In Management Models, It’s All Mental

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By Stephen C. Harper

A common question among managers is why performance does not meet expectation. There are many factors – inadequate resources, lack of skills and communication, but mostly the major factor is that the managers fail to frame the situation well. To put it simply, their mental framework is not the one that reflects the actual situation. Mental frameworks define how managers look at a situation. Their decisions, and thus, performance, are a reflection of their mental models. Mental models define how the factors associated with that situation fit together.

To make better decisions, a contextual change model is needed. There are 7 steps in it:

  1. Results: identify desired results specifically
  2. Analysis: identify the relevant factors
  3. Understanding: identify the relationships between the relevant factors
  4. Management: determine what needs to be done, who needs to do it, when things need to be done, what resources are required and questions to ask and get answered
  5. Implementation: do the plan
  6. Adjustment: having contingency plan and necessary buffer and extra resources that can be deployed quickly
  7. Results: do you get the desired results?

There are many methods, initialisms, to help managers frame situations. It can be something as well-known as SWOT or the five C’s of customer, or even the 10 W’s of curiosity. In this ever-changing world, it is imperative that managers ask the right questions and get the right answers before their competitors and targeted customers are aware of said questions. We can name some products that are just suddenly appearing before we realize that we need it, like Uber and Airbnb. How can they just appear out of the blue and have considerable market share? They are not afraid to challenge prevailing assumptions, orthodoxies, and paradigms that reflect conventional wisdom and current mental models. Visionary managers must look at the world with fresh eyes and inquiring mind, seeing the things others don’t.