Is your organization a place where people find both pleasure and challenge in their work? One where people take real pride in what they accomplish? Where they try to improve their skills, value and support each other, and regularly achieve what they set out to do? When I ask new clients these questions, their response is usually something like “Does anyone really have a business that works that well?” The fact is, some do. But think how seldom you’ve heard people bragging about how excited they are about the excellent place they work. Studies report nearly 80% of all workers (including executives) are unsatisfied with their current job, indicating that being a “good” organization is not good enough.
Why are so many people unsatisfied?
Based on hundreds of personal interviews and individual assessments, it has become increasingly clear that the lack of success in creating long-term excellent organizations stems from a lack of attention to the needs of people, whether it’s executives, employees, or customers. Many organizations stay so focused on what they do, they don’t spend enough time thinking about the people who do it. Well-intentioned people get stuck in a loop of “doing what they’ve always done and getting what they’ve got.” Most follow old beliefs and rituals like “profit comes first”, “management knows best”, “us/them thinking” or “problems are someone else’s fault”. It’s no wonder organizations don’t get the loyalty and commitment they desire.
Many organizations have tried to do better. In fact, millions have been spent on training programs, and books to create “excellence”, usually with less-than-hoped-for results. One new solution after another comes into vogue, offering systems or techniques that promise improved performance. Concepts like MBO, Quality Circles, Strategic Planning, Organizational Development, Total Quality Management, and others, can yield positive results. Yet, they usually fall short of the potential success they offer.
However, failure isn’t the fault of any of these systems. They only fail because organizations overlook, minimize or ignore the most critical element of all systems of management. That is that people achieve positive results – not organizations and systems.
People achieve positive results, not organization and systems.
Excellent organizations recognize and act on the belief that they are simply a reflection of their people. Their management teams know that they are responsible for creating and maintaining a work environment that balances the needs of the organization, with those of its employees and the community. They understand that people want to be part of something worthwhile and meaningful.
There are a few stand-out organizations that have achieved positive and productive work environments where work and fun can go together. But it always seems that they have some extra special circumstance, good luck, or a uniquely charismatic leader. In some cases, their results may be good in the short term, but really excellent organizations have something more.
Leaders at truly excellent organizations believe they can create excellence by 1) Defining what they want, 2) Finding people who possess the values, skills, and desire to help, 3) Allowing those people to contribute, and 4) Sharing the rewards of their efforts. Paying attention to these four elements creates the kind of organization that others just read about.
Creating an excellent organization is very possible, it’s just uncommon. The success steps are clear and easy to follow and you don’t have to do it alone. After all, the concept of an “organization” is bringing people together to accomplish worthwhile goals. The following steps will help you think through and determine which steps you have already achieved and which ones will require further attention.
Deciding What You Want
What’s the real reason you are in business? Is it simply to make money or do you really enjoy and find value in what you’re doing? Your answer to this question is key to the decisions and choices you will make about how you use your time, where you spend your money, what you hold in value, your priorities, and even the people you hire.
Regardless of your business, be it product or service-driven or both, what makes what you’re doing special? Do you do it better, faster, or cheaper? Do you provide more options, offer higher quality, or give more personal attention? How do you explain the value that your organization provides? And more importantly, what do others have to say about it?
Ask yourself, “What would I like my customers and the people who work with me to think about us? How would I like them to feel and what would I like them to tell others?” Every organization has an image or “brand.” In most cases, the image is just the result that “happens” over time. But for the excellent ones, image is the result of commitment. They do what it takes to build the image they choose for themselves.
Finding The Right People
While certain skills are essential to most jobs, there are usually more than enough qualified people to fill available positions. But knowing how to do a job or being able to learn how to do it should not be the only criteria for hiring good people.
All too often, even the best-intentioned interviewers rely only on education, resumes, and experience as their primary tools for hiring. However, over time most employers come to recognize that even the most qualified person can turn out to be far more trouble than their skills and experience are worth.
In one company after another, we find that the vast majority of performance problems start with the employers’ inability to accurately select people whose values, beliefs, and attitudes match the requirements of the position they are hired for. Very few make use of the excellent assessment systems now available for gaining critical insights into the benefits and impact people will bring to their workplace.
Our favorite assessment tool is the VQ Profile, which uses the science of “Axiology” (the scientific measure of value). We like it because it enables us to give our clients objective information on how an individual’s beliefs and values will influence their performance.
Knowing what you need people to do, the specific challenges you expect them to handle, the potential impact they may have on others, or even the unique perspective you would like them to add, are just a few of the issues you need to identify before making a key promotion or hiring new people. The more you know about what it will take to be successful in any job, the better the odds that you will find someone who can and will do what needs to be done.
Valuing Your People
In a number of national studies, a major complaint of employees is that they are not given the opportunity to use all of the talents they are willing and able to offer. They find that many employers see them as position descriptions that should stay in their lane and do only what they’re told to do.
On the other hand, in talking with employees it’s fascinating to learn about their side hustle, the small business they run, or that they keep the books for a volunteer group. They run complicated households! Yet their employers tend to overlook such talents and life experiences as potential assets. Many don’t even make use of suggestion systems, let alone ask people for their suggestions on how to improve the work they are doing.
Too few organizations make use of their vast reservoir of untapped human energy, talent, and insights. When properly applied, this talent can greatly increase an organization’s productivity and reduce costs. It’s a frequently overlooked fact that the people who do the work are often the best source of what’s needed to improve performance. If for no better reason than “getting more bang for your buck”, discovering the full value of your human resources makes good sense.
Sharing Your Resources
While most people must work for a living, fewer and fewer see their work as their life. Excellent companies recognize this and as a result, have begun to implement programs designed to help identify what their people want and need. It has become increasingly clear that what motivates each of us is both unique and changes over time.
Along with fair pay and benefits, excellent organizations also recognize and reward peoples’ contributions by giving them an opportunity to share in their success through incentives or bonuses. Low and even no-cost benefits that meet people’s personal needs can take many forms. Even something as simple as offering flexible work schedules can have a major impact. Allowing people to plan their work around their lives can yield tremendous employee loyalty. Such benefits can also reduce turnover and can even improve your ability to attract ambitious new employees when your organization becomes known as one that really cares.
Who Can Make It Happen?
It is a true, but not commonly known fact, that most people in leadership roles have doubts about their ability to build an excellent organization. Often they came into their role as a result of being experts in their field. We all know that developing expertise in anything requires a personal investment of time, energy, and often money. Yet somehow there seems to be a perception that if you’re the leader, you’re just supposed to know how to do all things necessary to build an excellent organization.
The job of leaders is to get results with and through others, not to prove that they can do it alone.
The expertise you need is already available. You can tap into the expertise of the people inside your organization, or from talented people that you can hire. You can also learn from leaders who have already done what you want to do. Additionally, you can hire consultants who can help you get and stay on track by coaching you through every step toward building an excellent organization.
The next generation requires positive role models showing them there’s more than a “dog eat dog” world out there. Learning how to create an excellent organization, and then doing it, can be a tremendous contribution to the future. My hope is that more and more leaders will start to recognize that they can play a role in making things better. How about you? Are you ready to take your organization from being “good”, to the next “excellent place to work?”
Harvey Schoof is a founding partner of Axiogenics, LLC, an international coach training organization. He’s known as an expert in the science of applied Axiology, training coaches across North America, Europe, and Australia. As a consultant and coach, Harvey has worked with hundreds of companies and thousands of managers for 35+ years sharing his insights to assist them in becoming more “valuegenic” in their personal and professional lives.