What is non-linear people strategy?

A deeper read about how you insure against organisational obsolescence

Six Degree People
Apr 10, 2019 · 5 min read

There’s an increasing realisation that the siloed and incremental change models of Government, Investment and Business that have shaped the way we live, learn and earn for the last 75 years are failing.

They’re not able to respond to the combined exponential impacts of technology, climate and that third catch-all category of societal restlessness around inclusion: gender, ethnicity, the gap between the rich and poor in all its forms, or the west reaching peak influence in the world.

In layman’s terms the West is out of practice! Way out of practice! Governments, Investors and Businesses haven’t needed to work together to re-imagine the future to such an extent since the end of the Second World War. This is not a criticism. We’ve had a hell of a run! 75 years and they’ve delivered some amazing results.

Most organisations have already tried two types of linear transformations: a bolder incremental change approach that tries to tackle a range of these challenges on multiple fronts; or a slash and burn approach, usually over focused on technology, which doesn’t distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ legacy.

The problem is that incremental change by definition assumes most things remain the same, in other words they are long on the past and the current or the known but short on the future, the unknown. Technology, climate and societal restlessness won’t wait for the old change models to catch up so the world desperately needs a new mindset to avoid organisational obsolescence.

Non-Linear Models

New integrated Government, Investment and Business models will bear less resemblance to the past because the past is less relevant, but they are yet to fully form. I’m not a proponent of revolution, so what is the new change model? One that moves at an unprecedented pace, blending across boundaries towards an unknown destination and taking the majority along with it.

Linear People

Systems built on incremental change, naturally look for leaders who are experts in incremental change. So that’s what we’ve got in our current politicians, CEO’s and investors. They are easy to criticise, especially when they are still leading the old way, by attempting to provide a clarity on the future in the shape of a strategy document or election manifesto built on a set of certainties which are less and less relevant.

As a result, there’s never been a more exciting or vital time to be a CEO, a political leader, an owner or investor but they all have to work together to re-imagine the future. Facebook blaming government for not legislating quick enough, whilst Government counter blame is a classic linear response to a non-linear problem.

We discuss what we believe are the four leadership choices when dealing with the new reality in our Four CEO leadership choices to a new non-linear reality blog.

Non-Linear Systems shaped by Non-Linear People

It’s logical then that the people shaping these non-linear models should be individuals with experience not just in all three systems but in re-imagining those systems and how they will work together. Surely they have to play the critical role in setting not only the direction of travel for any government, investor or business, but setting the optimum pace at which you can move without leaving the majority behind.

Of course you’ve spotted a problem — we have a huge scarcity issue because for three generations we haven’t prioritised these experiences. In fact we’ve discouraged them — by developing and seeking leaders across all areas of society who are experts in incremental optimisation.

So how do you find them, how do you attract them and can you develop your own quick enough to make a difference, whilst you wait for education models to catch up and enablers like career job share across systems to become a reality?

Outdated Talent Models

Today’s talent models are part of the problem. They’ve been confusing ‘more’ experience with ‘different’ experience for generations. The prize has been the pursuit of more emerging markets experience, more innovation, more technology, more functional experience, more multi-sector experience, more start up — but these are just more diverse skills within the same system, not true non-linear skills.

This leads to the final and key point. This isn’t just about employees, actually in our experience this group is often enthusiastic and open. The shift required is so big and time critical that all stakeholders, or as we describe them people groups, need to shift together, as it’s the most linear group that sets the pace and acts as a brake not an accelerant. You have to look across your entire people ecosystem to really make the change.

All People groups working together to create a people force

We split People into three different groups: Primary, Secondary and Indirect.

Having an effective Non-Linear People Strategy requires enough non-linear people across all groups and an understanding of how they are interconnected.

Primary People Groups

  • Employees
  • Investors and Owners

The primary group is the main focus as the pace of change will be set by the slowest, or as we describe it the most linear, set of employees and investors because they will always revert to incremental change, based on the past. Re-setting this primary group is vital.

Secondary People Groups

  • Advisors
  • Boards
  • Coaches
  • Suppliers

A linear secondary people group can still act as a brake rather than an accelerant, so these groups need to shift too. They’re the support system around your primary groups — so need to be pulling in the same direction.

Indirect People Groups

  • Influencers
  • Fans
  • Customers

Non-linear transformations also attract influencers, fans and customers who also help amplify success and build momentum.


Non-Linear People Strategy

A Non-Linear People Strategy requires three things:

  • An overarching non-linear strategy for all people groups, not just employees.
  • An understanding of how each group works together and can act as brakes or accelerants.
  • The need to attract new and develop existing people simultaneously to get to a critical mass.

Discover more about our Five Point Implementation Plan: Inform, Identify, Recruit, Develop, Deploy in What we do.

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