Wednesday, April 13, 2011

On Being a Successful Company

During the first session of the From Vision to Action Leadership Training, I ask a simple but powerful question: What are the key building blocks for generating sustainable organizational success? In essence, I am asking the students to define what it takes to be a successful company over time. While the answers are always unique and interesting, the reality is that there is never one right answer. Instead there is a configuration of key components which when linked together can make a huge difference.

First, I have yet to meet a successful company that did not have a cohesive leadership team that can engage in robust dialogue. I have sat in on many of these meetings and they are respectful but very engaging. People do not hesitate to share their thoughts and their experiences. People are forthright and strong. Numbers, metrics, research and ideas fly around the room like planes all trying to land in Chicago at the same time before a storm. No one is asleep in the control tower. To say there are intense dialogues is to understate the dynamic nature of the discussions. They are rarely loud, as in shouting, but they are always extremely focused and deliberate. When asked how the meetings of this nature are, I like to state, “All the lights were on and everyone was at home.”

Second, all of these successful companies have a strategic plan that integrates with an annual and quarterly performance management system. This combination offers freedom, defines responsibility and measures for accountability. Every strategic plan comes with a workable budget so people can monitor and display fiscal responsibility too. These plans are also in full alignment with their mission, vision and core values.

Third, every one of these companies has communication systems that cascade information down into the organization in an accurate and timely manner. I am not talking e-mail bursts or social media postings. Instead, there are large and small group settings plus one to one coaching sessions held on a frequent basis that are productive, informative and helpful.

Fourth, each of these successful companies have flexible and disciplined employees who can utilize their strengths and talents to achieve their goals. They remind me of the best carpenters and craftsmen and women I have meet who measure twice and cut once. These same companies hire extremely smart and then focus on retaining these key people. They know that the right person on the right seat on the bus, using a Jim Collins metaphor, can be a force multiplier.

Finally, all of these companies have a binary culture, using another Jim Collins term from his book, Built To Last. In a binary system, there are ones and zeros. As I like to explain it, you are either one with the company or you are out of the company. This clarity of alignment generates a cohesive organizational culture based on shared purpose or mission, and is empowered by a set of defined core values. Everyone who works there is hardwired with this perspective and while it looks almost cult-like from the outside, from the inside it is very dynamic and focused to fulfill the mission.

In the end, it is less about what they do as much as what they represent. Successful companies and successful executives are very much alike. They are of good character and they live up to their mission and core values that they hold. In essence, they are trustworthy, and thus people are deeply dedicated to making them be successful.

Geery Howe, M.A.Consultant, Executive Coach, Trainer inLeadership, Strategic Planning and Organizational ChangeMorning Star Associates319 - 643 - 2257

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