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Keeping Score: Recalibrating Your Organization

today2022.07.05. 2804 2 5

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By David C Forman, bestselling author “Fearless Talent Choices”

WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?

Organizations, just like inhabitants of the natural world, must continue to adapt to the conditions around them. If not, they will wither away and be supplanted. In this article, Dave Forman presents 17 dimensions that can comprise a Vibrant Organization. These dimensions are taken from research, case examples and personal experiences over a four-decade career. They can guide you as you take steps to adapt further, grow and prepare for the uncertain futures ahead.

It is readily apparent that ‘the way we are working, isn’t working.’ Virtually everywhere one turns there are calls for an organizational re-boot whether it is in response to unrelenting change, uncertain futures, pandemics, global conflicts, the unprecedented economic conditions of full employment and escalating inflation, wavering supply chains, the threat of sophisticated cybercrime, or even greater unforeseen situations.  Many organizations are out of alignment and wandering all over the road, just like a car in need of a tune up.  

At one level,  there is talk of The Great Resignation or The Great Escape.  These are catchy phrases but do little to address the problem.   Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft, provides more specificity as he reflects on lessons from the pandemic and the past several years.

“Going forward, we are thinking about productivity as being defined by the combination of three things–collaboration, learning, and well-being.”

Marcus Buckingham (2022) believes that organizations can become more relevant and impactful if jobs can be redesigned around work that people love.  It is about love for the content of the job itself, and he argues that at least 20% of the work that you do should be extremely enjoyable and rewarding.  It is not clear how this goal might be achieved at scale, but it is a worthy ambition.  In Redesigning Work (2022) , Lynda Gatton presents a systematic approach for an organizational do-over.  Her framework consists of four steps:  Understand, Reimagine, Model and Test, Act and Create.  She then proposes 17 actions with practical tools and examples.

In Work Without Jobs (2022), Jesuthasan and Boudreau have provided a way to think about work-operating systems of the future.  They suggest deconstructing jobs into tasks, and then deciding how best to accomplish these tasks, especially given the advent of advanced technologies and smart systems.   Administrative and operational tasks are usually repetitive, independent, and targeted to reducing errors or adding incremental value, and they are  often amenable to technological interventions and automation options.  Value-adding tasks, on the other hand, are often variable, interdependent, involve mental acuity and result in significant (not incremental) value.  With the advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the authors hope that smart systems will enable the mind-numbing aspect of jobs to be significantly reduced.   

Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini present the challenge to create organizations that are as amazing as the people inside them.  In Humanocracy (2020), they argue that organizations need to be innovative, adaptive, inspiring, and resilient.  These organizations would:

  • Rush out to meet the future
  • Change as fast as the world around them
  • Capture more than a fair share of opportunities
  • Never experience an unanticipated earnings shock
  • Grow faster than rivals
  • Have an advantage in attracting talent

These are but a few of the most notable recent contributions to the need for rethinking the design of organizations. Many have talked about hybrid work models as being the key to a recalibration.  Others have argued for a more complete focus on Employee Experience (EX) as the way to reform ossified practices.  Josh Bersin has coined the term “Irresistible” to capture the allure that future organizations must have for the people that power them.  As admirable as these aspirations, frameworks, phrases, and ideas are, many questions remain, such as: How do we get beyond generalities to begin rebooting our organizations to be more vibrant and relevant in the months and years ahead?   

Dimensions of a Vibrant Organization 

Let’s start at the end and then try to keep score. The end-product of an organizational redesign is referred to as a Vibrant Organization.  There are other names that could be used (e.g., Resilient, Irresistible, Agile, Hybrid) but they all seem limited and “Vibrant” connotes a multifaceted organization that is dynamic, inclusive, growing and adapting.  The essence of a Vibrant Organization is not to control people, but to unleash their potential.  Not let’s see what makes this type of organization tick.

