Should We Stop Integrating & Start Including?

Some say operations and strategy don’t mix. After four decades of trying to integrate these perspectives, they might be right.

I remember attending a personality styles class years ago to discover our unique style and to deepen our appreciation for others. An outcome I recall was meeting in the middle and joining hands in order to integrate our styles. If we could all do that, the lesson went, we could collectively be more productive, creative, and happier people. Right? 

Wrong again, Steve!

Meeting in the middle had the unintended consequence of diluting what each of us brought to the group. Fortunately, we now better understand the true value of diversity and our focus is shifting toward a mindset of inclusion.

But in operations, we want to know how.  Are we focusing on the solution, and not the problem?  What if the problem is our habits, not our mindset?

Start by Letting Go

Root cause analysis classifies habits as methods.  And if we examined our methods, we might need to let go of one before we can adopt another. Let’s consider our penchant to “integrate” as one example of something we might let go

It will not surprise you to know that during my career with a large financial services company I was involved in consulting projects.  My role was to “integrate” the consultants with our own organization.  “Integration” was our word for “inclusion”. Clearly, we wanted to solve a problem together, but our methods were anything but integrated.

They brought structure and process (defining problems, breaking-down issues, etc.).  We brought data (facts) and situational reality (context). Together, we solved hard problems.  Integration was the desired outcome, but it was not the method we employed.

Our method was “collaboration and iteration”.  Most of you (practicing Op Ex) will recognize this in, for example, PDCA, Value Stream Mapping, Agile, or any approach involving teams of people and continuous improvement.  Interestingly, strategic work often employs the same mechanism.  Mergers and acquisitions use due diligence to validate (and re-validate) combined business models, lean start-ups imagine, test, and refine minimum viable products.  And design thinking engages teams in a continuous cycle of divergent and then convergent thinking.  

Focus on the problem, not the solution

So why the focus on “integration”?  Does combining what we don’t know with things we do make change easier?  Is enhancing something we don’t want to let go of easier than replacing?  Does our fear of the unknown give us a bias to hold-on and combine rather than let go and start over?  While “integration” may be a useful solution, it is not the problem.

Integration as a method of work might be slowing us down and even worse, leading us to the wrong outcomes.  Clearly, adoption of new ideas requires integration into our current experience and that leads to improvement. But what if improvement is not enough? 

What if improved methods do not generate innovative outcomes we need to adapt and grow? 

The point is improvement and innovation are not the same, and improving the wrong things might actually inhibit the growth we need.

Operationalizing Inclusivity

Back to inclusivity.  Thinking of it as a mindset (a.k.a. a solution) does not tell us much about how to do it.   We need to “operationalize inclusivity” and focus on the process. Adopting “collaboration and iteration” as our method of inclusion and focusing on improving the quality and cycle time of our process should be our goal because we don’t always know what the outcome should be.

If speed is the new black, let’s get to it.  Google, Amazon, Tesla, all innovate at light speed compared to many of us in the Op Ex world.  Focusing on inclusivity instead of integration can free us to all get better at working faster and might produce more innovative outcomes.  

And just might leave us with a more inclusive workforce!

What do you think?

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