Provocations.

by jennifermshoop

Moneythink is a learning-oriented organization.  I can say this with confidence because I have been tasked with and resourced to tackle some pretty big questions, to float solutions, and then to report back on what we’ve learned.  I work hard to ensure that every item on my roadmap is linked to a “what we want to learn” statement; my CEO is wont to ask me to target learnings for various undertakings and pilots; I have a living document called “The Vault” where I chart user insights and problems.

I love this.

Recently, the rest of the senior leadership team huddled up to think about articulating this orientation a bit more sharply.  I had drawn up an organizational snapshot that identified, at every level of the organization, the questions that we are tackling at each layer — the provocations around which we orient our work.  At the highest level, for example, we are asking: How might we build the financial capability of American youth?  We have core solutions we’ve advanced in response to this, and we will be measuring our outcomes against specific goals.  At the tech exec level, I own the provocation: “How might we use technology to drive the long-term financial outcomes we’ve identified for ourselves?”  I have my own solutions to this question.  When I bring my product manager on board, I will have him or her own the question: “HMW drive engagement with the smartphone technology we’ve built?”

I like this strategy because it resonates with perhaps the best bit of advice I’ve picked up this year: “Lead by owning the questions, not the plans.”  How powerful, humbling, and clear is that imperative?  My impression as a younger member of the workforce was that senior leadership was dictating strategy from the top-down.  This model highlights a more empowering model of leadership: we set the questions, we push our staff to answer them with proposed solutions to the best of their abilities, and we measure their efforts.  If things aren’t working, it becomes pretty clear that new solutions are in order.

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