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The distinction between divergent and convergent thinking was introduced by J.P. Guilford, president of the American Psychological Association, in the 1950s. Guilford and his colleagues defined divergent thinking as the ability to generate multiple alternative solutions to a given situation or problem (Runco, 2014). It is a useful technique for answering open-ended questions during brainstorming. Meanwhile, convergent thinking leads us to find the right answer as a consequence of previous logical steps and does not require much creativity.
In simpler terms, divergent thinking answers questions like “How can a brick be used?” whereas convergent thinking answers questions like “Who won the 1988 World Series?”
Strategy planning is a process that requires considerable thought from stakeholders. During the strategy formulation stage, executives may consider many possible options. A lot of information and data relevant to accomplishing the strategy have to be gathered, too. SWOT analysis, Porter’s Five Forces, or PESTEL analysis are used in the external and internal environmental scan, and multiple scenarios can be drafted before reaching a conclusion. All types of information relevant to the analysis are gathered: historical information as well as internal and external data.
During strategy planning, the opportunity to innovate emerges. Broad research, asking relevant questions, considering multiple perspectives, and generating new ideas all require the use of divergent thinking. Brainstorming sessions are examples of techniques where divergent thinking is applied and can be used to gather as many options as possible while exploring many paths, some of which may be unusual. Divergent questions may be asked, such as what happens if factor A does or does not occur.
Divergent thinking answers the questions with an open-ended task “How can we do this?” followed by multiple possible answers. Convergent thinking is then used to narrow down the “right” answers until a single answer is found. This is done by correctly diagnosing a problem, making the decision to adopt the most cost-effective strategic objective, and selecting the best strategy by weighing the pros and cons.
Both divergent and convergent are useful for the strategy planning process, as the former fosters creativity to generate original ideas and new possibilities while the latter enables concrete solutions to be identified. Ideas from divergent thinking are transformed into structured, feasible plans with convergent thinking. In a complex strategy planning process, it is best to adapt both—divergent thinking for creativity and innovation and convergent thinking for efficiency and structure.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has left a strong mark in all aspects of our lives. It has impacted society – our habits, routines, and the way we interact. It has pressured the economy, its financial stability, and the way we do business.
Thus, what has changed in the way managers are doing performance management in these volatile times?
1. The way we do strategic planning
Before the pandemic, risk management, scenario planning, and business continuity plans were specific to large corporations. Nowadays, even small organizations will have a plan B ready for different scenarios of the COVID-19 evolution. There are industries, like retail, where all planning revolves around foresting based on historical data. Nowadays, using data from the past to plan the future seems a futile attempt to regain the feeling of control.
Moreover, most organizations, regardless of their industry, rely on annual if not 3 to 5 years planning. It is obvious that in the present circumstances and given the complexity of managing a business nowadays, these strategic planning practices seem useless.
2. The importance given to performance measurement
More than ever before, real-time data is a vital management tool. Access to data is critical in managing a crisis. One of the positive side effects of the pandemic was the pressure to digitize operations that create opportunities for data collection and better measurement of operations.
3. The way employees can be evaluated
Remote work and hybrid systems (combining work from home with office time) are no novelty, but in the COVID-19 circumstances, they gained significant recognition and became the norm rather than the exception for many organizations.
Managers and team leaders can no longer directly observe employees. There is a series of soft competencies, like communication, collaboration, proactivity, and creativity that are very difficult to evaluate in an online working environment, and yet they are essential skills for many jobs.
What is the way forward?
1. A different way of planning
Risk management must be an inherent part of organizational strategy, regardless of the company size. You don’t need a risk management office to have a proactive management approach and handle risks well. Small organizations can use their performance scorecard and populate it with leading KPIs or Key Risk Indicators.
For example, setting a red line level for # Days in accounts receivable can help you manage better cash flow, monitoring # Safety non-compliances can provide insights into the risk exposure to # Work accidents resulting in mortality. Identifying different scenarios in key areas of business and having contingency plans can give any organization a heads-up in case of a crisis.
Strategic planning must concentrate on shorter time horizons and reassess a series of factors that organizations may not have considered on a quarterly basis.
Government interventions, international economic context, competitors’ reactions, customers’ preferences, customers buying power, suppliers’ situations, internal capabilities and optimization potential, and employees morale and productivity are factors that have changed post-pandemic and need to be investigated. Moreover, agile strategic planning processes must be set in place to enable the organizations to react fast to changes.
In the face of chaos, the most effective tool to put everyone on the same page is to use clear objectives, KPIs, and initiatives, even short-term ones. The challenge is to adapt the measuring and reporting of performance to respond to tight deadlines. Data must be available fast, preferably in real time.
Thus, identify five to 10 KPIs that are easy to use, concise (tackle the problem directly), and can be collected with high frequency (weekly, monthly). These will be the ones that help you navigate a crisis. Now is the time to replace complex measurements and reports with simple yet relevant tools.
In the medium term, most likely for many organizations, the entire strategy must be reconsidered and linked to relevant performance scorecards in which simple measurements can be combined with more complex KPIs to provide a holistic overview of performance.
3. Focus on building the right mindset for each job than defining the specific job outputs
Many organizations invest a significant amount of time in identifying the right KPIs and targets to capture as precisely as possible the employee’s performance or productivity. Moreover, the more complex the job is, the more difficult it is to capture all contributions in relevant KPIs. In a volatile business environment, such an approach makes targets and KPIs obsolete the moment they are communicated.
The performance criteria used for employee evaluations should be flexible, easy to adapt and more focused on the extent to which the role is successfully achieved, as compared to looking at operational details. For example, it should be less important if the employee delivered one or three safety awareness sessions to factory workers if their awareness level is at the desired level.
One methodology that can be used at the employee level is the Objectives and Key Results Framework. OKRs are set and reviewed quarterly, but they can be changed even more often if the result set is no longer of interest. They emphasize on the importance of personalizing the objectives and key results and making the employee accountable for setting and monitoring them. Not all key results have to be KPIs; some of them can be reflected by completing an initiative or other types of results.
The end purpose of an OKRs system is not to compare employees or indicate what percentage of your staff are high performers. This methodology aims to facilitate communication, clarify expectations, align work activities to corporate strategy, and to provide a tool for managers and employees for discussing individual performance and improvement opportunities.
You can learn more about OKRs through The KPI Institute’s Certified OKR Professional Course.