I have listed 17 dimensions that can comprise a Vibrant Organization.  These dimensions are taken from research, case examples and personal experiences over a four decade career.  This list is not exhaustive (although quite lengthy) and some dimensions may be more relevant than others to particular organizations based on their context, heritage, and challenges.  These dimensions are not totally distinct but are different enough to be referenced individually.  For example, two dimensions are trust and transparency.  Transparency is an important ingredient of trust (but not the only one), but the two dimensions have enough unique elements to be treated separately.  

In addition, these dimensions are grouped into two categories for presentation purposes:  Workplace and Talent Dimensions.  Workplace Dimensions define what a Vibrant Organization is designed to do. Talent Dimensions generally refer to the behaviors that people in a Vibrant Organization are expected to exhibit.  These groupings are not absolute, and many dimensions interact.  Similarly, the two ends of the continuum for each dimension not exact opposites but common sense expressions of difference.

Workplace Dimensions

  • Extend Trust vs. Limit Trust:  Trust is the cornerstone of Vibrant Organizations.  With it, so much can be accomplished.  Without it, so little can be done.  Trust is also a fleeting currency.  Even in trusting relationships,  if people are misled and commitments broken, trust is shattered; and although it may be re-earned with time and intention, it is never the same.  Sometimes the real measure of a Vibrant Organization can be as simple as:  Do you trust people to do the right thing…and how do you demonstrate this trust?
  • Be Open and Transparent vs. Secretive:  There are some secrets that need to be kept (i.e., new product announcements and competitive strategies), but not information that is critical to people doing their jobs or becoming a trusted business partner.  People can handle the truth, and they respect those that provide it to them.  No more secrets.
  • Embrace Change vs. Resist Change:  A “change of scope” used to be a danger sign and avoided at all costs.  Today, it is the sign of a healthy organization that is trying to change as fast as the world around it.  Change is not a sign of failure; it is a requirement for organizations that don’t just want to survive, but thrive.  The biggest issue in embracing change is providing emotional support for people acting outside of their comfort zones and taking chances.  “Before organizations can transform, people must transition.”  William Bridges.
  • Anticipate Possible Futures vs. Settle for Likely Futures:  Given the unrelenting change we are experiencing, organizations need to “see around corners” and prepare for possible futures, not just likely ones.  Organizations should not always be playing catch up.  Get out in front of the curve.  Engineers call this “being a lead-time ahead.”
  • Take Meaningful Organizational Risks vs. Be risk-averse:  Innovation does not occur without risk; but risks are risky (about 90 % fail) and people often avoid taking them.  Two practical steps can encourage people to challenge convention and take risks:  Promote psychological safety (Edmondson, 2019) and celebrate courageous failures as learning moments.
  • Experiment with New Approaches vs. Do More of the Same:  Turn work into a learning laboratory.  Try new approaches; and see if they improve quality and efficiency.  The CEO of Intuit monitors the number and type of experiments in his company as a leading indicator of vitality and future growth.  Staying the same is an unacceptable  option.
  • Seek the Contributions of All vs. Not Just the Few.  Everyone can contribute to improving the organization, and its products and services.  Those closest to the customer and doing the actual work are probably the most well equipped to do so.  Create crowdsourcing platforms to seek new ideas and bureaucracy-busting improvements.  “Ain’t none of us as smart as all of us.”  Satchel Paige.
  • Remove Barriers and Simplify Processes vs. Don’t Rock the Boat.   Many current organizational practices are vestiges of the past. They may have worked once, but are obstacles now.  Get rid of needless layers, management checks, and other impediments to unleashing talent.  As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” 
  • Provide Flexibility and Choices vs. Adhere to Uniform Policies.  Employees seek flexibility to fit their own personal strengths and situation, and this flexibility enables them to choose, not be told, what works best.  “One size fits one, not all.”  As people make choices that the organization supports, trust is built, and a sense of ownership (not just engagement) starts to emerge.
  • Encourage Servant Leaders at All Levels vs. Focus on Just Leaders by Rank and Title.  Traditional organizations bestow power to managers and leaders based on rank, title, and rite of passage.  Vibrant organizations have  leaders at all levels who serve their colleagues and achieve results, regardless of their pedigree or size of office.
  • Pursue Multiple Bottom Lines vs. Laser-focus on The P & L.  Employees want to commit to an organization that stands for something beyond a paycheck and bottom line.  In a time of labor shortage and relatively full employment, employees increasingly make decisions about joining and remaining with an organization based on its impact on the community, colleagues, fellow citizens, and the planet.  Purpose matters.  “Before a company can do well, it must do good.”  

