Take a minute with me here. What is the word or phrase that pops into your head when I say the word balance.
Chances are you associated it with the now ubiquitous phrase: work-life balance.
This phrase has attained universal relevance. There is no business magazine or publication that has not made this their cover story, no conference worth its salt that does not touch upon this topic, no productivity expert that leaves this term alone, no app that does not claim to help you achieve this in some way, no successful person that hasn’t talked about how they achieve it. Even entire websites and sections are dedicated to this one topic on the internet.
There is no denying that this balance is crucial to accomplish.Yet, this balance needs to be established in several other components of our work and life, which, in turn helps us achieve this larger balance between work and life.
There are a few areas under the realm of work that warrant a deliberate focus on achieving balance. This holds true right from the executive leadership level to the individual employee level.
Strategy Vs. Execution
This is a balance that several business leaders seek to establish at various levels — from startup founders to heads of multi-billion dollar businesses.
Most executives face questions like : Should I let the strategy inform how I plan my execution? Or should I let the execution challenges inform my strategy? How detailed should my strategy be? At what point should I be ready to let go of one strategy and try another one? How would I determine if my strategy is flawed or my execution? How much time should I spend strategising? What is an optimal division of resources between strategy planning and execution.
Strategy and execution are two coincident determinants of the direction in which a company moves. Parsing into their individual effects becomes a challenge unto itself. When a company or business unit produces great or poor results consistently, no one can truly determine whether it’s due to their strategy or execution. As this Harvard Business Review article affirms, “It’s very difficult to implement a poor strategy well and doubly difficult to produce excellent results with a poor strategy that’s being poorly implemented.” Yet, there is a good chance that the strategy itself can be better informed by cascading it with feedback from the execution front.
Present Vs. Future
Institutional school of thought holds that the value a company creates is measured by the self-sustainable conditions it creates that make it flourish over time.
Yet- we all have heard stories of great companies shutting shop because they failed to toe the balance between keeping the revenues churning in the present and investing in creating a glorious future. We hear of a Nokia that was so focused on the present that it didn’t see its ravenous competitors coming to gobble it up. We hear of a SpaceX that trumped all advise on taking small incremental steps into the future and lunged forward in a giant leap to shine as a beacon for many others on the way.
Here’s data from research that shows that companies that master the fine balance between cutting costs to survive today and investing to grow tomorrow flourish, even during a recession. Not the ones that aggressively invest in long-term strategies more than their rivals and not the ones that cut costs and focus on the short-term.
Only the ones that succeed in finding the balance.
Micro-managing Vs. Free-hand
Every manager’s success is defined by the ability of his team to meet targets and goals. Since the manager’s (and the organization’s) success or failure is tied to the team’s, this is an eternal dichotomy for every manager: How involved can I get with my employees’ targets without tipping the balance?
The balance has to be achieved at the point of setting the target itself; attainable but challenging. The ability to resist the urge to shout out directions at every turn, but knowing when the employee needs help to succeed.
Linda Hill, co-author of Being the Boss: The 3 Imperatives for Becoming a Great Leader, and Wallace Brett Donham Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School says
“A manager’s job is to provide ‘supportive autonomy’ that’s appropriate to the person’s level of capability.”
Transparent Vs. Closed
One of the challenges of organizations, especially in the middle of change management initiatives is “How much information should be passed down to the lower rungs and when?”.
Any organisation that has been in the throes of change management will identify with this: Everything that is or is not done sends a message.
Managing the message can turn crucial for the success of the change management initiative.
When change task-force members put off communicating with the rest of the organisation, they create a void in the understanding of the design principles that guided them, the lessons they chose to carry from previous experiences and the trade-off they settled on and why. As a result, they face resistance from the ranks during the implementation.
On the other hand, too much communication can lead to premature assumptions and create unnecessary outcomes in the organisation.
Responsibility Vs. Power
How much decision-making ability can be trickled down to lower levels? Should our decisions should be driven through democratic voting in meetings vis-a-vis making informed decisions and letting it percolate?
Pushing down decision making capabilities to the lowest appropriate level seems like a deceptively simple way to empower employees.Yet, this could be the easiest way to set people up for failure if they are not prepared enough. In other words, empowerment without context is disastrous. Similarly, taking a democratic approach about decision-making in meetings can be great. Yet, it could stop the momentum dead in its tracks.
As this Harvard Business Review article reveals:
“Empowerment does not mean abandonment. Giving people permission to do something differently is not helpful if they are unable to do it. Setting the context for change means preparing the players, understanding what they do and don’t know, working with them, watching their performance, giving them feedback, creating an ongoing dialogue with them.”
The questions posed above hardly even begin to form an exhaustive list. There are several more that we encounter in our daily work lives- How can I attain the balance between old-school experience and new-age agility? How much ‘asking’ is good without trespassing intangible limits? How can I find the balance in the value my product offers? How can I find the right set of features that sit between making my customers happy and pandering to everyone’s whims? What balance should I strive to achieve in the vision for my company?
The real success of a business is the outcome of managing several pieces and dynamically responding to the confluence of forces that every challenge and situation unleashes.
In other words, it all comes down to the fine art of balance.
The original version of this article was published on LifeHacker.