Information-sharing meetings, also known as staff meetings, are one of the most common meetings held by organizations, and for good reason; communication is the lifeblood of any organization. When everyone within an organization knows the same key information, then there will be alignment and synchronization between different members of the organization (Davis 2001). Meetings can be a tool used to codify strategic objectives, posturing teams for organizational effectiveness. Meetings are held by managers at various levels of an organization to disseminate pertinent information to subordinates or lower-level managers. Staff meetings are a great venue for discussing organizational changes, collecting updates on complex projects and communicating organizational expectations with employees.
In many cases, new managers are unaware of when meetings are appropriate. Some never hold meetings and just communicate electronically, whereas others hold multiple meetings per day or per week. Holding ineffective meetings cultivates a disdain for meetings and stagnates productivity. Ineffective meetings can cripple operations and organizational effectiveness, leading to potential profit losses, eclipses in project timelines and poor organizational morale. Below are keys managers can utilize to drive staff-meeting success.
Key #1 - Know if a meeting is required: If you get a reputation for conducting useless meetings, the busiest and best people won’t show up (Booher, 2012). Managers should establish open-door policies and promote an environment where communication is free and unhindered. Managers shouldn’t use meetings as the only source of communication with team members. A manager who holds meetings to communicate information that’s not applicable to the team displays a lack of concern for others’ time, creating a negative perception of meetings. This eventually leads to lack of participation, absenteeism or subordinates wanting to provide written inputs to the meeting instead of attending. Hold a meeting when collective feedback is warranted.
Key #2 - Create an agenda: Organization is the cornerstone of meetings. Agendas are a key ingredient to the recipe of successful meetings. There may be criticism that an agenda will make the meeting too formal and that participants may not have the opportunity to freely express their thoughts but that’s not true if the meeting is facilitated effectively. An agenda is an outline that helps the facilitator to keep the meeting focused and on target. When a meeting is focused and targeted, it facilitates problem solving and information dissemination. Always make a list of agenda items according to their importance (Parker 2006). Listing items according to their importance helps the facilitator ensure there is sufficient time to discuss the most important items. It is highly inefficient for subordinates to leave their desk and convene around a table to discuss items of low importance that could have been discussed via electronic correspondence. The agenda should be sent out as far in advance as practical so participants can contribute appropriately.
Key #3 - Ensure that participants know their roles: Often times multiple representatives from a department will attend a meeting and it’s not clear who is speaking on that department’s behalf. This can degrade the quality of the meeting experience as the ambiguity of who officially represents a department can distract from the main points and throw participants off track. There should be a person identified to record outcomes and solutions as meetings are often used to assign tasks and distribute information. The minutes are a solid method of identifying who is accountable for the outcomes and suggestions made during the meeting.
Key #4 - Select an Appropriate Venue: The venue of the meeting is imperative to its efficacy. When a meeting location is conveniently located and properly prepared, it’s easy to overlook the logistical planning and effort applied to it. Ineffective meetings are partly the result of poorly planned logistics, location and preparation. Handling logistics is like a backdrop to a play; few notice unless something goes wrong (Davis 2001). The chair of the meeting should select a place that’s centrally located to all participants and annotate it on the agenda. The room should be equipped with all the appropriate equipment and media i.e. climate-controlled room, projectors adequate lighting, meeting table and comfortable seats. A proper venue postures all involved for success.
Key #5 - Get everyone genuinely involved: Most meetings are considered boring which drives low participation and effectiveness. To make meetings productive, the participants should be engaged and the team leader or facilitator should bring everyone into the discussion. The facilitator can accomplish this by empowering members of the team and earnestly soliciting their inputs. Develop a thought of the day to open the meeting and rotate that responsibility among team members. This increases engagement, provides members with a stake in the meeting and makes the meeting fun.
Key #6 - Chair with balance: An effective chair will demonstrate the ability to articulate the principles of fairness, equality and common sense in a clear and compelling manner (Mina 2000). Set clear ground rules for participation at the inception. Meetings can be derailed when participants talk out of turn and endlessly debate.
In today’s fast paced business world, it’s become increasingly challenging to work and communicate across organizational structures and operational demands. Managers must be highly skilled practitioners of time management, by ensuring they facilitate meetings that are highly productive and not detested by team members. These six steps can help managers ensure that the team gets the most out of staff meetings.
Booher, D., & Booher, D. (2012). Tip 1. In Leading effective meetings 72 tips to save time, improve teamwork, and make better decisions.
Davis, J. H. (2001). Planning and leading productive meetings.
Mina, E. (2000). The complete handbook of business meetings.
Information-sharing meetings, also known as staff meetings, are one of the most common meetings held by organizations, and for good reason; communication is the lifeblood of any organization. When everyone within an organization knows the same key information, then there will be alignment and synchronization between different members of the organization (Davis 2001). Meetings can be a tool usedJonathan McRoy, M.S., CM, CLC Articles
Organizations around the world have experienced far-reaching and powerful transformation in the last decade, including ups and downs that present challenges for the modern leader. These include the constant change in information technology, global competition, and the demand for flexibility and speed at the point of need for a sustainable advantage. Regardless of the degree of change that an organization must react to, the ability to think successfully in the future tense requires a common framework within the organization. What does this mean to organizations in the future? It means that the successful 21st century organization must be designed for success at all levels: individual, group, and organization. This article will examine how the components of individual, group, and organization can empower organizations to successfully configure structures, processes, reward systems, and people practices and policies.
It has been estimated that 80% of the jobs available in the USA within 20 years will be based on one’s intellectual capabilities. Therefore, the days of societies turning primarily to CEOs, generals, bishops, and other senior leaders for knowledge will shift across the entire organizational structure. James identifies a number of intellectual competences, certain skills that everyone must have, to know what the future will look like. Not in any specific order, these are the skills you will need: new lens view, strategic foresight, harnessing the power of myths, speed, knowledge of the past to predict the future, and doing more with less
An example of the nature of intelligence in relation to certain skills required in 21st century organizations is seen in the organizational design of Hewlett Packard in France and IBM in London. Both organizations created clubs that compensate you to join, but to maintain your membership you have to keep your skills current and continue producing revenue.
Higher education is a critical indicator of one’s intellectual capabilities. In fact, never before has the role of organizational design depended so profoundly on the acquisition of higher education. From a global viewpoint, in China and Japan over half the undergraduates receive their degrees in engineering and science. That compares to 32% in America. A weak education system equates to weak innovations, solutions, and intellectual capabilities required to create an effective organization capable of achieving the business strategy. In view of the global importance of higher education to organizational design, this educational imbalance stands as a clear message to 21st century American organizations: the ability to obtain and employ intelligence will be the new source of wealth.
Currently, there is a great interest in the study of organizational teams. This attention is in response to the competitive challenges and organizational needs of a flexible and adaptable organizational design for today, tomorrow, and the future. Groups, not individuals, are the ideal building blocks around which 21st century organizations should strategize. According to Jenewein and Morhart, there are three principles for properly shaping organizational design around groups: (1) personnel management: finding the right team members (2) leadership: putting the team first (3) team culture: courage to do the unconventional.
American society was built on the value of individual achievement. Today, for example, we have generation X that has been raised in an environment of individual achievement with such things as most valuable player in sports, competitive video gaming, television game show winners, and other ways of recognizing individual achievement. People do not relish channeling their individual identity to that of the group.
However, in the context of 21st century organizations’ desire for a team-oriented organizational design, collaboration is valued over competition. Organizations welcome a smooth process in a team setting. For example, when Boeing’s organizational design was at a crossroads, management decided that they would focus on transforming to a team-based organization. These changes included the creation of self-managing work teams based on their function and not their individual titles. As a result, the Boeing 717 project was a major success, and a new team-based culture was established.
The ability of an organization to see the entire landscape for a strategic advantage is the principle of a good organizational design. From this strategic viewpoint, the organization recognizes important patterns in its design for success. The span of organizational design has evolved, but no other design activity is more important to 21st century organizations than the element of continuous flexibility.
Flexibility is the organization’s ability to react to the constantly changing business world. One approach that Snull used to explain the art and science of applying flexibility in a constantly changing business world emerged directly out of the context of structure. He suggests that as organizations achieve success, their winning structure becomes embedded into the process, and the only way to stay clear of ad hoc changes is a flexible design. This is achieved by being leaner, closer to the action, staying focused, allowing equality of power, and holding a portfolio of options for an uncertain future. For instance, when Chevron issued a “best practices resource map” to their employees detailing innovations and contact information for the responsible people, new groups developed sparking learning, innovation, and flexibility. The key to a sustainable advantage in 21st century organizations is to include flexibility, but not to the extent that the design is not stable.
