Savvy Enterprise Transformation

What do we mean by savvy? Why have we used this term? And what do we mean by brain savvy, systems savvy, change savvy?

Synonyms for savvy include … shrewdness, astuteness, sharp-wittedness, sharpness, acuteness, acumen, acuity, intelligence, wit, canniness, common sense, discernment, insight, understanding, penetration, perception, perceptiveness, perspicacity, knowledge, sagacity, sageness
For us, ‘savvy’ reflects the degree to which we understand ‘things’ and can apply our knowledge and understanding to “things” and how we create, maintain and use these ‘things’.

Brain savvy reflects how well we understand our brains and how we use that understanding.

Systems savvy reflects how well we understand the systems we encounter and the systems we conceive, design, create, maintain and use.

Another way we express this is by talking about how we, as individuals and collectively, make sense of ‘things’ and how they work or how they should work.

Now, because of the way that our brains work, we face limits on what we perceive and how we make sense of ‘things’. One way of compensating for this limitation is to draw on the perceptions and ways that others make sense of the same ‘thing’.

So, collectives help individuals make sense of things, and individuals help collectives to make sense of things.

Brain Savvy Principles

The brain savvy leader of the future will be on the lookout for ways to minimise threat and promote a towards-state (reward). Neuroscience tells us that a towards-state promotes a more positive mood and better access to the pre-frontal cortex. This, in turn, helps us to think better, learn more effectively and improves our sociability.

We know that getting brain science to matter to managers and executives requires practical approaches. By asking a simple question ‘What’s the hardest thing you’ve got to be doing right now?’ we can start to show why better brain function will help them deal with what is on their plate. It’s as simple as picking just one or two things to start to better manage stress and boost cognitive health.

  • Working with the brain in mind benefits individuals, teams and organisations. It leads to improved accomplishment, innovation and achievement. In today’s fast paced environment, it’s about cultivating growth mindsets, adopting an ‘always improving’ mindset and thinking agility.
  • No brain is the same – experience and education are different and so are we
  • If we have a brain – we are biased
  • When it comes to understanding our brain – biology is vital. We are more than just our brains and our heads. We are very much bodies of interconnected systems that cannot be dissected into separate compartments. Head, heart and gut are all required for brain savvy.
  • A high functioning brain is a leader’s most effective tool!
  • We are much more predisposed to threat (fear) than reward (brave). We have 5 times the real estate in the brain to identify threat than we do reward
  • It’s much easier to learn and re-learn than it is to unlearn. Strongly mapped neural pathways don’t disappear, they become less used as we learn and re-learn
  • Memory is very flawed – the more we recall and restore – the more we change our memory
  • You can’t change people’s minds, they have to do that themselves. This is achieved through insights, and insights are a process that can be driven
    Not everyone’s brains are optimally healthy (addiction element/psychopathy)

System Savvy Principles

  • Social systems have a number of distinctive characteristics which require different understandings and practices (as compared to inanimate systems). Key systems savvy principles include:
  • Systems are figments of our imagination ie systems are perceived differently by each individual, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes in not so subtle ways
  • System outcomes emerge from the whole (not the parts) and are realised through the use of the system
  • The dynamic nature of system interactions requires attention to balance between parts and wholes, whether our focus is on the system-as-part or system-as-whole
  • Social systems entail dynamic interactions as part of the ‘containing’ systems or environment
  • Social systems are self-organising, self-architecting, self-designing, self-adapting, self-replicating (unlike inanimate systems)
  • We each bring meaning into our conception of reality which impacts on our conception and perception of systems
  • We each apply purpose and intent to the systems we encounter, so any system can have multiple different purposes from different stakeholder perspectives and can be re-purposed
  • Our capacity to bring purpose to parts and wholes offers us a choice – to change the means or change the ends, to change our objectives or to change our strategies.
  • The act of making choices is an act of design.
Brain 5 Funadmental Discoveries

Organisations and leaders of the future know that they need to get their, and other people’s, brains in the game. Advances in neuroscience are changing the landscape of leadership development and change management.

Through neuroscience, we are now gaining insights into how people respond to stress, learn and remember, manage emotions and behave in the moment. All of these are important for building long term resiliency and growth.

Through brain imagery, we are now able to better see and understand neural networks – how they form, how they decay, how they can be rebuilt and enhanced. We know more about which parts of our brains are responsible for which functions and how new regions of the brain can be established to replace damaged areas. The human brain is fragile, and also resilient.

