Bridging the Gap between HQ and the Field

bridge News flash: the people working in headquarters (HQ) and those working in the field don’t always see eye to eye. Ok, this isn’t a news flash, it’s business as usual in most companies. Unfortunately, it is crucial for the success of any organization that HQ and the field come to some sort of a mutual agreement. Since the gap between HQ and the field is so pervasive, it’s an area where a lot of companies need help. We recently completed two Wisdom Discoveries that were notable because both programs were driven by HQ to improve field operations. However, what we discovered instead were some major variations in change management and leadership between HQ and the field. We discovered that HQ tends to see change and change leadership as faithfully following a set of defined processes and procedures based on theoretical models of change. For example, one HQ employee said “We have all of the right tools and processes in our portal.” But, as it turned out, a small number of people from the field actually knew about the portal and the few who did, politely informed HQ that the tools were too theoretical and therefore unhelpful. A similar situation occurred several years ago during a wisdom discovery with a high-tech organization to build some best practices. Against our recommendation, the HQ leader forced his version of change leadership into the program, and it was ultimately deemed useless. Now, moving onto the field people. They tend to see change in narrow, operational terms, focusing on what can we do differently tomorrow without actually disrupting what we are doing today — a ridiculous oxymoron, similar in fact, to Einstein’s theory of insanity. The field people’s thinking is attributed to the fact that they are under an extreme amount of transactional pressure, making them un-open to change. They often complain that HQ people are “too theoretical and dogmatic” by shoving practices down their throats. On the other hand, HQ would complain that the field people are unresponsive and never implement or even listen to the work done by HQ. Sounds like a dysfunctional family right? On one side we have a group of people (HQ) who see things theoretically and then we have the field people, who see things practically. These are two completely opposite view points, so how in the world can HQ improve field operations if they can’t bridge this gap in thinking? Fortunately, both perspectives are partially correct, therefore the gap can be closed. The key is to focus on the common purpose, creating and sustaining a great organization. Once that is established, we focus on a common path to mastery for change leadership. In the typical mastery path there is room for theoretical approaches and practical realties. The theoretical approaches are modified by the field people into processes that are helpful to them. In doing so, HQ must give up their process purity and the field people must have their transactional perspectives modified in order to become more transformational. They need to be open and willing to change, which can be difficult for some. When a common ground is reached by finding a purpose and then combining the best theoretical models with practical realities, great programs will emerge. However, in order to do this, HQ needs to show some humility and field people need to show some strategic thinking. In our Wisdom Discovery sessions we are always able to find this middle space or “sweet spot” but, getting there is never easy. But what worth having ever is? For more insights on this topic, a good follow up is the article I co-authored with Michael McCauley  titled “Transformational Leadership in a Transactional World.”]]>

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