Certainly there are differences among individuals, groups, and organizations. Placed in similar situations, each will act differently. However, there are certain fundamental consistencies that are applicable to 21st century organizations. These fundamental consistencies (individuals, groups, and organizations) are extremely important to the organizational design because they generate predictability. The ideal situation is a balanced methodology between individuals, groups, and organizations within the organizational design. Organizations that do not continually develop their skills with flexibility will be threatened by agile competition willing to do so with no hesitation. The role of organizational design in the 21st century is being transformed, and everyone must be prepared to support it.
Englehardt, Charles, and Peter Simmons. “Organizational Flexibility for a Changing World.” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 23, no. 3 (2002): 113-21.
Galbraith, Jay, Diane Downey, and Amy Kates. Designing Dynamic Organizations. New York, NY: American Management Association, 2002.
Handy, Charles. The Age of Paradox. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1995.
James, Jennifer. “Thinking in the Future Tense.” Industrial and Commercial Training 30, no. 7 (1996): 28-32.
Jenewein, Wolfgang, and Felicitas Morhart. “Navigating Toward Team Success.” Team Performance Management 14, no. 1/2 (2008): 102-8.
Lewis, Pamela, Stephen Goodman, and Patricia Fandt. Management: Challenges for Tomorrow's Leaders. 4th ed. Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western, 2004.
Pina, Mary, Ana Martinez, and Luis Martinez. “Teams in Organizations: A Review on Team Effectiveness.” Team Performance Management 14, no. 1/2 (2008): 7-21.
Robbins, Stephen. Organizational Behavior. 10th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003.
Sirias, Danilo, H.B. Karp, and Timothy Brotherton. “Comparing the Levels of Individualism/Collectivism between Baby Boomers and Generation X: Implications for Teamwork.” Management Research News 30, no. 10 (2007): 749-61.
Yankelovich, Daniel. “Ferment and Change: Higher Education in 2015.” The Chronicle of Higher Education 52, no. 14 (2005).
 Pamela Lewis, Stephen Goodman, and Patricia Fandt, Management: Challenges for Tomorrow's Leaders, 4th ed. (Mason, OH: Thomson South-Western, 2004), 3.
 Jay Galbraith, Diane Downey, and Amy Kates, Designing Dynamic Organizations (New York, NY: American Management Association, 2002), 2.
 Jennifer James, “Thinking in the Future Tense,” Industrial and Commercial Training 28, no. 7 (1996): 29.
 Ibid., 30.
 Charles Handy, The Age of Paradox (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press, 1995), 219.
 Daniel Yankelovich, “Ferment and Change: Higher Education in 2015,” The Chronicle of Higher Education 52, no. 14 (2005).
 Handy, The Age of Paradox, 18-19.
 Mary Pina, Ana Martinez, and Luis Martinez, “Teams in Organizations: A Review on Team Effectiveness,” Team Performance Management 14, no. 1/2 (2008): 7.
 Wolfgang Jenewein and Felicitas Morhart, “Navigating Toward Team Success,” Team Performance Management 14, no. 1/2 (2008): 103.
 Danilo Sirias, H.B. Karp, and Timothy Brotherton, “Comparing the Levels of Individualism/Collectivism between Baby Boomers and Generation X: Implications for Teamwork,” Management Research News 30, no. 10 (2007): 750.
 Ibid., 753.
 Stephen Robbins, Organizational Behavior, 10th ed. (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2003), 261.
 Galbraith, Downey, and Kates, Designing Dynamic Organizations, 2.
 Charles Englehardt and Peter Simmons, “Organizational Flexibility for a Changing World,” Leadership & Organization Development Journal 23, no. 3 (2002): 115.
 Ibid., 119.
*Image courtesy of KROMKRATHOG at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Introduction Organizations around the world have experienced far-reaching and powerful transformation in the last decade, including ups and downs that present challenges for the modern leader. These include the constant change in information technology, global competition, and the demand for flexibility and speed at the point of need for a sustainable aWilliam McClain Articles
“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” – Doug Conant
The wave of globalization in various aspects of business has created a need for global leaders with the ability to create agile, change-ready environments in the business world. Strategic leaders are to be competent and knowledgeable to identify avenues of change that will foster a competitive advantage in their spheres of influence. Strategic leaders can influence decisions that affect the growth or demise of companies, organizations, or nations. One effective trend is influencing and changing organizational culture in global business environments.
As organizations move from domestic environments to global environments, new, crucial skills emerge in the marketplace. The skill of changing toxic organizational culture places a demand on global leaders to create and maintain organizations effectively for business success. Influencing, blueprinting, and implementing strategies that change an organization’s toxic culture is an important skill set for global leaders to possess, in order to successfully manage the daily activities of global organizations.
Organizational Culture Defined
“The thing I have learned at IBM is that culture is everything.” – Louis Gerstner
According to Smircich (1983), organizational culture is the set of meaning that give an organization its own ethos, or distinctive character, which is expressed in patterns of belief, activity, language and other symbolic forms through which organization members both create and sustain their view of the world and image of themselves in the world.  In addition, culture is shaped by values and beliefs that affect the way people work together organizationally. In today’s organizations, toxic culture can undermine the movement of an entire organization. The need to create a blueprint for change can be a complex undertaking. As Schein (2010) points out, when leaders try to change the behavior of followers, resistance to change can surface.  In addition, departments can be involved in turf wars and communication problems/misunderstanding can pollute the organization.
The culture and values of an organization is a life driving force that influences the way organizations function along with how the people in the organization behave. Organizational culture can be likened to the bloodstream. When the bloodstream is cleansed, oxygen is resident. On the other hand, a dirty bloodstream symbolizes an abundance of waste or carbon dioxide. The same holds true for organizational culture. An organizational culture can either be fluid with movement that produces success and productivity or have a toxicity level that promotes dysfunction in the organization. Transforming a toxic organizational culture requires leaders to assess and evaluate the toxicity of the culture that is already in existence.
In assessing and evaluating the toxicity of an organization’s culture, leaders must be change agents that shift their cultural lenses to observe, discern, detect, and identify ways in which an organization’s culture can be aligned and changed. In observing and discerning the tangible and intangible cultural elements imbedded in toxic cultures, leaders can implement a blueprint with strategies for change needed to enhance organizational performance.
The Three Levels of Culture
“If you have been trying to make changes in how your organization works, you need to find out how the existing culture aids or hinders you.” – Edgar Schein
Toxic organizational culture must be analyzed at several different levels. Schein (2010) explains that the levels range from the very tangible overt manifestations that can be seen and felt to the deeply embedded, unconscious, basic assumptions that define the very essence of culture . Understanding the dimensions of culture is essential for leaders to lead the changing of toxic culture. In addition, when blueprinting change strategies for toxic cultures, leaders must entertain the following questions to build strategy:
- How does the organization view its values in light of the toxicity of the culture?
- What are areas of importance within the organization culturally?
- What is the guiding force(s) of the toxicity?
Leaders can obtain answers to those questions by gauging the three levels of culture. Much like a flower garden, there are times to evaluate and prune the root systems of various plants to encourage beautiful plants and flowers. That said, it is important to note that a toxic culture needs pruning of their values to bring cohesion. Similarly, the pruning of a toxic culture will improve leadership expectations and increase organizational synergy and growth. Hultman and Gellerman (2002) assert that values must be largely shared in order for an organization to forge a direction leading to success.  The three major dimensions of cultural analysis are:
- Espoused Beliefs
- Basic Underlying Assumptions
Artifacts are known as the surface level of an organization’s culture because they are easily recognizable. They are visible organizational structures and processes such as the visible products, architecture, language, technology, style, emotional displays, published values, and rituals and ceremonies.  This translates into what employees wear to work, how furniture and offices are arranged, and how employees work and treat one another.
Espoused beliefs are the values, ideals, goals, strategies and philosophies that impact the deeper levels of organizational culture. An example of this would be an organization that is structured upon the foundational values of integrity, trust, commitment, and dedication to be corporately responsible for the environment. 
Basic Underlying Assumptions
Schein (2010) notes that basic underlying assumptions are the unconscious, taken-for-granted beliefs, perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that influence how cultural situations are handled.  An example of this would be the rules and policies that are developed within the organizational culture.
