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Bitesize 21: Seven Levels of Understanding

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In Bitesize 20 we looked briefly at the subject of leadership and how to make sense of it by putting it into a practical context. I would like to take this idea to another level by asking whether the people who lead organisations have any great understanding about some of the major issues they face?

Do they really understand what effective leadership means? Do they really understand the thinking behind some of the latest management ideas such as balanced scorecards, human capital management or organisational learning?

For example, if you asked your chief executive whether he or she subscribed to a philosophy of continuous improvement I wonder what the answer would be?

Would they be prepared to admit their ignorance or, worse still, suggest that they were quite happy with things as they are? Maybe they would answer glibly and suggest that of course they are always looking for improvement. But that is not the same as having a complete management philosophy based on the concept of continuous improvement.

For those of you who now regard yourselves as business partners try out this exercise.

Choose any management subject that is particularly relevant to your organisation such as customer relationship management, lean manufacturing, joined up thinking, or whatever. Then ask half a dozen senior managers for their views on the subject. Gauge their answers against the criteria shown below as the Seven Levels of Understanding.

For example, continuous improvement:

Level 1 - Intuitive
Do they intuitively feel that continuous improvement is important even if they do not know much about the subject?

Level 2 - Knowledge
What knowledge do they have? Have they ever heard the Japanese word kaizen and do they know what it means?

Level 3 - Principles - basic
Do they understand that there are some fundamental principles involved, such as the need for an iterative cycle? For example The PCDA (Plan, Do. Check, Act) cycle.

Level 4 - Application (simple)
Would they know how to apply PDCA at its simplest level?

Level 5 - Principles (advanced)
What about their understanding of some of the more advanced principles, such as the need for cross functional cooperation and systems thinking?

Level 6 - Adaptive
Would they be able to apply these more advanced principles by inviting members of other teams to join them to improve performance across the organisation?

Level 7 - Innovative
If they understand the subject in this much depth do they have any new ways of looking at the subject or bringing innovations to the organisation? How about resurrecting a new and fresh ideas scheme that is an improvement on old-fashioned suggestion schemes?

Business partners who can work at the highest level really open management eyes and distinguish between commitment and lip service.


Paul is happy to take questions and comments and can be contacted at:mailto:paulkearns@blueyonder.co.uk
Earlier articles in this series can be found at:
The Bitesize Business Partners Page

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