Commonwealth senior executives are facing increasingly complex challenges and governments need to stay adaptive. As such, the demand for fresh approaches and solutions has skyrocketed.
Senior executives are looking to industry thought leaders to elevate their perspective or provide a new angle. To help them to operate more strategically and think creatively about existing and new problems. To take advantage of new opportunities.
Consider the challenges governments will likely face in the next decade and this approach makes a lot of sense. Without a change in thinking, how will they tackle massive challenges such as:
- The emergence of a decentralised banking system through blockchain
- Emerging threats to national security
- Artificial intelligence and the impact it has on our jobs ecosystem
- Tackling the widespread problem of family violence
Governments are also rethinking the way they partner with the private sector. In the past, the relationship was sought to outsource problems with increasing levels of risk. But in an environment of continuous change and disruption, governments are recognising the need for more direct participation in collaborative solutions.
To achieve this, the focus is shifting to empowerment so governments can create and deliver change independently. As part of this, there is a need to embrace the risk necessary for lasting change.
I recently spent time with Petar Bielovich, general manager, Mentum Systems, and Dr Nina Terrey, partner, Thinkplace to better understand why management consulting is evolving and its impact on the way governments will approach complex challenges.
General manager, Mentum Systems
How do you approach management consulting?
“We recently asked a client about the value our service has on the process. They attributed it back to the clarity in how we articulate our business model.
And that’s great feedback to hear; it’s what we’re hoping to offer. We work on really hard, tough to solve, complex problems and it’s important to us to work with clients to make the complex simple.”
What do you mean by a complex problem?
“A complex problem can be a problem that exists despite all best efforts to solve them to date. They can also be problems or opportunities that are new because the “rules of the game” have changed and will continue to change. Typically, these complexities present fundamental challenges to the governance, risk, and the people and culture of an organisation.
A prospective client recently said to us that despite extensive governance being in place, they “hate surprises, but they just keep coming.”
We determined the problem they were facing was in fact complex, systemic, and intricately woven into the structure, culture and governance of the organisation. That’s a complex problem.
For another example, we have been working with Navy and CASG (Defence) to overcome complex challenges that contributed to certain ships being unavailable at the time of the Cyclone Yasi crisis. This problem arose in a mature organisation with heavily governed maintenance processes.
It’s our job to understand how this happens and to help fix it.”
How do you make lasting solutions?
“We believe there are two keys for this: how management consultants work with clients and how we integrate technology to evolve the solution in an agile way.
We do this by having a deep understanding of the challenges and by our co-design approach to solution development, which also builds new skills within our clients. This means we leave them with increased internal capabilities within the organisation.
Human intelligence and unique, smart technology make for enduring solutions that make an impact. The smart technology we use and believe in is woven into the way people think and work.
This tactic usually wields measurable improvement in our experience. For example, it recently reduced the preparation time for a senior executive/governance meeting from 600 to three hours. More importantly, the client has been able to exceed its performance objectives.
As a consultant, this type of work is really exciting. On each project we are breaking new ground. We build things, we innovate. I love it.”
Dr Nina Terrey
How do you approach management consulting?
“We are seeing a real appetite from clients both in government and private organisations to tackle very complex problems in more collaborative and innovative ways. ThinkPlace brings leadership in human-centred design which means we work with people for people, and collaboration and innovation is at the heart of this approach. The value we provide is activating the eco-system to drive innovation and by doing that build the capacity to innovate.
We believe that the intentional effort to build people’s capacity to think differently and solve problems systemically and collaboratively is what is needed to make social change and impact.
We work with leaders who have vision for social impact and change. They are often faced with challenges of not just what needs to be done to achieve this, but how to enable people from either within their organisations or across organisations to make the change happen.
We also see a huge opportunity to stretch people’s thinking and ability to go beyond observations and issues and see how they can disrupt the way the system works to drive real innovation.”
How do you do it?
“We apply human centered design thinking – people and the way they think are at the heart of everything we do.
When we consult, we teach our clients to understand and embrace risk so they can confidently tackle complex problems. And we help them think disruptively.
But most of all, we listen to our clients. This allows consultants like ourselves to broker conversations within and across organisations to work together to solve complex problems.”
What is an example of a complex problem?
“A recent example of a complex problem that we have been working on is family and domestic violence. We are working extensively with the ACT Government, Family Safety Office and the community to understand how we can reduce violence against women and children.
The process has been human-centered innovation in that we spent time listening to the lived experience of women and front line staff, and then we are driving an innovation hub to generate ideas with the community for the community. We are rapidly testing and learning what we can pilot and measure positive impact on women and children.”
How do you make solutions last?
“Every solution is different and tailored to the unique circumstances our clients face. There is an absolute commitment to the client’s outcome and what they want to achieve. We take them through the process to a solution, even if it is not what they want to hear. It’s a hard journey to gain real insight into a complex problem.
Our design methodologies focus on re-framing the problem, stimulating a re-imaging of what is possible, and giving confidence to act and test ideas quickly with the intent scale through learning.
In terms of making solutions last, we need to be clear what the definition of lasting solution is. We see that where clients are clear on the expect results and over what time, and they take an action learning approach to their solutions. This means they are more likely to develop solutions that evolve and meet the intended outcomes, over time.
And more feature of solutions that last tend to result from the more collaborate i.e. cross organisation, cross sector, plus engaging the community, the more likely the solution that is deigned will work and have the necessary support to make it work.”
Food for thought
It is exciting to see consultants such as Petar and Nina working with government agencies to create changes to such big picture issues. Both of them offered real insights into how their companies are tackling complex problems, one innovation at a time. To me, this is indicative of the positive change to come, even at a time when Australian politics seems to be at a standstill at best.
Petar summed this up well:
“The way we solve challenges is guided, if not dictated, by the way we frame or structure our thinking about such challenges or opportunities. It is not simply a function of the nature of the challenge themselves.
“The way we solve macro and micro problems is still somewhat manual – our opportunity is to integrate technology even more into our teams’ cognitive processes so that we have far greater ability to explore and reframe our perspectives.
“By harnessing the ability to think innovatively, human centred design and augmenting our capabilities with technology, our ability to work alongside governments to solve many of the enduring problems of our society is infinitely stronger.”