These cultural levels all build upon each other as drivers of success in an organization. Understanding the guiding forces of these three cultural levels enables leaders to assess the climate of the organization, as well as the macro and micro cultures operating within the organization. When leaders embark on building their organizational blueprints, understanding all cultural dynamics of their organization enables them to recognize the difference between positive and toxic culture. How well a leader can discern either culture will help them get rid of toxicity to build a healthier culture and organization. Leaders should consider these questions when assessing the toxicity of their organizational cultures:
- What changes can be made to shift the organization back on track to achieve its vision?
- What changes can be made organizationally to achieve higher output of productivity and morale?
- How can I shift the culture to create a synergistic culture that fosters change in all areas of the organization?
Toxic Culture – Signs and Symptoms to Consider
“Change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.” – Seth Godin
A toxic culture can be lethal to an organization, its employees, and its overall success in the global marketplace. When toxic organizational culture trumps positive organizational culture, leaders should perform an intervention to detox their organizations to stop the downward spiraling effects on culture and values. Toxic culture is an organizational ‘virus’ that can spread throughout the organization, undermining its reputation and success. Leaders must function as organizational physicians to detect the signs and symptoms of viruses that are toxic to organizational atmospheres. Signs and symptoms of disruptive toxic behaviors take the form of impropriety, interpersonal mistreatment, and disruptive behavior.  Other signs and symptoms are gossip, rumors, cliquish behavior, double standards for leadership, and organizational inconsistencies.
These toxic behaviors can also spread as a virus in the form of yelling or raising of one’s voice, abusive language, berating in front of peers, condescension, insults, passive hostility, shaming, turf wars, silos, and team sabotage.  These toxic viruses stunt growth and organizational momentum toward organizational goals.
“So much of what we call management consists in making it difficult for people to work.”– Peter Drucker
As the toxic viruses move to paralyze the organizational culture, behavior of toxic employees and other leaders can begin to affect the organization. It is paramount for organizational change to be addressed before cultural viruses and diseases become even more cancerous to the organization. Signs and symptoms of toxic employees and leaders can affect culture by damaging morale, diverting people’s energy from productive work, damaging cooperation and knowledge sharing, impairing hiring and retention of the best people, and making poor business decisions. 
In addition, the behavior of toxic employees and leaders can be destructive to a company’s social capital, trust, and relationships within an organization that enable people to work together effectively.  Leaders must be cognizant of these changes that decrease organization vulnerability that can flatline the organization. When these behaviors go unchecked, these organization issues erode the culture.
Toxic cultures in organizations create dissonance that calls for leaders to step in with strategies of change as prescriptions to eradicate the viruses for positive organizational culture. Leaders must be well-versed in understanding cultural nuances in their organizations that create viruses that inherently pull down the culture of organizations. Leaders, operating as defibrillators, can give a jolt to the culture of their organizations, sustaining their life for cultural changes that will produce high performance in the global marketplace.
It’s in Your Court – Changing Toxic Organizational Culture into a Positive Culture
“Companies often underestimate the role that managers and staff play in transformation efforts. By communicating with them too late or inconsistently, senior executives end up alienating the people who are most affected by the changes.”
– Harold Sirkin, Perry Keenan, and Alan Jackson
In today’s organizations, there is a need for leaders that lead and collaborate with others to change toxic cultures into positive organizational culture. Bawany (2014) notes that the heart of the leadership challenge for today’s leaders is learning how to lead in cultural situations of toxicity, volatility and uncertainty in globalized environments.  Leadership is an art and a science that continually evolves, changes form, and requires creativity.
Leadership is all about leaders possessing the ability to culturally shift organizations, while impacting and influencing others to engage them towards achieving results for cultural change and organizational success.  Once cultural toxicity is understood and detected by leaders, it is then time for leaders to create cultural changes that create a new beginning organizationally. Edward Lawler (2006) notes that leaders should not think of change as aberration anymore, but rather think of change as a dynamic stability where leaders can anticipate and be ready for change.  That said, leaders as change agents, must in position to plan, blueprint, and implement change strategies to reduce toxicity levels for implementation of positive culture.
For starters, one key to help dissipate toxicity in cultures is for leaders to communicate their plans of change to their employees. This will reduce alienation and encourage engagement and buy-in from employees as leaders work to shift the toxicity levels to normal levels for positive organizational culture. Employees need to see clear advantages for both the company and themselves and how their contributions are a valued part of the overall initiative.  At the same time, leaders must model the desired cultural beliefs, practices, customs, and behaviors that support the culture change for employees to follow.
Leaders must be courageous to make change and innovation of culture possible. Courage is vital to challenge conventional thinking and envision new possibilities.  When leaders act courageous, it creates courageousness in their followers. Toxicity is exchanged with a more positive cultural flow when leaders lead courageously. In a positive organizational culture, courageous leaders foster an environment where people can collaborate in the decision-making process to strategically shift culture of the organization as it becomes more nimble, entrepreneurial, and aligned with positive values. 
Another key for leaders to culturally shift their organizations’ culture from toxicity to positivity is to inspire and unite their followers. Strategic leaders have a great responsibility to create and maintain an organizational culture that creates a spirit of community. According to Kouzes & Posner (2012), inspiring leaders understand that promoting a culture of community fuels the sense of unity essential for retaining and motivating today’s workforce.  The process of creating community helps leaders to ensure that their followers feel that they belong to something greater than themselves, while working together toward a common cause.  In addition to building strong community to foster a desired culture, toxicity dissipates because leaders develop collaborative goals and cooperative relationship with their followers.  The leader/follower relationship creates an atmosphere of collaboration, where everyone involved wins.
As cultural change is implemented, challenges can arise that act as barriers to the cultural shift. To achieve a successful cultural shift, along with organizational success, challenge is the opportunity for greatness, innovation, and movement that turns a toxic culture into a positive culture for growth.  Russell (2014) explains that leaders challenge processes in organizations by generating new ideas to fuel growth.  Strategic leaders can increase innovation, effectiveness, and efficiency for new cultural ideas by creating a climate that embraces challenges.
It takes time for change to implemented, as well as encountering mistakes when implementing change. Leaders that are not moved by challenges teach their followers to be resilient as change is implemented from one culture to another.
Lastly, to ward against future toxicity, an area of opportunity for leaders is utilizing strategic foresight to forecast futuristic cultural moves. Leaders should be strategic foresight thought leaders that scan horizons for future cultural moves that can either be positive or negative to organizational culture. Leaders that spot futuristic strengths, weakness, opportunities, and threats to future cultural moves can be leveraged and accessed to build relevant future cultural moves that can be implementation for growth.
Today’s organizations need to be agile, change-ready environments in the global economy. Healthy organizational cultures are essential to cultivate these type of organizations. In order for leaders to plan, blueprint, and implement successful cultural shifts, they must understand the dynamics of culture. When leaders seek to shift toxic cultures, they must understand the cultural levels of artifacts, espoused beliefs, and shared assumptions to successfully build positive organizational cultures. Once cultural dynamics are understood, leaders can recognize and gauge the signs and symptoms of toxic culture. It is critical for leaders to support cultural change by leading by example to model cultural values in their organizations. Leaders can work diligently and effectively to shift organizational cultures. It is then that leaders can provide solutions for positive cultures that produce organizational culture that breed success.
About the Author
Nikki Walker is a thought leader, strategist, and organizational change agent. She earned a BA in Business/Accounting from Virginia Wesleyan and an MBA from Strayer University. She provides coaching, consulting, and instruction to businesses and ministries in areas of leadership and organizational development. In addition, she is currently pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.
*Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
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“To win in the marketplace, you must first win in the workplace.” – Doug Conant The wave of globalization in various aspects of business has created a need for global leaders with the ability to create agile, change-ready environments in the business world. Strategic leaders are to be competent and knowledgNikki Walker Articles
"It's not just work, it's an Adventure! There are 250,000 U.S. service members stationed overseas. What did the military do to assist them as they entered a foreign land and what can corporate America learn from it?"
Going Global? With over 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power outside of the United States, more and more U.S. companies are jumping on the bandwagon.The reality of opening or moving a business to another country is that it can be a daunting task.
Language barriers, cultural nuances, government regulations, politics and more all contribute to the challenge of going global. Some American companies who overseas efforts have gone down in flames because they neglected some of these issues include Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and DaimlerChrysler.Although they recovered, it was not without frustration, missed opportunities, and billions in sales.How can your organization avoid some of these pitfalls? A good place to start is by examining how you handle your most valuable assets when going global - your people.
The U.S. military began setting up permanent bases in foreign countries in 1903 when the first overseas base was established at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. By 2010, there were 662 U.S. military bases in 38 foreign countries. These bases range in size from over 50,000 Americans to less than ten. Countless service members and their families have made the move to a new country and many lessons were learned throughout the decades. This article will examine some of those “lessons learned” to see if there are pitfalls or best practices U.S. businesses desiring to make the move overseas can learn from.
