Functional Advocacy: A Sense of Adventure in Strategy and Innovation

Part 4 of 4 in a series

Pirate Map

Set Your Course

Turning it over in your mind, the functional advocate role seems to solve some very difficult problems. Failures of understanding across disciplines wastes time, energy, and materials. In these conditions, no matter what the scope or intent, departmentally aligned successes remain isolated. An enterprise endeavor launched under mysterious conditions is suspicious no matter the post hoc justifications. The advocate remains dedicated to spreading what riches can be gained.  Engage your colleagues as partners in new adventures or at worst sail past passive leaders and let the advocate pull them in your wake.

The Devil’s Advocate to Pay

Can’t we solve this problem with existing organizational models?

Perhaps, but corporations aligned around business units bring disadvantages that the functional organization does not. Nothing in the nature of a divisional organization solves the underlying interpersonal, interdepartmental, and organization-wide misunderstanding and the mistrust that naturally result between silos of domain knowledge.

Why not open the silos or distribute small versions within the organization?

The divisional structure can make the situation much worse! Now you have functional teams within divisions that ideally work toward common divisional goals. But what if the functional teams start to guard information or just set up bureaucratic methods that discourage interplay? By the time the divisional leaders recognize the distrustful behaviors, the KPIs will already reflect the disfunction. Welcome to the wonder that is corporate scrutiny, matey!

Belay That Order!

Fortune favors the prepared. The advocate network takes months to build and requires patience to execute. If someone chosen for the role doesn’t seem to fit the bill, recall them to determine what small course correction is needed. Some level of training might be required to form a basis of understanding on which the advocate can build. This is especially true when interacting with a top performing department. Seek advice from the functional head to discover the most congruent philosophical approach to the discipline. Such insight helps the advocate focus on the important context setting information needed to be judged first rate at the job.

Soon enough, department and corporate leaders, enticed by scuttlebutt of strategic planning, strike their true colors in anticipation of project work. Competition for company resources brings out fear and mistrust when other departments operate in isolation with intermittent information exchanges. Most cross-functional efforts bring higher levels of visibility and puts mental and emotional pressure on the participants. This is not an ideal situation in which to establish trust. The dynamics are more competitive at this point. But outside the room, the advocate network acts as restorative force. They excel at finding common threads of meaning and intent with their guest and host experts and leaders.

Who Fits the Bill?

The following are some characteristics of a person who would toe the line as a functional advocate. Even one of these traits could indicate the potential for growth into the role.

  • Spent significant time in several unrelated industries: this required developing domain knowledge in a variety of contexts
  • Perceptive and non-judgmental: you won’t hear them moaning much about the personalities of others but you might hear them complaining about a process
  • Will walk around looking for people to talk to about problems they are trying to solve: makes everyone feel appropriately respected
  • Tell stories to drive a point to the center of the listener’s understanding: genuinely wants others to comprehend the central idea

I sincerely hope you found this series useful. I’d truly appreciate any responses surrounding the idea of functional advocacy.

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Posted in Innovation Management
One comment on “Functional Advocacy: A Sense of Adventure in Strategy and Innovation
  1. […] ← A Sense of Foreboding in Strategy and Innovation A Sense of Adventure in Strategy and Innovation → […]

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