Our first assessment is an organization's rhythm at the beginning of a strategic planning consulting engagement. Groups of musicians, like successful businesses, need a rhythm. Playing with a consistent, steady beat is an essential aspect of music, and a metronome can help musicians develop the ability to keep time accurately.
The German philosopher Georg Hegel was a contemporary to the metronome, invented in 1815. One of his frameworks, Hegel's dialectic, is based on the idea that there are often multiple valid viewpoints on any given issue. The first is the moment of understanding when the topic up for debate is stable, which is quickly met with the second, negatively rational state. In this second state, the initial understanding is set aside or sublated to allow the exploration of its opposite. The final, positively rational state “grasps the unity of the opposition between the first two determinations.”
A solution that considers all of these viewpoints is likely more effective and just than one that only considers a single perspective. Like the back-and-forth of a metronome, this framework makes us consider the pros and cons of each perspective. It also emphasizes the importance of dialogue and discussion in decision-making, which sidesteps the all-or-nothing approach of Plato’s dialectics. It finds an idea borne from its opposites.
In business, a strategic plan is like a metronome in that it provides a consistent framework. It helps to ensure that all elements of an organization work together towards a common goal.
During individual practice sessions, a musician can adjust the tempo of a metronome to match the desired speed of the music they are playing. A good strategic plan allows each employee to see the impact of their day-to-day activities in the execution of the bigger plan. A metronome provides a consistent, steady beat that a musician can use as a reference while practicing or performing. Similarly, a strategic plan provides a consistent framework and set of goals that a business can use as a reference while making decisions and executing its plans.
In music, the beat provided by a metronome helps to ensure that all of the different elements (such as the melody, harmony, and rhythm) work together in a coordinated way. The beat can be slowed down as the musician learns a new piece, then sped up to increase fluency. Similarly, a business can adjust its strategic plan to respond to a changing business environment or pursue new opportunities. Think back to the pandemic. Your employees’ rhythm was disrupted. How did the overall business adjust?
A business's strategic plan helps ensure that all elements (such as marketing, sales, and operations) work together towards the same goals. The same is true in music, metronomes set the desired tempo for a piece, and everyone in the group can stay in time with each other. Organizations unintentionally sliding into a siloed structure sound like individual musicians sharing a stage, unlike a well-rehearsed band. As a leader, this is your signal to reevaluate your strategic plan.
Overall, Hagel's dialectic is useful for critically analyzing problems and creating creative, nuanced solutions. This approach is similar to a metronome in that it provides a consistent framework and helps ensure that all elements work together towards a common goal. It can be applied to various issues, from personal decisions to global policy debates, such as wicked problems.