Who Should Go?
Living and working in a foreign country can be an exciting prospect for anyone. However, through experience, the military has discovered even if someone wants to take an overseas assignment not everyone is cut out for it. As a preventive measure, the Navy, like the other services, has developed a detailed screening process which service members and their families must complete prior to heading out for that new adventure. First the service member must be qualified to perform the work. Beyond that, before an overseas assignment is finalized, the service member is screened for an acceptable level of physical fitness, performance, discipline issues, financial stability, individual and family characteristics, and drug and alcohol issues. If someone is taking their family, those family members must also be considered. Family members are screened to ensure no special medical, dental, community or educational requirements exist which may not be available at the duty station and could place undue stress on a service member and their family. The military has found when mismatches like these occur there can be significant costs to both the organization and the family. Consequences include increased absences from work, poor quality of life, unplanned expenditures, and service members and their families being sent home before the end of their tour.
Making a Smooth Move
Once screening is passed, it is time to get ready for the actual move. Moving to a foreign country can be a daunting experience for anyone but especially if a company is just establishing a presence there. Are visas required, how do personal belongings/furnishings get there, what parts of the city are not safe to live in, are there English speaking schools, what is the cost of living, is temporary housing available and where, what medical facilities are available – the answers to these questions and more should be provided to any employees before they leave. In this regard, the U.S. Navy tries to ensure success for service members and families moving overseas is by providing an Overseas Transfer Workshops for family members 12 years old and above. During the workshop information is provided on moving household goods and cars, financial planning, travel arrangements, legal documents which should be completed or hand carried vice shipped, pet quarantine requirements, country information, passports, and more. How-to guides and checklists are provided to facilitate the many details which must be handled for the move. Personal security and culture shock are also discussed during the workshop. Welcome aboard packages are provided to service members and families which include information about the new country such as places to visit, monetary exchanges, shopping, transportation options, schools, important phone numbers, and where to find help if needed.
Straight from the Source
Since moving to a new country and culture can be overwhelming, the U.S. military has developed sponsor programs which allow service members to hear the “real deal” from someone who is already there. If there is an established presence in a country, service members are assigned a sponsor to help them before and upon their arrival at the duty station. Sponsors contact the service member and guide them through the move process, and help orientate them to the new location and culture. Additionally, large foreign duty stations have Family Service Centers to assist service members and their families. Depending on their size, they can provide assistance in job searches for a spouse and information on churches and religious services, childcare, continued education, afterschool care, volunteer opportunities, social activities, medical and dental facilities, and more. Some duty stations with families also provide sponsor programs for children from seven to eighteen who are matched by age, gender, hobbies, etc. This has been found helpful in reducing anxiety for children moving to a new country and culture.
Not understanding the culture of a country different from the United States almost guarantees failure. The military learned this during the Vietnam War when the U.S. tried fighting a conventional war. The communist insurgents fought the only way they knew how using guerilla warfare. As the Americans approached, they withdrew and waited for them to pass by. This cultural misunderstanding contributed to lengthening an already costly war in money and lives. On a more tactical level, after the U.S. Army went into the Middle East, they discovered the OK sign was considered an obscenity to Afghans and the thumbs-up sign was offensive to Egyptians. Obviously, these are some lessons corporate America would rather learn from others rather than discover personally!
Like the other services, today the U.S. Army takes culture issues seriously. The Army wants their soldiers to possess a cross-cultural competency to include cultural learning and cultural agility. Experts have reported cultural learning enables people to quickly gain an understanding of the socio-cultural context of operations and cultural agility provides the ability to respond effectively in situations of cultural diversity. The Army Learning Concept for 2015 calls for a blended approach of social and contextual learning with guided traditional learning to develop cross-cultural competencies through continuous learning over a soldier’s career. Currently, before a soldier deploys to a specific area they are provided what has been called “cultural training on steroids” which includes anthropology, language, heritage, history, and cultural no-nos. The goal is for the soldiers to be able to “form relationships, build trust, communicate, and collaborate with people of greatly different backgrounds.”
As the military has learned, cross-cultural training and education can be invaluable to corporate personnel sent overseas to work and yet many organizations fail to provide it. Sometimes companies are unaware of available resources or feel it is not necessary especially when dealing with another Western culture or English speaking country. Other times, employees feel they don’t need it or with all the pressures of moving overseas, this training falls off their plate. The U.S. State Department has long recognized the importance of cross-cultural training and encourages corporations going overseas to take advantage of it by listing reputable sources of non-governmental training on their website. Additionally, the State Department website has detailed information on embassies, country profiles, political issues, security issues, economics, transnational issues, and more. Other helpful websites available on cultural issues include the Central Intelligence Agency’s World FactBook and the Hofstede Centre’s National Culture Dimensions. All information on these websites can be sorted by country and in the case of the Hofstede website two countries cultural dimensions can be compared and contrasted.
How do you say…?
Although English is considered the universal language of business, there are times when not speaking a language can become a definite disadvantage. Within the military, commanders leading troops overseas have suggested a soldier’s ability to speak the local language is just as important as his skills with a rifle. Learning a new culture becomes much easier when the local language is understood. However, because learning a new language such as Pasto or Dari is difficult and there are few native speakers in the military, commanders have experienced much frustration. To combat this, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) offers military members over two dozen languages in a resident program and through immersion programs. Included in the language training are cultural considerations for the each country. Similar to the CIA and Hofstede websites, DLIFLC provides numerous language and cultural resources on their website which can be sorted by country and do not require any special access. Included are helpful briefings, tutorials, pamphlets, and “cheat sheets” on language survival kits, language pronunciation, cultural orientations, myths and folklores, country perspectives, and more. 
When expanding into other nations, corporate leaders should plan what language skills are needed at each level in order to communicate effectively with the local workforce. Given the time it takes to learn a new language or find native speakers, these requirements need to be identified early. Fortunately today there are many resources, such as Rosetta Stone, in addition to those already highlighted to help businesses going overseas.
Lessons Learned from the World’s Mightiest Military
Through the decades, the U.S. military has uncovered several keys lessons which today’s leaders can use to their advantage when going global:
- The costs of sending the wrong person or family member overseas can be enormous both to the organization and the people involved. In order to increase the chances of success, employees and, to some extent, their family members should go through a review or screening process to ensure there are no existing circumstances which could prove problematic in a foreign setting.
- The actual process of moving overseas is complicated in the best circumstances. Providing employees with detailed “how-to” information or guides on getting passports or visas, making travel arrangements, moving household goods, finding lodging and transportation, and such will lessen delays, frustrations, and unnecessary costs. Providing this information through workshops or seminars will allow questions to be answered on the spot and allow for sharing other helpful tips.
- Establishing a sponsor program where employees are matched with another employee already in the foreign country can facilitate a smoother transition. Having a sponsor to bounce questions off can help employees avoid false starts and ease apprehensions.
- Avoiding culture shock is another key to a smooth transition. This is done by preparing employees and their families for the cultural differences they will encounter instead of them having to learn it the hard way. Providing employees with formal cultural training and awareness on the country they are heading to can facilitate assimilation and help avoid awkward situations.
- Addressing language issues early on can provide employees with an advantage upon arrival and prevent unnecessary misunderstandings. Although most people cannot quickly learn a new language, providing them with key phrases and learning resources will make the transition easier.
- Companies and corporations should also take advantage of the wealth of information on almost every country in the world which is available on the internet via the websites identified within this article and elsewhere.
Going global can be an exciting time for a company or corporation, but it can also be fraught with difficulties and pitfalls. The U.S. Armed Forces has over 100 years of experience in sending people into foreign lands and establishing a presence there. Through the years, the military has noted their mistakes and what things facilitated a smooth move overseas for service members. Those things which worked were formalized into programs and policies which now guide overseas transfers. Screening service members and their families and providing them with information on what they need to accomplish before they go, how to get there, and what they will find there saves time, money, and frustrations for both the service member and the organization. Each company or corporation which enters the global market will have issues to address which are specific to their industry. However, when moving Americans overseas, many of the issues are universal to any organization. Corporate leaders going global would do well to look to the military to avoid some of the landmines discussed herein. After all, this is not the first time the military has stepped on landmines, it would be a shame if no one learned from their sacrifice!
Preparing the Battlefield!
These resources provide information on culture, language tips, myths and folklore, politics, economics, security concerns, country perspectives, and more.
