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Thoughts from the Field - Issue #19 - Three Best Practices for Creating Significance

By Rick Van Arnam - May 2014

I recently read a headline in the business section of a newspaper that announced how a large organization had agreed to a six-year, $29M plan to rollout a new computer system. It made me wonder what would happen if companies made similar commitments to rolling out organizational health. To do so would cost millions less and, although there wouldn’t necessarily be a fixed length of time, the return on investment wouldn’t fall victim to obsolescence, either.

Just about every company I have come in contact with has made an investment to improve their organization’s health. The most successful investments feature similarities that were a result of the same kinds of due diligence, planning, execution and thoughtfulness that you would find associated with gnarly project decisions such as CRM roll-outs, product expansions, capital investments or acquisitions. As said best by a CEO with whom I work, “We can’t just spend our way to more productivity. We have to start using our noggins.” And using smarts to build healthy is a distinct competitive advantage.

Like any significant project or roll out, building a healthy organization and sustaining organizational health takes time, effort and resources. Below I have outlined a few checkpoints you can use to make sure your organizational health effort has a significant impact.

1. Does the executive team model team behavior?

In order to set team expectations around behavior in an organization, the work should first be done by the executive team. The executives need to create a cohesive team by starting with trust and moving to a resolute understanding of collective results.

Over the last year I was invited to work with the leadership team of a Global IS department. The leader of the team had attended a meeting with the executive team that had been working on organizational health and during our pre-offsite planning she described it. “Something was different. They behaved much differently than my team does. They challenged one another and were all very engaged. I’d never seen anything like it.” In essence, the executive team set the pace for other teams to follow.

The executive team sets the example and teams throughout the company have a blueprint to follow. This is powerful, especially when multiplied by time and distance; the longer this takes hold and the further across and down these behaviors travel in the organization, the more significance is created. It was satisfying to see the Global IS team’s progress at the six-month mark. The team is more cohesive, meetings are productive and progress is being made on their “One Big Thing” (THINK: Thematic Goal).

2. Do meetings result in commitment across the organization?

Businesses should have a meeting cadence to provide purpose and space to create commitment that can then be communicated throughout the organization. I have been in the Army for thirty years and when a unit receives notification to deploy, the commander immediately asks to see the “Battle Rhythm” for the unit they will replace. The “Battle Rhythm” is simply Army-speak for meeting cadence. A commander can look at another unit’s Battle Rhythm, and know exactly when decisions are going to be made (Targeting Meetings), when updates will be received (Battle Update Briefs) and when the overarching plan’s scorecard (the CONPLAN) will be re-visited.

We recommend a meeting structure that includes daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly meetings for most teams in an organization. These meetings are the very place that the path to an organization’s health is developed, committed to and rolled out. While our recommended meeting model is pretty prescriptive, the best cadence is usually tailored after clients embrace our model for a quarter or more and make adjustments that fit their business. Over time, organizational health thrives in meetings where, throughout the company, the right topics land in the right meetings for the right length of time and with the right people present. Having consistent and purposeful meetings can be the greatest proof of significant progress in your organizational health efforts.

3. Are the company’s purpose, core values and mission generally known from memory and reinforced at every level?

This is a hard one. Often when we ask clients which of the Four Disciplines (Create a Cohesive Leadership Team, Create Clarity, Over-Communicate Clarity and Reinforce Clarity) is the hardest, they tell us Discipline III: Over-Communicate Clarity.

When leaders of teams have an audience, especially when the audience spans departments or levels, it’s a good chance to reinforce, reward and recognize success aligned with purpose or core values.

The best examples that we see to over-communicate clarity involve creativity, repetition and simplicity. In recent work, when affirming core values for a construction company, viewing client testimonials was helpful to understand what behaviors the client observed that differentiated their experience with the firm.

And, in work with a large sunglass retailer, the executive team was quick to agree that what they did was “[We] sell sunglasses.” For a company with thousands of locations, simplicity is clarifying. This may sound obvious, but now, when someone comes to them with a new idea like selling sunscreen or beach towels, they have clarity and will not get distracted with new lines of business.

Knowing and believing in the company’s core purpose, values and mission enables employees of a healthy organization that are faced with decisions that impact customers and the business in general to make the right decisions.

Last Thought

These questions will help you gauge success in your multi-year, deep commitment to improving organizational health your company. Unlike the price tag often found in headlines and press releases, the financial investment is much smaller, but likely delivers a ROI that is both priceless and enduring, and most important, significant.