Talent Dimensions

The newly designed Vibrant Workplace should foster corresponding behaviors in the workforce.  These six Talent Dimensions provide an excellent foundation.  These behaviors may, however, develop gradually and they should be recognized and reinforced to encourage their growth.  It may also be useful to begin to hire for these behaviors so that new entrants fit with the vibrant culture and the behaviors of their colleagues.

  • Be Guided by Values vs. Obey the Rules.  In Vibrant Organizations, people not only accept company values but model them regularly.  These are not values passed down from on high, but values shaped and adjusted by people within the organization itself.  This code becomes a far more powerful guidance system than rules and regulations (that cannot possibly deal with all situations).  These values are who we are.
  • Demonstrate Humbition vs. Seek Personal Power.  The word humbition is a blending of humble and ambition.  Humble because actions are not about a particular person but putting customers and colleagues first.  Ambition because people must work both hard and smart to move the team forward.  
  • Respond Quickly vs. Wait and See.  There are two types of companies today—the quick and the dead.  The former is preferred.  Acting with alacrity and a sense of urgency are essential; as is being able to adjust on the fly, even if the changes are not perfect.  These responsive qualities are important for team members to keep up with the accelerating pace of change. .  “Even if you are on the right track, you’ll get run over if you are standing still.  Will Rogers.
  • Learn and Reflect Every Day vs. Move on.   Learning moments exist everywhere if we pay attention to them. People’s value to the organization (and to themselves)  is directly related to their ability to learn from experiences, challenges, unique opportunities, and suggestions from colleagues and coaches.  Learning is exhilarating when supported by all.   “The future belongs to the learners, not the knowers.”  Eric Hoffer.
  • Create Your Own Path vs. Expect the Organization to Provide It.   There are  great opportunities to do fulfilling things in jobs and organizations.  Paths can be shaped to take advantage of strengths, develop new skills, forge unique experiences, and help colleagues and teams move forward.   Seize this opportunity and make it happen.
  • Be Accountable to Colleagues and Yourself vs Not Just to Bosses.   It is certainly important to be accountable to bosses and company leaders, but increasingly  it is even more important to be accountable to team members, colleagues, and self.  This is where the action is.  The power of not letting colleagues down is a huge motivator for improved performance.

Final Thoughts

Organizations, just like inhabitants of the natural world, must continue to adapt to the conditions around them.  If not, they will wither away and be supplanted.  Given the tremendous turbulence and upheaval in the first decades of the 21st Century, there is little wonder that organizations are moving fast to recalibrate themselves.  But what does this future look like?  What are the dimensions of these reborn institutions?

The 17 dimensions presented in this article are like an x-ray that examines the inside of a resilient, irresistible, agile or vibrant organization.  They provide important detail and specifics that can be useful in supporting organizational redesign efforts.  Context matters, so each organization will have its own scorecard of the dimensions that need to be added or subtracted, and those that are most significant.  Keeping score can be as simple as a quick review of the presence of relevant dimensions, or a more robust survey on key indicators and standards for the dimensions that matter.  Two books that can help provide detail for this more systematic approach are the aforementioned Redesigning Work (Gratton, 2022) and my latest book Fearless Talent Choices (Forman, 2020).

Another possible use of these 17 dimensions is to convene a focus group and ask participants why we are NOT moving in this direction.  Turning the discussion around like this can lead to some interesting and unfiltered responses.  

Thank you for taking the time to read this article.  Please let me know if it has been helpful as you take steps to further adapt, grow and prepare for the uncertain futures ahead.

“The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence, but to think with yesterday’s logic.”   

Peter Drucker

Written by: Dave Forman

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