About the Author
Captain Jeanne McDonnell (ret.) served on active duty for over 25 years. Assignments included command of Naval Support Activity Norfolk and Transient Personnel Unit Norfolk, and service on the Joint Staff, the Navy Staff, Commander Surface Warfare Atlantic Staff, and Joint Forces Staff College. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.
*Image courtesy of Vichaya Kiatying-Angsulee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
 Department of Commerce, International Trade Commission. (2013). Exporting is good for your bottom line. Retrieved from International Trade Commission website: http://www.trade.gov/cs/factsheet.asp
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 Department of Defence, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Installations and Environment (2010). Base structure report fiscal year 2010 baseline. Retrieved from Department of Defense website: http://www.acq.osd.mil/ie/download/bsr/bsr2010baseline.pdf
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 Linh, N. (2010, April 30). Culture clash and communication failure. The Washington Times. Retrieved from http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/apr/30/culture-clash-and-communication-failure/?page=all
 Cohan, J. (2013, January 13). 'Smart power': Army making cultural training a priority. CNN. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2013/01/12/us/troops-cultural-training/
 Caliquiri, P., Noe, R., Nolan, R., Ryan, A., & Dasgow, F. Department of the Army, (2011). Training, developing, and assessing cross-cultural competence in military personnel. Arlington, VA: U.S. Army Research Institute for Behavioral Sciences.
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 Thompson, M. (2011, August 24). The Pentagon’s foreign-language frustrations. Time, Retrieved from http://nation.time.com/2011/08/24/the-pentagons-foreign-language-frustrations/
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Avoiding Landmines: What Corporate America Can Learn From the Military When Taking Their Most Valuable Assets Overseas
"It's not just work, it's an Adventure! There are 250,000 U.S. service members stationed overseas. What did the military do to assist them as they entered a foreign land and what can corporate America learn from it?" Going Global? With over 70 percent of the world’s purchasing power outside of the United States, more and more U.S. companies areJeanne M. McDonnell Articles
A bit of splashing would surely make drowning easier to identify, but sadly, drowning tends to be a silent assassin. As retired Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Mario Vittone (2013) shares, "Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don't look like they're drowning." The same could be said for massive organizations who collapse like an avalanche, hiding their danger until one additional stress unleashes destruction. But, such collapses also tend to be masked - and they tend to be masked in the same way that drowning conceals itself. This would seem contrary to intuitive assumptions about staving off death. Vittone and Pia (2006) voice our expectation:
Most people assume that a drowning person will splash, yell, and wave for help; and why wouldn’t they? That’s what we see on television. Without training, we are conditioned first to think of drowning as a violent struggle that is noisy and physical. It is not.
Instead, the expert survivalists share what generally takes place. Instinctive Drowning Response represents a person's attempts to avoid the actual or perceived suffocation in the water. The suffocation in water triggers a constellation of autonomic nervous system responses that result in external, unlearned, instinctive drowning movements that are easily recognizable by trained rescue crews.
The struggle is not one of rational thinking about what is the most thoughtful means of communicating the need for help; rather, the body’s automatic survival mechanisms kick in, often inhibiting secondary response systems, like speech or flagging which unnecessarily utilize energy and oxygen for communicating need or concerns.
Organizations, too, have analogous systems of automatic response to life-threatening circumstances. And, those responses, like cost-cutting efficiency measures can be effective in the extremely short-term to keep the books balanced and creditors appeased. But, drowning is often the result of an incapability to peacefully and continually engage the present. This is why the one drowning strains to stay afloat with minimal exaggeration while sucking in watery breaths. Eventually, however, such measures fail. And, if someone does not save them, then they die.
Aiming for icebergs is a choice
But organizations are not destined to drown. They “go under,” because leaders lack the strategy capable of engaging the present. That is not to say the strategy is poor. It could be an imminently logical and thoughtful approach to achieve organizational goals. But, it could be a strategy that could not foresee the present context, and therefore operates under assumptions no longer tenable. Consider the drowning victim’s automatic response: struggling to remain “above” by pressing down on what lay below works when the objects pressed upon are solid, but when the medium is liquid, the result is a cyclical bouncing which actually works against the victim. So what is an organization to do if even quality strategy development can fail? The answer is to develop a strategic foresight competency.
No one working in your organization can foretell the future. And, you will not be hiring such a prodigy anytime soon. Still, that does not prohibit you from preparing for it better. And, if an unpredictable future can upend your plans and purposes so easily, then any improvement would seemingly be worth pursuing, especially if the improvement were to be a process competency enhancing the organization’s strategy work rather than a time-bound idea or assumption-restricted strategic plan. Essentially, this means strategic plans are only as valuable as the assumptions they are based on are true. Assumptions, which must be accurately predictive or flexible enough to qualify the plan, underpin strategy making, and strategic foresight is the competency that aids the organization in confirming, disconfirming, hybridizing, and generating assumptions. It is the work of enriching the strategy making process so that what results is more resilient to environmental changes. Alternatively, it heals strategy of its brittleness. As a result, strategy making is more robust and resultant strategies more adaptive and savvy. To illustrate the process, consider the following reasoning, which is not a prediction, but rather is an example of how foresight work might look in leading strategy formation.
When Facebook died: A marketing mockup
User tracking data seems to point toward Facebook’s loss of users and bloated registries (Canarella, 2014; Marks, 2013). Like population trends, signups occur, but they are less impactful than deactivation – especially for the company’s bottom-line, which is inherently tied up in sheer user population mass to which advertisements, desktop and mobile app, are pushed and from which user data is pulled. Of course, a different strategy could change the impact of user-numbers on that bottom-line (Edwards, 2014). Yet, with the loss of perceived invulnerability, that unbridled optimism for growth prospects, comes the loss of momentum. Surely, the pendulum of biases could lead onlookers to assume that geometric growth is only succeeded by geometric decline, but that would be narrow-minded. Arithmetic growth, a cyclical hybrid, cycles of growth and decline – like booms and busts – could also occur, among other possibilities (Risen, 2014). Assuming rigidly makes the strategic planning simpler, but it makes the strategic plan less flexible – and therefore less useful. In Facebook’s case, to assume the organization is rigidly stuck in a position of imminent and unalterable demise, would be to assume their strategic plan is rigid and could not anticipate for loss, like in the instances of younger-user interest or user disillusionment with the platform’s commercialization.
Supposing, however, that Facebook could be entering long-term decline as a potential future, how could that foresight consideration be leveraged as a strategic tool? Perhaps the marketing department in your organization has a social media presence. Perhaps they utilize Facebook promotion posts and analytic tools to gain understanding of your market segments. If Facebook is in decline, then how useful will that platform be for such marketing activities, for customer analysis, and for cultivating a strong marketing competency long-term? It would seem less useful than when Facebook, as a platform, presented an untouchable tool for social connections and user-information divulgence. In the medium-term, that horizon to which strategic planning looks, might the marketing department, therefore, contemplate shifting reliance upon Facebook to other platforms – as well as reestablishing marketing functions that are less platform reliant? And, in the short-term horizon, the department may respond by budgeting less heavily for Facebook ads placement and Page development. Furthermore, they might consider training in the use of competitive platforms as well as explore opportunities to transition their fans from Facebook to a proprietary website or blog.
The above mockup of the way in which a single, confirming trend could affect a major social platform that is heavily leveraged by many companies’ marketing departments is a sample of how foresight can be strategically applied for organizational enrichment. Simply, this is what strategic foresight does, and why, as a competency, it enables organizations to remain adaptable amid uncertain futures. For the marketing department that uses Facebook as a key social media marketing platform, such foresight could be leveraged to gain the insight that putting all the marketing hopes in the Facebook basket may not be the wisest path forward. Moreover, Facebook’s adaptive planning may be less concerned with ensuring other organizations have access to the greatest number of customers than assumed.
Learning to swim
To reassert our starting point, drowning often occurs without radically successful survival efforts ever emerging. In moments of panic, we tend to hold fast to our assumptions rather than revisit them. Frankly, in the throes of death, all we can do is struggle and hope for rescue, unless, of course, we have prepared for the emergency. Critical emergency training is akin to that strategy work directing how to manage defined contexts. And, strategic foresight, therefore, is the overarching wisdom that emergencies happen, and training is a useful manner of preparing for them. You see, useful strategy work arises from foresight work, from the realistic and humble assumption that contingency thinking is reasonable. Assuming the future your strategy is built for is the future your strategy will undoubtedly face, however, is not.
