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Thoughts from the Field - Organizational Clarity

Organizational Health

During 2006, The Table Group and our Consulting Partners worked with nearly 200 companies addressing both team and organizational challenges. One of the first areas we address in our consulting sessions with clients is organizational clarity. The concept around clarity is outlined in Pat's book, The Four Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive, and requires an executive team to be on the same page regarding various foundational concepts around their business. During our sessions, we have teams answer questions such as: Why does this organization exist? What is our strategy? What are our goals? etc.

Without clear, consistent answers to these questions, confusion and hesitation begin to plague an organization. Many executives assume that they are on the same page as their peers, but once they get in a room together and openly discuss these concepts, we often find that this is not the case.

In this issue of Thoughts from the Field, I want to share a handful of practices that some of our most successful clients have used to embed the concept of organizational clarity..

Southwest Airlines
Recognized as one of the most successful Fortune 500 companies over the last 30 years, Southwest is especially renowned for its culture. While they are careful not to overly define their culture - because they don't want to limit it - they did seek our help in clarifying their core values in a way that employees could readily understand and act upon.

Jeff Lamb, VP of People and Leadership Development, describes it this way, "by identifying three key values: Warrior Spirit (hard work), Servants Heart (putting others first) and Fun-LUVing Attitude (being a joy to work with), Southwest is better positioned to select, train and retain its growing workforce of 32,000. These values, known as the Southwest Way, have established a framework to help keep our People aligned with our Company's culture."

Because SWA is clear about their values, managers have a clear context to discuss performance issues and are better able to navigate a variety of decisions around their people.

Motorsports Solutions, Inc.
Motorsports Solutions, Inc. owns several Harley Davidson and other import motorsports dealerships and has fully embraced concepts around organizational clarity. CEO Scott Fischer revisits clarity at every opportunity - at all staff and company meetings, in one-on-one meetings, during conference calls and new hire discussions. The leaders and managers of the company hold themselves accountable by "managing out" people who don't embody the concepts wholeheartedly.

Fischer attributes the team's success to their relentlessly consistent messaging. He says, "Many staff members thought this was just management jargon and didn't work to understand it. Once they saw that we were serious and that they could use these concepts to make more purposeful decisions, people began to embrace it. We consistently manage all of our human systems, such as hiring, managing performance and the like, with our organizational clarity in mind."

Theravance is a pharmaceutical company that is aggressively working on several breakthrough medicines. To help meet tight timelines, Theravance leverages their organizational clarity in all aspects of the business. Before hiring for senior leadership positions, CEO Rick Winningham, sits down with each candidate to ensure that they fully understand the company's core values and strategic anchors. He also has several breakfast meetings each month with various employees just to discuss core values, and he expects his direct reports to do the same.

Theravance supports their conversations with action. The company declined to hire a technically superior candidate because the applicant didn't fit the company's core values, reinforcing the importance of values for all employees.

For many smaller companies, organizational clarity can be seen as "big company" stuff. In reality, clarity is even more important for smaller companies to ensure managed, purposeful growth. It is most effective to introduce clarity in a non-splashy way by slowly embedding the concepts into the fabric of the organization. And, keep in mind, talking about these concepts should not be a one time event. The leaders of a company should discuss these concepts regularly and use them as the building blocks for taking the organization forward.

Taking the time to address organizational clarity is well worth the investment. Healthy companies make better faster decisions, have higher levels of productivity and commitment and eliminate politics and confusion. As Scott Fischer says, "It has truly created a blueprint for success."