neither influence them nor put our organisations in a position to effectively respond to them.

*Malcolm Morley is Chief Executive of Harlow District Council and can be contacted via the Editor, email info@lgfocus.com.au The views expressed in
this article are not necessarily those of his employer