About the Author:
David M. Stehlik is a passionate strategist and organizational motivator. Alongside private consulting, he is an instructor for the University of Saint Francis’s new online MBA program. He earned a BA in Political Economy and Christian Studies from Hillsdale College and an MBA in International Business, Marketing, and Administration from the University of Saint Francis, and he is currently finishing a doctoral degree in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. His international experience is extensive, including travel through Africa, South America, and Southeastern Europe. Beyond the U.S., he has consulted for leaders in Bulgaria, Macedonia, Romania, and Serbia as well as for Midwest businesses, youth camps, and various entrepreneurs.
*Image courtesy of Koratmember / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Cannarella, J., & Spechler, J. A. (2014, January 17). Epidemiological modeling of online social network dynamics. In arXiv. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://arxiv.org/pdf/1401.4208v1.pdf
Edwards, J. (2014, April 29). This is what the decline of Facebook looks like. In Business Insider. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://www.businessinsider.com/decline-of-facebook-user-numbers-2014-4
Marks, G. (2013, August 19). Why Facebook is in decline. In Forbes. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/quickerbettertech/2013/08/19/why-facebook-is-in-decline/
Risen, T. (2014, January 27). Don't predict Facebook's decline yet: Facebook should pursue growth despite overhyped Princeton research. . In USA News & World Report. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/01/27/dont-predict-facebooks-decline-yet
Vittone, M. (2013, June 4). Drowning doesn't look like drowning. In Slate: Snapshots of life at home. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/family/2013/06/rescuing_drowning_children_how_to_know_when_someone_is_in_trouble_in_the.html
Vittone, M., & Pia, F. A. (2006). “It doesn’t look like they’re drowning” - Recognize instinctive drowning response. On Scene, 14. Retrieved May 19, 2014, from http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/On%20Scene/OSFall06.pdf
Silent struggles A bit of splashing would surely make drowning easier to identify, but sadly, drowning tends to be a silent assassin. As retired Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician Mario Vittone (2013) shares, "Sometimes the most common indication that someone is drowning is that they don't look like they're drowning." The same could be said for massive orgDavid Stehlik Articles
Engagement. It’s the new business buzzword. It just sounds good coming off the tip of your tongue. What is it? Well, there are a lot of different interpretations of the definition of engagement, but there is one thing that most everyone agrees with: it’s a problem. While people may be struggling to figure out what the best definition of ‘engaged’ is, more people agree on what an actively disengaged employee is. According to Gallup Poll, an actively disengaged employee is, “unhappy and unproductive at work and liable to spread negativity to coworkers.” (Gallup) According to Gallup Poll results released for 2012, 24% of workers worldwide are actively disengaged. With statistics like that, it’s no wonder executives are scrambling to try and fix the engagement problem.
One common method to identify why employees are disengaged is to take a survey. Gallup Poll and other companies will happily take a company’s money to perform this service. However, I would propose to you that there are several potential flaws with this approach. First, by the time most executives get to the point of paying another company to perform a survey, they already know they have a problem. Second, performing a survey once may identify areas within the company that could be strengthened, but to see if a company is making any progress, the survey must be run over multiple years. Third, are the engagement plans. Once weak areas have been identified, management has to try and fix the problem. So they work with their employees to create engagement plans. This is where I have to take a pause. According to the National Business Research Institute, one of the most common employee complaints is being overworked (NBRII). If one of the causes of employee disengagement is overwork, then how is giving them more work in the form of engagement plans supposed to help fix things? This sure sounds like the catchphrase, “The beatings will continue until morale improves.” Next, there is a very tempting trap for managers to fall into, and that is improving scores instead of digging down into the true heart of the difficult issues that are the cause of poor engagement. Let’s face it, educating an employee on how to take the poll to increase their score is a whole lot easier of a way to show that you are making progress on engagement on paper.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that engagement polls are necessarily a bad thing. I will say that I think the expectations of many senior executive leadership are too high when it comes to these surveys. The Gallup Poll has been conducting engagement surveys for over 30 years. Many of the companies that are just now taking their survey for the first time have also been in business for that long or longer. How is the culture of a business, which is shaped and fostered by the executive leadership style over decades, supposed to change in just a couple years? Sure, executives are part of Gallup’s survey, but if they weren’t 100% engaged with their company’s business strategies, then they would have never made it to the positions they are in. The more senior the executive, the higher they tend to score. Scores begin to deteriorate the farther down the management chain you go, until finally you reach the employees, where it appears all of the engagement issues are occurring. The reality is the motivation of the executives giving the survey is not focused on the well-being of the employees. So if executives are engaged, and year after year we continue to see employees disengaged, maybe it’s time to change our focus.
Let’s start by looking at the executives who run the companies with the highest engagement scores. Stephen Cannon is the CEO for Mercedes Benz, who was ranked 94th in Forbes best 100 companies to work for this year. Stephen states, “We’ve been investing in programs to allow our leaders to create great places for our employees to work. Great organizations are all about people.” (Linkedin) In an interview with Paul Amos, CEO of Aflac, he discussed his basic employee principles in the Aflac Way handbook. “Everyone is important. No matter who walks through the door, whether it’s the man in overalls or a straw hat or the man in a $500 suit, everyone is treated equally.” (Faith&Leadership) Aflac is number 58 on Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for this year, and they have been on the list for the last 16 consecutive years. Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos and number 38 in this year’s Fortune list states the following: “It actually doesn’t matter what your core values are.” “What matters is that you have them and commit to them. And by committing to them, you’re willing to hire or fire based on them independent of actual job performance.” (Greatplacetowork) Last, Larry Page, CEO of Google and Fortune’s number one business to work for states the following; “My job as a leader is to make sure everybody in the company has great opportunities, and that they feel they’re having a meaningful impact and are contributing to the good of society.” (Fortune)
What’s the common theme from these executives of Fortune’s top 100 companies to work for, over and over again? People and core values. It’s no secret that business are in business to make money and increase shareholder value, but it’s how a business makes its money that effects employee engagement. If the employees of a company are treated as just a tool to increase stockholder value and like they are easily replaceable, then of course they will be disengaged. The bottom line is that it’s about trust; it’s about a culture that puts the employee and customer needs as the top business priority and it all starts from the top of a business, down. Employees need to have trust in their organizations to perform at their best, and CEO’s have to work on that trust from the top. If companies truly want to become great places to work, then they have to focus on their employees and their employee’s needs. Trust comes into play because a lot of what the employees need may seem counterproductive to increasing shareholder’s wealth. Better pay, more recognition, a balanced family-work life, flexible hours, are all things that can contribute to better engagement, but might hurt the bottom line of a company on paper.
By the time a company gets to the point of taking a survey, chances are they recognize that there is already a problem and that the current way of doing business just isn’t cutting it. This is when executive leadership engagement comes into play. I propose that the mission statement of a business is the place to start. This is nothing new or earth shattering, but it’s where I feel executives can get huge results from their company while maintaining a loyal workforce. Does the mission of the company have more of an employee and customer focus than money? If not, then maybe it’s time for a change. If it does, then maybe the business has strayed away from its core mission over the years and forgotten how important the employees are to that mission. How do CEO’s and executives learn what matters most to their employees? A survey might give them some clues, but are often expensive and time consuming. I propose that good old fashioned face-time is the best method. Take an interest in their well-being, and find out what would motivate them. It’s already been shown by many businesses who repeatedly made the top 100 places to work list that it can be done, and the results can be amazing. Take the leap of faith, together as executives and employees as one company and see what the results of true engagement can do.
*image courtesy of imagerymajestic/freedigitalphotos.net
Worldwide, 13% of Employees Are Engaged at Work. Retrieved from
10 Things employees dislike most about their employers. Retrieved from
Mercedes-Benz CEO: Customer Experience is the Brand!! Retrieved from
Paul S. Amos: This is not who we are. Retrieved from
How Zappos Creates Happy Customers and Employees. Retrieved from
Larry Page: Google should be like a family. Retrieved from
Engagement. It’s the new business buzzword. It just sounds good coming off the tip of your tongue. What is it? Well, there are a lot of different interpretations of the definition of engagement, but there is one thing that most everyone agrees with: it’s a problem. While people may be struggling to figure out what the best definition of ‘engaged’ is, more people agree on what an activelSteven Madison Articles
Congratulations! You have just been promoted to a top leadership position in your organization. You have over 3,000 people working for you in four different states. Your budget is in excess of $25 million. Good luck, and remember, don’t screw this up.
You didn’t get to this position because you’ve been a slacker – you’re a proven leader and experienced manager. It feels good at the top, as they say, and you’re excited to start making things happen! The amazing acceleration of technology and globalization sets a scene ripe for new opportunities and growth. You know in order to flourish and grow an organization needs creativity and innovation. How many organizations have you seen be marginalized or even fail as a result of stifling change or new ideas?