Rapid technological advances and, as a result, increased societal expectations, means that we need to incorporate new ways of thinking and doing. Indeed, automation has led to a significant change in the work that we do, and, the way in which we do it. This is seen by some as a great (rewarding) thing, and for many others, it can result in an undercurrent of anxiety and fear. Causing us to ask questions like, ‘will I lose my job?’, ‘how do I stay relevant?’, ‘what will conditions be like in 2, 5, 10 years time?’, ‘what does the future of work look like and how do I future proof myself?’, and ‘who can even imagine what it will mean for my children and grandchildren?’.

This requires thinking from different parts and systems in the brain to improve decision making, risk-taking and leadership activity

For more information please Contact Us


Enterprises system-of-systems

This article on enterprises as a system is part of a series that seeks to make Enterprise Architecture ‘plain and simple’.

In exploring what is encompassed within the description of an architecture, the conceptual framework provided by ISO 42010 – Architecture Description is referenced which includes:

• An architecture description expresses an architecture
• A system exhibits an architecture

Enterprise architecture is predicated on the notion of an enterprise being viewed as a system (which exhibits an architecture). This posting explores some of the implications of viewing an enterprise as a system. It is my view that this is an important foundation stone for enterprise architecture, and that there are significant opportunities for enterprise improvement simply through better understanding systems and system principles, without the necessity to understand or change the structure and architecture of an enterprise.

There are a wide range of views in relation to systems and extensive writings and analysis of this topic. I do not pretend to be an expert in this area or to have read widely on the topic. Our understanding of the concept of system is critical to our view of:

• the architecture exhibited by a system
• the approaches available or required to change a system
• the elements to consider and reflect in our architecture descriptions
• the nature and scope of enterprise architecture

In my view, the following are key factors in some of the differing perspectives on enterprise architecture.

• Enterprises are social systems, with most being socio-technical systems
• Enterprises are systems of systems
• Systems are intrinsically tied to our mental models and our use of language

My Journey

My ‘systems architecture’ journey over the last forty years started in the world of operations research as it was applied to improving policing systems. This included being part of a multi-disciplinary group with sociologists, psychologists, demographers, criminologists, statisticians, mathematicians and computing specialists. It included measuring behaviours and modeling systems to inform options for changing systems. In particular, it was an introduction to dynamic systems and their use of mechanistic systems.

During the middle years, my time was spent with designing information systems and IT systems, and acting as a facilitator to help business people understand IT systems and IT people to understand business systems and enterprises. In more recent years, I have started exploring fields such as systems thinking to broaden my understanding and ability to change socio-technical systems more effectively and successfully. This has included reading:

Thinking about Systems – Donnella Meadows
The Fifth Discipline – Peter Senge
The Fractal Organisation – Patrick Hoverstadt
Recreating the Corporation – Russell Ackoff
Beyond Alignment – Applying Systems Thinking in Architecting Enterprises – John Gotze (editor)

Social and socio-technical systems

I have found the definitions of systems provided by Russell Ackoff to be helpful. (If you want to appreciate how many different definitions there are of systems, then you may wish to refer to the Encyclopaedia on Systems and Cybernetics under S and view items 3322 to 3421) Ackoff also provides a classification of systems with respect to whether the parts or whole are purposeful, where a purposeful entity is one which has the capacity to change both ends and means in differing environments (ie it is more than simply having a purpose). This results in the following system classes:

For me, this was quite helpful in appreciating the differences between deterministic systems (in which I have had significant involvement through information systems and IT systems) and social systems. The former are designed and architected by people but do not have people as elements. Whereas the latter are composed of people, and therefore are self-architecting, self-designing, self-organising. This has significant implications for the architecture as it can be changed by any member of the social system.

Socio-technical systems then brings together the notion of social systems (enterprises) and their use of technical systems, being a wide ranging form of machines and technologies, leading into the space of empowering enterprises to realise their goals and aspirations through effective use of technologies, and ICT (information and communication technologies) in particular.

Systems of systems

Another feature of enterprises is that they are systems of systems. I wonder whether there is a tendency to think of this as a hierarchical structure where there is a progressive breakdown of the enterprise into sub-systems, sub-sub-systems, etc, whereas I am conscious that there are a range of overlaying systems, possibly viewed as a mixture of horizontal and vertical systems, but perhaps more appropriately seen as a network of systems and their subsystems.

