Chapter 7. The Do Loop – The Eight Skills of Adaptive Foresight

Skill 7. Relating (Team thinking).

This type of foresight thinking involves understanding and fulfilling the needs of the team. This may be your production team, your organization, or the client team. Good relating begins with emotional intelligence among leaders and managers, a topic discussed in Chapter 3. Managing distrust and fear, the two creativity-killers mentioned under innovation, is also key to good relating.

Stress management is also important. Every team needs both its sprints and its recoveries, as Schwartz explains well in Be Excellent at Anything (2011). In its highest form, the relating skill can become what Robert Greenleaf calls Servant Leadership (2012), an empowering and ethical approach to management that gives your people the freedom to innovate and to fail, yet also requires that they learn from their mistakes, via good reviewing (Skill 8).

For organizations, the main relating specialties are Human Resources & Performance Management, and related HR topics including Compensation, Incentives, Ethics, Culture, and Employee Engagement. The relating skill also includes the firm’s non-marketing relationships with its external stakeholders, what we might call issue or image performance management, including Communications, Public Relations, and Corporate Social Responsibility. The Issue Management Council is a professional association for issue management, where issues are defined as the gap between organizational actions and stakeholder expectations.

image181Some might argue that Performance Management fits better under the Execution skill, but I think that treatment would be insufficiently respectful of the role of sustaining relationships in organizations.

The reality of organizational life is that with your team, relationships will always come first, whether leaders recognize this fact or not. The quality of organizational relationships will largely determine how the team and company are perceived. Relationship-building and maintaining is thus the fundamental human performance skill.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the leading US practitioner community in this specialty. It offers certifications including Professional in Human Resources, which might help any foresight professional working to maximize their impact with this skill. Reed and Bogardus’ PHR/SPHR, 2012, is a popular study guide for those certifications. SHRM also offers their own prep.

In all relationships, it can also be valuable to think, in very simple terms, about game theory, a topic that is also relevant to strategy. The best relationships strive to create positive sum (win-win) and minimize zero-sum (win-lose, adversarial) interactions among all those in the group. A great book on this topic, providing a big picture view of relationships throughout civilization, is Robert Wright’s Nonzero (2000). Wright points out that social “games” like personal and group ethics, capitalism, and democracy, all seek to structure competition and cooperation in ways that create measurable positive outcomes for the group.

Fair competition with incentives can be greatly energizing to any group. But nothing will kill a team’s performance faster than rules, policies or mandates that are widely perceived as arbitrary or unfair. Leaders must continually adjust their policies and incentives for perceived fairness, and keep the manager-employee relationship central, even more than the rules. Stack’s The Great Game of Business (2013) also stresses this perspective, and is an excellent primer on tools for constant reviewing (Skill 8).

Performance management is a specialty of HR and organizational development that focuses on firm, team, and employee performance. The KPI Institute (KPII) is a leading practitioner community. They offer certifications in many management practices, including Benchmarking (best practices), Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), a subset of benchmarking focused on firm performance, and Objectives and Key Results (OKRs), which empower employees to set their own performance objectives, in a bottom-up manner, and help each other achieve them. A good book describing Google’s people operations practices, which includes Benchmarking, KPIs and internally visible OKRs for each employee, and how to use them with your teams and clients, is Laszlo Bock’s Work Rules!: Insights from Inside Google to Transform How You Live and Lead (2015).

Stephen Covey’s books are some of the best I know in general professional development, and they are particularly strong in relationship building. Fully half (four) of the eight key workplace habits Covey describes in his personal performance classic The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (1989/2013), and The Eighth Habit (2005), are concerned with relating better to the needs of the team. These are: Thinking Win-Win (Positive Sumness), Seeking First to Understand (Empathize), Sharpening the Saw (Promoting Work-Life Balance and Renewal), and Helping Others Find their Voice (Professional Development).

image182In the language of the Eight Skills, Covey’s other four habits involve learning (Synergize), anticipation (Be Proactive), strategic vision (Begin With the End in Mind), and strategic prioritization (Put First Things First). Using the Eight Skills model, we can also propose that innovating, influencing, and reviewing are adaptive foresight and success habits that we must follow. Covey addresses influence in The Speed of Trust (2008), a book recommended earlier. The Franklin Covey Leadership Center, a great place for leadership training, now also offers Sales Performance and Customer Loyalty consulting. That leaves only innovating and reviewing as core foresight and success skills that were absent from Covey’s classic book. No doubt the Franklin Covey Center has addressed these other critical skills in separate publications in the years since.

Like influence, foresight consultants rely on the relating skill in all stages of their work. Consultants must relate well to their colleagues, on whom they depend for referrals and social intelligence. They need to understand the needs of their team, offer trust, personal freedoms, a development path, a good mission, adequate benefits, create demanding execution sprints, and provide healthy recovery time. They also need good mental models for how their production and client teams emotionally and intellectually perceive the world and their work. These relating skills build team strength and trust, and bring it to a place where it will accept, rather than resist, our regularly-needed changes in direction, small and large. We will now discuss that challenge under reviewing (Skill 8) the last skill in the Do loop.

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