A large part of your past success has been your natural encouragement of new concepts and your ability to drive fear out of your organization. Like preparing a garden for the seeds, you set conditions for creativity to thrive. Things are a little different now, though. You have people who work for you that you have never met, some are even located hundreds of miles away. There are several layers of management between you and those employees who are in contact with the customer on a day-to-day basis. You know most of your middle managers are solid leaders but you are wise enough to know some may, knowingly or unknowingly, be placing barriers up which block creativity and innovation. Can your passion for encouraging creativity and innovation successfully permeate down through the layers of management? Will ideas and recommendations be able to percolate up to your level?
This article will examine some methods top leaders can use to help free an organization of destructive barriers to creativity and innovation. Organizational design expert Jay Galbraith’s Star Model will be used to provide a practical framework helping to ensure no major areas are left out. The Star Model is designed with five points; strategy, people, structure, processes, and rewards. The key point of the model is strategy as it drives the overall organization. If the other four points of the star don’t align or support the strategy, chances for organizational success are greatly reduced. Galbraith puts it this way, “if a company chooses a structure and a set of management processes that require integration across countries, it must also select and develop people who have cross-cultural skills, as well as a reward system that motivates them.”
“Creativity without strategy is called art” - Jeff I. Richards
Some may argue that strategies may restrict innovation and creativity rather than encourage it. However, if innovation and creativity are an inherent part of the strategy employees will be encouraged to contribute their ideas and middle managers will be less likely to block them. McCrae (2014) suggests successful business strategies should include research, creativity, and strategic planning during their development. Once developed, it should influence the behavior of everyone in the organization to positively contribute to that strategy. In order for this to happen, the other four points of the star model must support the strategy. It cannot succeed if there are hidden barriers which prevent employees with ideas to bring them to the attention of leaders. Let’s say, for example, your strategy is to expand your business into additional states or countries. Do your personnel policies encourage those employees who are face-to-face with the customer to provide suggestions and feedback? How can you be sure there is not a middle manager whose tyrannical ways discourage lower level employees from contributing ideas? Top leaders must actively look for barriers which block creativity, dismantle them, and make innovation part of a holistic management system. By carefully considering the overall strategy and how the other four points of the Star Model support that strategy, barriers to creativity and innovation can be identified and appropriately addressed.
“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more,
do more and become more, you are a leader." – John Quincy Adams
Everyone is on their toes when a new top leader comes into an organization. “What will he or she be like,” “what changes will occur,” and “are jobs secure” are just a few among many of the questions employees will have. When a new leader takes over a military command, there is a formal change of command ceremony which all personnel attend. Here, leaders can put out their vision and what is important to them. New civilian leaders should arrange for a similar opportunity to address all employees in person. A clear, well-articulated vision which includes a strong belief in people, participation, innovation, fairness, security, and learning will go far in warding off fear and organizational politics (Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002, p. 49). Letting everyone know what you stand for, what will not be tolerated, your vision for the future of the organization, and the important role of all employees to get there will set the stage for the growth of creativity and innovation at all organizational levels. Reiterating that vision at every opportunity will promote a more consistent relationship between the leader and all employees (p. 49). By letting all employees hear it from the horse’s mouth, as they say, middle managers are less likely to put their own spin on your vision.
Leaders must create a culture of trust which encourages people to try new ideas without a fear of what may happen if the idea bombs. An organization’s capacity for innovation increases if it can tolerate failure and accept change. Once again, this must come from the top. Even if middle managers encourage employees to innovate and try new ideas, they will be hesitant to do so if don’t feel the top leadership supports it.
There will be times when a new leader will find there are people in management or other positions whose actions do not support the organizational vision or strategies. Dr. Pat Robertson, founder of the Christian Broadcast Network, notes good leaders may have to remove some people and “in most cases, it is kinder to terminate people who are not performing adequately than to let them continue as deadweight, dragging down the organization as well as themselves.”
“The pyramids are solidly built, have a nice view from the top,
and serve as a resting place for the dead.”
– Gerald Michaelson
Existing organizational structures should be examined to determine how they support the strategy. If creativity and innovation are important to the strategy, organizational structure expert Sabina Jeschke recommends an organic structure. This type of structure veers away from an ivory tower makeup instead leaning towards minimal hierarchical and bureaucratic tendencies and a strong focus on quality. Cooperation between departments or divisions is frequent and friendly and there is “an interactive, communication-friendly corporate culture.”
Google, Inc. is an example of a successful company with an organic organizational structure with minimal hierarchy. Communications are strong throughout the organization and the work is organized by projects, allowing different employees to take the lead on different projects. Each team is responsible for self-organizing, deciding how to accomplish the goals, and identifying and fixing problems. Perhaps the most unusual feature of Google’s organizational structure is it not only permits flexibility in hours and workplace, it encourages new ideas and experimentation by allowing employees to use 20% of their work time on self-directed projects. The organic organizational structure Google, Inc. uses directly supports their corporate strategy of using innovation and new acquisitions in order to support their position as the market leader.
On the other hand, an organization which has many levels of management and is highly bureaucratic will have difficulty promoting innovation and creativity from below. This type of organization provides fertile ground for all kinds of barriers to grow in and is usually resistant to risk-taking. Lower- and middle-level managers may retain strict control over their areas, blocking employees from expressing or trying new ideas. Top leaders need to understand how different organizational structures can create barriers and, using this understanding, examine if the current structure will support their organizational strategy.
“The only things that evolve by themselves in an organization are disorder,
friction, and malperforformance" – Peter Drucker
Processes within an organization consist of a set of activities performed by employees which result in a desired outcome. These processes are guided by organizational norms, regulations, policies, and procedures. There are two types of processes that are important when considering barriers to creativity and innovation; business processes and administrative processes.
Employees normally follow the steps outlined in the process workflow in order to accomplish the desired outcome. Many leaders are familiar with Dr. W. Edwards Deming’s famous advice to reduce variation in business processes in order to increase quality. However, if these processes are not properly developed, they can easily crush employee’s creativity. An impressive example of encouraging ingenuity is the U.S. Navy’s Beneficial Suggestion Program. The Navy is by nature hierarchical and bureaucratic and most processes are tightly controlled leaving little room for innovation. The BeneSug Program, as is it called, provides a forum and encourages military and civil service members to submit suggestions to reduce costs. Those personnel whose ideas, inventions, or scientific achievements are accepted receive a hefty cash award. Millions are saved annually through this popular program. If not already in place, implementing a similar program in a large organization can facilitate bringing innovative ideas to the attention of top leaders.
Another way to increase creativity within business processes is to periodically examine them in an effort to see how they can be improved and to ensure they are properly aligned with other processes and the overall strategy. This kind of review should involve all stakeholders including lower level employees working in the process and suppliers. A few years ago, Hallmark Cards reviewed their process of card production. After their artists, writers, and editors examined the process they recommended complete restructuring. Instead of these three groups working separately, they suggested reorganizing as cross-functional teams which would focus on a certain kind of card (i.e. Mother’s Day, birthday, etc.). By encouraging creativity in examining the process, Hallmark increased performance and to reduced production time of a new card from years to months.
Most people don’t like paperwork but it is important to have organizational policies in writing. If not already in place, clear directives on equal opportunity, sexual harassment, and bullying should be developed along with a credible process to be followed if an issue occurs. This type of destructive behavior can be easily hid if top leadership does not take a strong stand. Discrimination, harassment, and bullying not only crush creativity and hurt the victim, they take an enormous toll on the bottom line as well. The estimated costs to companies range from $64 billion reported by CBS Moneywatch to $200 billion reported by Psychology Today. These estimates include the costs of excessive absenteeism, reduced productivity, reduced loyalty, workers compensation, high turnover, and associated hiring and training costs. What is harder to estimate is the cost of the barriers which these behaviors have on creativity and innovation. Top leaders must verbally express their commitment to a working environment free of any type of discrimination or harassment and ensure all personnel are educated on their rights. You cannot assume everyone has the same understanding of what behavior is acceptable or unacceptable, or what fairness means unless it is made perfectly clear. The processes to address incidents must be unambiguous, trustworthy, and have the clear backing of top leadership. Processes for redress which are not fairly enforced and credible can be hijacked by unscrupulous managers and result in continued organizational losses.
“The most neglected form of compensation is the six-letter word thanks."