If nothing else, this warrants careful attention to the ‘system of interest’ in this complex web of systems, such that our discussion and exploration of the exhibited or intended architectures are related to a common entity of interest. Much confusion and debate arises through our different assumptions and perspectives on the nature and focus of the system, and requires us to provide visual aids, examples and supporting narrative to establish common understanding (whether that be amongst different members of an enterprise or amongst EA professionals).
The feature of systems of systems also gives rise to the fractal nature of the models that we develop to better understand the systems of which we are part and which we seek to change and improve.

Systems, models and language

Our understanding, communication and collaboration to give effect to enterprises and to change them to better realise the goals and aspirations we hold for them draws upon the models we develop to reflect these systems. This, in turn, draws upon our own mental models and our use of language as a key means for the way in which we think and communicate about our enterprise.

One line of thinking from the field of systems thinking holds that systems exist only in our minds. Adopting this as a principle which underpins enterprises and their architectures has offered me helpful new perspectives and insights into the challenges of effecting change in enterprises. A range of experiences reinforce the value of this principle and the way in which it ‘makes sense to me’.

One aspect of this dimension of enterprises is reflected in my characterisation of one of the roles that I perform as being an ‘enterprise babelfish’. This role is one in which attention is given to the different terms and language used by those within the enterprise to speak and describe their enterprise, and to be able to differentiate and distinguish the different meanings being applied to these terms. By helping enterprises to better understand the different ways in which members conceive of their enterprise, it is possible to develop a clearer, shared understanding which enables members to engage and collaborate more effectively.

The way in which an enterprise thinks and speaks of itself/themselves is an important dimension in developing descriptions of the current, transition or intended architectures of the enterprise. This falls into the realm of enterprise ontology (although that is not an expression used in conversation with clients!!).

As you might expect, much more could be (and will be) said on each of these topics.

Authored by Peter Murchland

words have power with related word cloud

I thought I would share with you a topic of conversation that stimulated some vigorous discussions at a recent change workshop.  It was about language and the important role that it plays.  Not only during change events, but also more generally when considering everyday situations linked with performance and culture.  In particular, we discussed the notion of resistance and what might be possible if rather than considering people and behaviours to be resistant, we considered them through a ‘willingness’ lens.  Willingness being defined as the degree to which people will take actions and behave in ways that move towards the desired state.   It’s a simple word change.  More importantly, it’s a mindset shift.

As a change practitioner my colleagues, and I,  work with ‘resistance’ in a variety of forms all the time.  And, yet, resistance is such a loaded word in many organisations.  It sends people and teams to a ‘threat’ state simply uttering the word.  Resistance is more often than not seen as a problem that needs to be fixed.

So why is resistance more likely to be linked with threat?  When we are trying to avoid something, the right side of the prefrontal region that lies behind our forehead lights up.  Importantly, this is the same region that also lights up with negative emotions. And, because it is deeply ingrained, a lot of our resistance is happening non-consciously.  Our brains are very good at anticipating what might be uncomfortable and keeping us in a place where we are comfortable.

It’s also why a re-frame to the notion of willingness, can be a useful way of ensuring that the we don’t move down the well-trodden, default path of staying in non- conscious resistance.  Instead, we want to fire the left side of the prefrontal region linked with resilience and willingness.  And, the simple, yet powerful act of changing our language can have a significant effect on our mindset and resultant behaviours.  We can dampen the threat response and increase the reward response.  Language is that powerful.

 That’s why its important to consider what language we are using, and the ‘self talk’ that is going on in our heads when we label other people as being ‘resistant’.  Labelling others as resistant fires our own left frontal region, and triggers our negative emotions. Those people that we have labelled as resistors often don’t see themselves that way, instead they may see themselves as:

  • A ‘keeper of safety’, to ensure that things don’t fall over during the change effort and that details have been thought through, OR
  • A ‘brave voice’ who asks the questions that everyone is thinking, but might be too afraid to ask,  OR
  • A ‘reasoned challenger’ to understand the ‘why’ relative to business benefits and value of said change.

What’s more, from an attention perspective, where we focus our attention results in neural connections being formed or strengthened.  Importantly, if we focus on resistance from a problem perspective we are actually deepening the problems we are considering.  Conversely, if we approach it from a viewpoint of willingness and adopt a more solutions focused perspective, we will create new connections and circuitry that helps us to generate more solutions.  It also means that change fatigue is less likely.

Where we focus our attention changes our brain.  I choose to focus my attention into solution mode and work towards building, strengthening and supporting the ‘willingness’ quotient.  So, rather than asking the common question of ‘why are people resisting?’, I choose to ask ‘why would incredibly clever people continue to do things in a way that is no longer working and/or supported?’

