Perhaps, it could be a natural instinct for some to see nothing beyond the short, or sometimes, even the very short-term, whilst there are some who always wish to foresee beyond the short and immediate term. However, it is also given that through reading extensively, anyone can develop, foresight that enables not only to see what’s on the anvil, but beyond too.
In the business and corporate world, the training to foresee and plan for future is largely dependent upon the culture of the organisation. Some entities restrict the job of planning and the skill of foresight to a few chosen ones; the team / workers have to tread the path without having to do or be responsible for the consequent results of their efforts. To this extreme organisational attitude is a culture, where all units of energy are encouraged to have before them a broader frame and spectrum of knowledge and skill set, that goes beyond the needs of the assigned work. In most organisations, the hiring of “management trainees” is with this specific purpose, to have a yearly supply of fresh blood to the organisation, who are focusedly trained with all round knowledge. They are encouraged to think beyond. They are looked as future leaders of the entity. And leaders have to not only know the direction, but also what milestones to achieve (destination).
An organisation, whose principles are based on creating an environment of being ‘secretive’ will never be conducive for creating managers who can see the ‘big picture’. The staff is restricted to their given area of responsibility. These organisations do not permit development of individuals’ acquisition of extensive knowledge or sharing of information or even development of alternative skills or talent. Those hired in such units are expressly informed to curb any self-generated initiative to go beyond the assignment. One is required to have restricted skill set. that may need no development too; the only demand upon them is to do the given work with efficiency. Hired for doing the limited work but never to engage in ‘thinking beyond’. Such organisations create ‘small picture’ managers.
In addition to organisation’s culture, the attitude of the supervisor plays a critical role in the development of human resources. What questions they permit, for their reports to ask? They determine ‘no-go areas’ in the department; anything beyond is considered corporate blasphemy.
The orientation is of the critical importance- a worker at say, a car assembly plant may remark, “I place the nuts on the gear-box in the car” or may say, “I make cars”; a nurse/ attendant in the OT can be one who hands over surgical instruments to the surgeon or may consider herself / himself, as someone who is attempting to “save a life”. Very different responses! Depends on what thought is encouraged by the culture of the organisation. Business organisations, where the ethos encourages its staff to have a wide view of the entity, invariably end up being more successful than those organisation which inhibit free flow of information and freedom of thought, between units. The compartmentalisation of work must not lead to corporate dis-harmony. “It is not my division’s problem” is an attitude, which will take the entity only southwards. All units must be glued to have information foresight of destination.
The freedom of thought has to be backed by “freedom for action” within the defined parameters of responsibility and authority. The Venetian travellers duo of Father and son, Marco and Niccolo Polo paid sharp attention to the small picture, without losing sight of the bigger picture -- they meticulously planned their exploratory journeys; Vasco da Gama’s objective (big picture) was finding an alternative sea route to the sub-continent- instead of the severely punishing terrain of the Hindu Kush routes….
To land man on the moon was a dream; NASA was tasked to develop the smaller frames, run and prepared by specialists, which went into making the dream realisable. JF Kennedy dreamt, he thought of the possibility to land on the moon; resources were given to NASA and the scientists delivered upon his dream with just seven years. JFK had the big picture and NASA had several small pictures of action.
In the typical “Seth organisation” of the Asian sub-continent, the entrepreneur / owner doesn’t shy away from making categorical statements to the hiree -- you are to do, what you are told or asked to do -- but do not indulge into any luxury of attempting to “think”. “Thinking is my job”. “Doing is yours”, are the written and unwritten epithets on the walls of such entities.
As CEO, my job was to encourage colleagues, especially the younger executives to hold, “day dreaming” sessions - where the moderator would permit the participants to soar at unthinkable altitudes as compared to the organisations then existing real altitude - thinking the unthinkable and to consider ways of doing what may appear as undo-able to unachievable. (Strongly recommend my young reader to focusedly study the book titled “The Dream Merchants” - by Harold Robbins). The senior management of any organisation must be a healthy combination of those who visualise and see the “big picture” and those who prepare action (subject matter experts) the plans; each small picture that later fits into the jigsaw of the “big picture”.
In any career planning, enough attention should be given to achieving a fair balance between line function and staff function affiliation. Rotation policy here acquires great significance. There are situations where the best in competence loses out largely because the supervisors are unable to --- the consequence of placing square pegs in round holes -- incompatibility of required skill set with the demand of the assignment, will only have disastrous results.
To be both, a small picture efficient manager and a big picture visionary, one has to be in full possession of sound knowledge of all the sections of the organisation. I have encountered CEO’s who possessed scant knowledge of finance or even basic operations, but it did not to the disadvantage of all, prevent them from meddling and dabbling in both areas, to the peril of the organisation.
CEO’s must transition to general management position only after having gone through the rigors of becoming “specialist” in at least 70-80 percent areas of the line of business, they are engaged in. As managers of a business line, it will be foolhardy to ignore the small parts (functions) while trying to build the “big picture”.
The writer is a banker and freelance columnist