Want to be a leader? Ditch that framework and roadmap

Are you a manager or a leader? I bet I could tell you which one you are from your writing style.

Just as there are managers and leaders, I think there are two corresponding types of writing style: bureaucratic and entrepreneurial.

Writing that is punchy, clear and inspiring has an entrepreneurial feel. It aims to inspire, to communicate, to achieve a goal. Every word is there for a reason and it doesn’t waste your time.

In contrast, bureaucratic writing seems designed purely to waste everybody’s time. It is turgid, opaque and aims to prevaricate (see my earlier post on the misuse of the word “around”).

Today I want to focus on one difference between the language of bureaucratic managers and entrepreneurial leaders: the degree of their fondness for that nasty little word, “framework”.

Whenever I see this word, I can’t help feeling that behind it is someone who’s trying to

a. enforce a sense of structure on a topic because their brain can’t cope with complexity, uncertainty and contradiction
b. look impressive to their boss by making something simple sound more complex than it is, or
c. prove to others that they are thinking strategically, without, of course, actually having to achieve anything.

This last point is key. The need to build a framework seems to lock you into a permanent state of strategic planning, and the word invariably betrays a sense of indefinite postponement of activity or achievement.

That’s why I think it’s the preserve of bureaucratic managerial types. The “let’s-just-get-out-there-do-it” type of people – the entrepreneurial leaders, in other words – have no time for building frameworks.

The best way I can illustrate my argument is to give you some examples.

How about this gem, the abstract for an article that was published in the International Journal of Contemporary Hospitality Management, entitled “Towards a strategy implementation framework”.

(By the way, don’t you just love that word “towards”, with all its bureaucratic overtones of making out you’re busy while putting off actually doing anything?)

Anyway, the paper, says its author:

Aims to develop an implementation framework. Further to a critical review of previous research, ten implementation variables were identified and a conceptual framework constructed. The implementation process of a strategic decision was investigated in two international hotel groups via in-depth, semi-structured interviews, observations and documentation analysis. The initial conceptual framework was found to be useful as it grouped key variables together and illustrated their roles when implementing strategic decisions. Three new variables, however, emerged from the findings; namely, multiple project implementation, organisational learning and working with external companies. A revised framework was then proposed and further explanations provided. Concludes by emphasising the importance of contextual variables in implementation and dispels the strategic management notion of “fit”.

Well done if you managed to get to the end of that. No – other than it being something about planning how to do something – I haven’t a clue what he’s talking about either.

What I can say is that I can’t imagine any successful hotelier having the time or inclination to wade through this pseudo-academic wordy nonsense. (I say pseudo because, as someone who spent quite a few years in the world of academe, I can tell you that proper scholars don’t talk like this at all. The best make the most complex topic sound fascinating and easy to follow).

The one time I was lucky enough to stay at the glorious Manoir aux Q’uat Saisons (someone else was paying), I’m pretty sure its owner, Raymond Blanc, wasn’t tucked away in his study revising his conceptual implementation frameworks.

He was too busy acting like a hotelier – inspiring his staff to cater to our every need, ensuring that the spectacular gardens were beautifully kept, the rooms inviting and the food spectacular. In short, generally making sure we were having a lovely, lovely time. Heck, he even arranged an Easter egg-hunt and presented the winner with a prize.

In other words, he’s a leader, not a manager. In the time it would have taken a manager to plan and prepare a conceptual framework for implementing their vision, Raymond would have been getting out there and actually realising it.

You’ll find, too, that the word “framework” is often found (in the kind of mangled mixed metaphor that corporate types do best) alongside that other favourite word of people who love to plan: “roadmap”.

Given the bureaucratic nature of “framework” and “roadmap”, it’s no surprise to find them rife in the public sector. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the UK National Health Service’s Integrated Service Improvement Programme, which has devised a Roadmap for Transformational Change (RTC). The RTC:

provides a framework to support people who are leading and managing integrated service improvement as a way to achieve effective and successful transformational change.

Setting aside the tautology of “transformational change” (can any change not transform?), this text seems to me to be brain-fryingly circular. Does the roadmap/framework help people improve services for the sake of it, or as a way of changing things? And what’s the point of the change if not to improve services? I’m confused.

Thankfully, the lucky reader is given an example of how this roadmap/framework could be used:

If, for example, an organisation, network or community starts by using the RTC to improve the way they specify and plan projects, and to ensure these are focused on the realisation of benefits, they may want later to consider both the integrated change programmes to which their projects (should) contribute and the strategy that sets the direction for change.

I think this is saying that you can use the roadmap/framework to plan how to change how you plan things, but you might want to consider how this plan to change how you plan things fits in with other people’s plans for changing how they plan things.

Hmm. Lots of planning going on, but not much changing, as far as I can see.

Indeed, did you pick up on that idea of “towards-ness” again, in that little phrase about all this activity “setting the direction for change”. Whoa, hold your horses, didn’t really think we were actually ready to change anything there, did you?

I could give you many other examples, but making you wade through more tedious nonsense like the above would be unkind.

All I can urge is that if your aim in life is to be a bureaucratic manager, use the words “framework” and “roadmap” with impunity. And while you’re at it, why not throw in a few metaphorical “landscapes”, “architectures” and “infrastructures” for good measure?

But if you aspire to being a leader, ditch this ponderous vocabulary, stop planning and get out there and lead.

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2 Responses to “Want to be a leader? Ditch that framework and roadmap”

  1. Brad Shorr says:

    Clare, Bravo. I never could understand the thought process that leads people to think using impenetrable phrases is table stakes for being thought of as a leader. Effective and successful business leaders I know – and I’ve been lucky enough to know many over the years – think, speak, and write clearly … and expect the same from those who work for and with them.

  2. Clare Lynch says:

    Thanks, Brad – the post was inspired by one of your comments on a previous post.

    I think managers resort to using impenetrable phrases when they’re feeling insecure. It’s the verbal equivalent of putting your little finger in the air when holding a teacup – you think you’re being posh but you’re actually embarrassing yourself socially.

    Can you imagine if, instead of coining phrases such as “yes, we can” and “the change we need”, Barack Obama had said he intended to create a conceptual framework for implementing a roadmap for change? Somehow, I don’t think he’d have made it to president!