What about you?

Authored by Julie Cunningham


success maze to cheese

Performance Management – threat state to the brain

Neuroscience-Based Leadership and Culture Change Coach | Building Resilience in People, Teams and Organisations

There has been quite a lot published recently about performance management and in particular about removing performance ratings.

At its core, managing performance is about ensuring that both employers and employees match how we work in today’s world. This also requires some robust discussion around whether competencies, which have been a mainstay of leadership development for the past 20+ years, are still the best way of assessing people relative to contemporary business needs.

If we look at some of the basic elements around performance management from a brain-based perspective, there are some interesting considerations.

Even mentioning the words ‘performance’ and ‘management’ together sends the brain into a threat state. It might be low level for some and higher level for others depending on a complex mix of past experiences and current state. And a lot of that complex mix is non-conscious too, so, people aren’t even necessarily aware of it. Think about that…you haven’t even had a conversation about anything yet, just mentioned two words!

Then when we add in numerical ratings or ranking which trigger issues of status, fairness and trust that can again be counter-productive and generate conflict and competition. The opposite of what a performance conversation is intended to do. Knowing that others have been ranked higher than you triggers the amygdala – and in extreme instances causes an amygdala hijack.

So, when we may want to be open to possibility and opportunity and in a curious state of mind, it’s impossible. You can’t be in a ‘curious’ state of mind and a ‘threat’ state of mind at the same time. Threat trumps reward. And, what’s likely to happen in a hijacked state is that we demonstrate unproductive behaviours like push back around feedback and resistance to setting stretch targets.

And, add to that mix a performance management cycle in many organisations that is, at best, twice yearly, often annually. Relying on one or two conversations per year to discuss the immediate past, present and future performance for a person is a very heavy load for one or two conversations to bear.  It doesn’t bode well for generating a sense of belonging, inclusion and engagement. Our social brain needs really aren’t getting met.

It is not a case of simply saying that people need to have more conversations. Let’s face it, if managers or staff are having 1 or 2 conversations a year that are ‘painful’, they are not likely to be excited at all about the prospect of increasing that number. At its heart, moving from your existing performance management system to an alternative that emphasizes more frequent and ongoing sharing of insights and feedback is a system change. This requires patience and persistence.

If you are considering removing performance ratings and rankings to a more contemporary performance system (and I really hope that you are) here are some questions to consider and discuss:

  • Do we currently have quality conversations about performance in our organisation?
  • How do we increase the quality of conversations that people are having?
  • What is the appropriate conversation frequency for our organisation?
  • How can we make sure that the process is flexible and agile and not just a tick and flick?
  • Do we have an appropriate focus on manager accountability?
  • Do we make the health and strength of the manager-direct report relationship a core KPI?
  • Have we implemented a robust change management process to support what will inevitably be a multi-year endeavour?
Enterprise Architecture

What is enterprise architecture?

It is a description of the architecture of an enterprise, either its current architecture, a transition architecture, or its intended architecture.

It is really that plain and simple.

What is enterprise architecture about?

It is about enhancing the designing and the design of enterprises to realise greater integration and wholeness.


Of course, this prompts many other questions:

These questions will be explored in future posts.


Architecture enterprises …

  • creates a framework within which more detailed design of the enterprise can occur, with the intent that the framework enables rather than constrains the enterprise, enabling the realisation of a more integrated enterprise
  • provides a means of reducing the risks in designing and managing more agile, adaptive, viable and sustainable enterprises, reducing the cost and enhancing the outcomes of enterprise development, adaptation and transformation
  • enables more coherent ongoing design and development of enterprises in a collaborative and distributed manner throughout the management and leadership of an enterprise through greater enterprise self-awareness and self-development
  • utilises a simple set of concepts and methods which can be applied fractally to any enterprise and any part of an enterprise

Architecture enterprises involves looking for:

  1. the explicit models that the enterprise is using to describe itself or its intended self
  2. any gaps or inconsistencies that might be evident in these models
  3. any gaps or inconsistencies between current capability and intended capability represented by these models
  4. any gaps or inconsistencies that might be evident between the implicit models that are evident in how leaders think, communicate, decide and act and the explicit and then developing a more integrated set of models on which to base an assessment of capability gap and a transformation plan to address the priority gaps.

This is a distinctive activity which can add great value to an enterprise, depending on its maturity in addressing enterprise integration and wholeness.