Skip to main content

5 P’s: purpose, picture, plan, part, practice + pandemic

| March 31, 2020

by Bill Hogue

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Bill Hogue, MOR Associates Leadership Coach, Former CIO at University of South Carolina. Bill may be reached at [email protected].]

Anyone who has ever attended a MOR workshop can instantly conjure a mental image of MOR’s world famous table-top name tents.  Maybe you can picture yours even as you read this sentence.  On the front, your name and professional identification.  On the back, nine core MOR principles, each succinctly presented in 10 words or less.  I bet you remember at least a few of these MOR Maxims: feedback is a gift; culture eats strategy for breakfast; relationships are currency.

One of my personal favorites is the 5 P’s (in presenting a change) – purpose, picture, plan, part, practice.  I participated recently as Brian McDonald hosted a Zoom session with CIOs hailing from as far north and east as Vermont, as far south as Florida, and as far west as Colorado.  We explored each of the components of the five 5 P’s in the context of a sixth P – pandemic – that has so quickly and unexpectedly reshaped and re-textured our lives.

Rarely have we seen so much institutional and societal change in such a short time.  As one CIO put it – “Faculty adoption of technology has progressed more in the last five days than it has in the past five years.”

Below I’ve paraphrased a few more observations by our CIO colleagues who are leading on the front lines every day.  Our discussion was filled with insights and shared learnings.  The answers were truly in the room.

Regarding purpose for IT at his university, one CIO put it simply.  “We have two purposes.  Top of the list is manage the crisis.  The trains have to run on time.  We are the lifeblood of university health and safety, communication, business, learning, research, outreach.  But there’s a second critical purpose that can’t wait.  We have to help invent what’s next even as we meet the imperatives of daily operations.”

We know that picturing the future and planning for that future demands scenario planning.  Where are we now?  What does our desired end state look like?  Developing a gap analysis can seem especially daunting during a global crisis that has so many unknown variables.

Given our current context, there’s value in acknowledging up front what we’ve known since we were little kids and set out on an unknown path for the first time: maps help us reach our destination, but they also remind us of where we’ve been.

Maps become even more important when our destination changes and we need to chart a new course.  That’s surely the headline story of 2020 – charting a new course.  The late MIT theorist Donald Schon wrote extensively about organizational behavior.  He suggested that plans should not become encrusted objects of worship.  Instead, plans ought to be living, breathing documents from which to deviate as context changes over time.  And if COVID-19 has taught us anything so far, it is that our context will continue to change over time.

One CIO has created two teams – one to focus on operational excellence in a virtual environment, the other to ask questions about the future.  The teams are not mutually exclusive. In fact, cross-pollination of issues, ideas, and questions through regular communication is essential to success.  All the CIOs in the MOR discussion stressed that regular and transparent communication is the essence of helping staff envision what part they play in organizational success today, and what parts they might play in a series of reimagined futures.

Several CIOs pointed out that the COVID-19 crisis has spotlighted the importance of situational leadership.  Leaders may need to rethink their preferred styles of influencing.  As one CIO put it, “Right now the team is looking for more of General Steve and less of Consultative Steve.  In a time of great uncertainty people are looking for guidance.”

But at the same time, there is a general sense among CIOs that it is important to acknowledge that you don’t yet know all the answers to all the questions colleagues and staff may have.   Acknowledging unresolved questions is critical to building trust and reinforcing transparency as a core value.

That leads to the fifth and final of the 5 P’s in presenting a change: developing new practice.  I’ve heard some respected and level-headed colleagues describe their worlds as having been blown up, turned upside down, or feeling as though they have slipped through the looking glass like Alice in Wonderland.  Some may consider those descriptions as hyperbole, but there’s no denying that most of us are in the midst of reinventing routines and practices that have been dramatically altered in a March to remember.  As Shakespeare warned, “Beware the Ides of March!”

CIOs we talked to seem especially tuned into the need to reconsider practices.  One CIO has worked with his staff to divide all work into three categories: must do, slow down, pause.  Teams are busy reinventing ways to develop plans while negotiating and resolving differences at a distance.  Another CIO notes that inclusion is more important than ever.  This is not a time to allow introverts to disappear into silence or for extroverts to dominate virtual chatrooms.  And CIOs are uniformly fascinated to see who steps up and who struggles to adapt in the new world that is emerging.

Several CIOs said regular town halls are a new practice to bring people together to exchange critical information and reinforce community bonds while they are in isolation.  CIOs also note that artificial barriers between personal and professional lives have melted away: a young child looking for an afternoon snack wanders into the picture during a videoconference, a dog barks in the background, a phone rings, hair grows longer and changes color as people lose access to their regular barbers and stylists.

“Virtual Happy Hours” have sprung up on a number of campuses – a chance for people to unwind and relax for a few minutes in a safe space and check in with each other to make sure no one is out of touch and in crisis.  Some staff are finding that they miss physical engagement with their work family more than they might have imagined.  Small groups find that Zoom breakout rooms are ideal for having candid conversations that begin with a simple question: “How are you doing?”

We’ve taken a look at how the 5 P’s – purpose, picture, plan, part, and practice – can be a useful framework for navigating the new realities brought about by a sixth P, pandemic.  I’ll conclude with a reminder about a seventh P – positivity.   The EDUCAUSE Review has a useful piece by Ana Boray with easy to adopt and practical suggestions about transitioning to remote work.  Creating a personal space with your own touches and establishing new routines is a practice and can make a world of difference in how you view your circumstances.

And brilliant lecturer and funny story-teller Shawn Achor reminds us in his TED Talk “The Happy Secret to Better Work” that our attitudes and beliefs are shaped by our perceptions of situations and events around us.  If you do nothing else today, take a few minutes to watch and listen as Achor helps remind us of our daily opportunities to stretch and challenge.

Be well and stay in touch.