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When 'good enough' is not enough
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, 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. Recent studies show that nearly 80% of all workers (including executives) are unsatisfied with their current job.
Why are 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.
Too many organizations stay so focused on what they do that there is no time to think about the people who do it. Well intentioned people get stuck in a loop of "doing what they've done and getting what they've got." Most follow old beliefs and rituals like "profit comes first", "management knows best", "we/they thinking" or "problems are someone else's fault" and then wonder why they don't get loyalty and commitment.
Many organizations have tried to do better. Countless millions have been spent on training programs, books and tapes used to create "excellence", usually with less than hoped for results.
One new solution after another comes into voque, offering systems or techniques that promise improved performance. Concepts like MBO, Quality Circles, Strategic Planning, Organizational Development, and recently, Total Quality Management can all yield positive results. Yet they usually fall short of the potential success they offer.
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, "It's people -- not organizations and systems -- that achieve positive results."
Excellent companies recognize and act on the belief that every organization is simply a reflection of its people. Their managements 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.
There are a few organizations that have achieved positive and productive work environments where work and fun can go together. But it always seems that they've got some extra special circumstance, good luck or one of those "charismatic leaders." In some cases that may be true in the short term, but the really excellent organizations have something more.
Their leaders believe that they can create an excellent organization by defining what they want, finding people who have the values, skills and desire to help, allowing those people to contribute and by sharing the rewards of their efforts. Paying attention to these issues leads to having one of those organizations 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 whole idea of an organization is bringing people together to help accomplish worthwhile goals. Think through each of the following steps to determine which ones you have already achieved and which ones will require your further attention.
Deciding What You Want
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, 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." 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
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 work place.
Our favorite assessment tool is the Value Profile System, which uses the science of "Axiology" (the scientific measure of value). We like it because it enables us to give our clients specific information on how an individuals 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 you need done.
Valuing Your People
It's fascinating to hear employees talk about the small business they run or the volunteer group they keep books for. 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 asking people for their ideas and recommendations 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, which when properly applied, can greatly increase their productivity and reduce their costs. It's a frequently overlooked fact that the people who do the work are often the only source of the detailed information 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
Along with fair pay and benefits that match their peoples needs, excellent organizations also recognize and reward peoples' contributions and give 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 college schedule or arrange for quality child care service can yield tremendous employee loyalty. Such benefits can also reduce your turnover and can even improve your ability to attract ambitious new employees when the work gets out that you have one of those excellent organizations that really cares about their people.
Who Can Make It Happen?
The job of leaders is to get results with and through others, not to prove that they can do it alone.
All the expertise needed is already available. You can learn from people inside your own organization, from talented people you can hire, from other leaders who have already done what you want to do or from consultants who can help you get and stay on track by coaching you through every step toward building an excellent organization.
The next generation could use more positive examples that show them there's more than a "dog eat dog" world out there. Learning how to make an excellent organization, and then doing it, can be a tremendous contribution to the future. My hope is that more and more people will start to recognize that they can play a role in making things better. How about you? Are you ready to make your organization the next "excellent place to work?"