‘Strategic Doing’ Showcased at ETA Region 2 — Bravo Leo Miller!

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration’s Region 2 state leader’s meeting held Thursday March 12, 2015 in Philadelphia was an excellent example of reaching out for new approaches to deal with the complex challenges wrought be the advent of the new Workforce Innovational and Opportunity Act.

Instead of reviewing –ad nauseam – lagging employment indicators and performance measures in hopes of figuring out what state is (or rather was) failing in one arbitrary data dump or another where the presenters and offenders are equally uncomfortable, because the old info is about as relevant as a Ouija Board foretelling, Region 2, under the leadership of Leo Miller, chose rather, to chart new ground by presenting tools we just may be able to use.

Ed Morrison from Purdue explains Strategic Doing at a recent Region 2 Leadership Meeting
Ed Morrison from Purdue explains Strategic Doing at a recent Region 2 Leadership Meeting

Strategic doing – not strategic planning – is a methodology championed by Ed Morrison, of the Purdue Center for Regional Development. Mr. Morrison posited a simple premise – instead of a top driven strategic planning model eventually where groups of well-intentioned staff officers worry about task assignment and punishment-based metrics, the same well-intentioned staff officers work in a lateral environment where tasks are divvied up trusted partners and assignments are grounded in “framing questions.”

A lot of words – I know. I was attempting to sound erudite and official.

Let me put it this way. Strategic Doing requires a mind-shift. Instead of a strict mission analysis where we take a leader’s vision and implement a project based on that vision by discerning implied and specified tasks, we instead start with a question, which frames all follow on conversations.

For example, a recent vision statement from the U.S. Department of Labor says:

Excerpts from TEGL 19-15
Excerpts from TEGL 19-15

Suppose though, instead of that statement, which requires deep analysis, we gather experts we value and trust and ask this, “If we were to make a truly integrated employment system that was responsive to the needs of employers and job seekers, which projected needs into the future and also provided for the most vulnerable of us. What would that look like?”

That is significantly different than stuffing solutions in boxes based on checklists developed through task analysis and never tapping into the creativity many people have. There is a cultural intuition borne of experience, which can help guide organizations through turbulent times.

I am not eschewing deep analysis, rather I am suggesting Strategic Doing can widen the tool kit and produce a more thorough planning cycle once we frame issues as questions rather than over analyzing. There is a place for deep analysis it is widely important, but working with people one trusts and values to create a common vison might be a more powerful approach.

The Strategic Doing Mr. Morrison championed was not a “touchy feely” brocade-coat, with Donovan playing in the background, approach to planning or management. Rather the central foundation appears to be embracing 30-day increments of metric-based tasks needed to accomplish the group’s vision.

Mr. Morrison encouraged the groups to complete a “Big Easy” (aka low hanging fruit, an easy to complete high impact task) in the first 30 days of work to get some success under its belt. Follow on tasks are also broken into manageable 30, 60, 90 day increments as the group gets more experience using Strategic Doing. I’m not sure how much I embrace the Big Easy for fear of embracing too much low hanging fruit, there is a lot of high hanging fruit that has to be dealt with in the next 15 months, but maybe there is something to it all.

Even so, the fact that Mr. Miller tried something different to influence the planning discussion sets a wonderful tone for Region 2 as it moves toward WIOA implementation and planning, giving the state’s new tools with which to take on the daunting task of redesign.

To find to more about strategic doing go to http://bit.ly/1EjxAlu

This blog does not reflect any opinion of the Delaware Workforce Development Board or the Delaware Department of Labor. These are my thoughts written to stimulate conversation among workforce professionals.

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