– Robert Townsend
It is no surprise what gets rewarded or recognized gets repeated. If you want creativity and innovation to thrive in your organization, your rewards system must align with that strategy. A reward system should have both monetary and non-monetary components. There has been much discussion over the years about how much money really motivates people after their basic needs are met. However, most agree that receiving less compensation than others doing the same job is a definite de-motivator. An unfair and unaligned compensation system can be a barrier to creativity and innovation as people feel they are not valued. Discouraged employees are not as likely to come up with new ideas or to voice them. A consistent monetary rewards system helps to prevent one manager from playing favorites or usurping the system.
Thomas Jefferson one said, “The glow of one warm thought is worth more to me than money.” Recognition is an inexpensive and simple way to motivate people. One-on-one “thanks,” newsletter highlights, t-shirts, mugs, etc. can go far to encourage and motivate. Once again, the key is ensuring the recognition is properly aligned with the strategy. If the strategy is encouraging innovation and creativity, then all sincere attempts should be recognized whether they are successful or not. Grey Advertising does this with their “heroic failure” awards while Yum Brands awards a “rubber chicken” to those willing to step out and innovate even if their efforts are not successful. As with other components of the Star Model, top leaders have to set the stage for the whole organization. It is critical that middle managers understand the importance of providing recognition and that any perceived “punishment” of failures can put a chill on creativity and innovation.
“Trust, but verify” -Ronald Reagan
You feel good celebrating your one year anniversary with your new organization. Using the Star Model, you compared your strategy with the other points of the star and made adjustments as appropriate. Processes and policies have been put into place which you believe have banished those barriers which blocked your employee’s creativity and innovation. You have shaped and created a healthy work environment where people are free to contribute to their full potential unimpeded by discrimination, harassment, or bullying. New ideas and risk-taking are encouraged at all levels. At least you think so…but every now and then you hear a little nagging voice asking if the points of the star are really aligned? How do you know what you don’t know?
You may want to take a tip from the U.S. Navy. Over forty Navy officers or senior enlisted personnel were fired from their leadership positions in 2012 for not upholding the Navy’s core values. Almost all of these cases came to light through an annual anonymous command climate survey or hotline complaint. A work climate survey provides feedback on the organization’s work environment which influences employee’s behavior and their ability to do a job. How much effort and money could the Navy have lost if they did not have these safeguards in place? Many civilian businesses are implementing similar surveys to identify negative attitudes and behaviors which create barriers and negatively impact work performance. Other methods of determining employees concerns include hotlines, 360 degree evaluations, town halls, focus groups, and leader “walk-arounds.” Having some of these safeguards in place can help quiet that little voice!
Barriers to creativity and innovation in large organizations can fester in many areas not obvious to top leadership. The Star Model provides an organizational framework from which to examine various areas where barriers may be lurking. If your strategy is to encourage creativity and innovation, the other points of the star must be aligned properly to support that strategy. First, the right people need to be in place to convey the vision and strategy and set the conditions which encourages new ideas and risk-taking. Bureaucratic and hierarchal organizational structures support the creation and maintenance of barriers and should be avoided. Processes should be in place which encourage sharing of information and provide for a healthy working environment. Lastly, your reward system must be designed to encourage the behavior you want and have both a monetary and non-monetary component. How many barriers to creativity and innovation will you be able to knock down by following this shooting star?
*image courtesy of PinkBlue/freedigitalphots.net
Badal, S. (2012, September 25). Building corporate entrepreneurship is hard work. Gallup Business Journal. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
Carone, C. (2013, September 12). Want to Inspire Innovation? Reward Risk Takers. Forbes. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/christacarone/2013/09/12/rewardrisktakers/
Cash Awards for suggestions, inventions, scientific achievements, and disclosures. (2007, April 26). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000 Military Personnel Support/01-600 Performance and Discipline Programs/1650.8D.pdf
Clemmer, J. (1992). Firing on all cylinders. New York, NY: Irwin Professional Publishing.
Commanding officer, XO and senior enlisted firings. (2013, February 13). Navy Times. Retrieved from http://www.navytimes.com/article/99999999/CAREERS/302050309/Commanding-officer-XO-senior-enlisted-firings
Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Hill, C., & Jones, G. (2013). Strategic management: An integrated approach (10th ed., p. 452). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
Holland, C. (2008, October 27). The costs of the workplace bully. CBS Moneywatch. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-30940457/the-costs-of-the-workplace-bully/
Jeschke, S. (2011). Enabling innovation: Innovative capability - German and international views. Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.
Johnston, J., Bradley, P., Charbonneau, D., & Campbell, S. (2003). The Army culture - climate survey. Informally published manuscript, Royal Military College of Canada, Brussels. Retrieved from http://www.iamps.org/10_Johnston_paper_IAMPS_2003.pdf
Krogh, G., Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I., (2000). Enabling knowledge creation: How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
McDonnell, J. (2013). A strategic conversation with Dr. Pat Robertson. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 4(2), Spring 2013, 26-34.
Weber, S. (2008). Organizational behavior: Google corporate culture in perspective. München: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
Weske, M. (2007). Business process management: Concepts, languages, architectures. Berlin, Germany: Springer.
Williams, R. (2011, May 11). The silent epidemic: Workplace bullying. Psychology Today, Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201105/the-silent-epidemic-workplace-bullying
 Galbraith, J. (2000). Designing the global corporation. (pp. 9-10) San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
 Krogh, G., Ichijo, K., & Nonaka, I., (2000). Enabling knowledge creation: How to unlock the mystery of tacit knowledge and release the power of innovation. (p. 248). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
 Badal, S. (2012, September 25). Building corporate entrepreneurship is hard work. Gallup Business Journal. Retrieved August 26, 2014.
 McDonnell, J. (2013). A strategic conversation with Dr. Pat Robertson. Journal of Strategic Leadership, 4(2), Spring 2013, 26-34.
 Jeschke, S. (2011). Enabling innovation innovative capability - German and international views. (p. 39). Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.
 Ibid. (p. 39).
 Ibid. (p. 39).
 Weber, S. (2008). Organizational behavior: Google corporate culture in perspective (p. 5). München: GRIN Verlag GmbH.
 Ibid. (p. 5).
 Ibid. (p. 5).
 Ibid. (p. 3).
 Ibid. (p. 3).
 Weske, M. (2007). Business process management concepts, languages, architectures (p. 5). Berlin, Germany: Springer.
 Ibid. (p. 6).
 Cash Awards for suggestions, inventions, scientific achievements, and disclosures. (2007, April 26). Retrieved August 27, 2014, from http://doni.daps.dla.mil/Directives/01000 Military Personnel Support/01-600 Performance and Discipline Programs/1650.8D.pdf
 Hill, C., & Jones, G. (2013). Strategic management: An integrated approach (10th ed., p. 452). Mason, OH: South-Western, Cengage Learning.
 Holland, C. (2008, October 27). The costs of the workplace bully. CBS Moneywatch. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505125_162-30940457/the-costs-of-the-workplace-bully/
 Williams, R. (2011, May 11). The silent epidemic: Workplace bullying. Psychology Today, Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/wired-success/201105/the-silent-epidemic-workplace-bullying
 Clemmer, J. (1992). Firing on all cylinders. (p. 226). New York, NY: Irwin Professional Publishing.
 Ibid. (p. 229).
 Ibid. (p. 231).
 Carone, C. (2013, September 12). Want to Inspire Innovation? Reward Risk Takers. Forbes. Retrieved August 28, 2014, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/christacarone/2013/09/12/rewardrisktakers/
 Commanding officer, XO and senior enlisted firings. (2013, February 13). Navy Times. Retrieved from http://www.navytimes.com/article/99999999/CAREERS/302050309/Commanding-officer-XO-senior-enlisted-firings
 Johnston, J., Bradley, P., Charbonneau, D., & Campbell, S. (2003). The Army culture - climate survey. Informally published manuscript, Royal Military College of Canada, Brussels. Retrieved from http://www.iamps.org/10_Johnston_paper_IAMPS_2003.pdf
 Ibid. (p. 2).
Author Bio: Captain Jeanne McDonnell (ret.) served on active duty for over 25 years. Assignments included command of Naval Support Activity Norfolk and Transient Personnel Unit Norfolk, and service on the Joint Staff, the Navy Staff, Commander Surface Warfare Atlantic Staff, and Joint Forces Staff College. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in Strategic Leadership at Regent University.
Congratulations! You have just been promoted to a top leadership position in your organization. You have over 3,000 people working for you in four different states. Your budget is in excess of $25 million. Good luck, and remember, don’t screw this up. You didn’t get to this position because you’ve been a slacker – you’re a proven leader and experienJeanne M. McDonnell Articles
Strategic thinking is a knowledge acquisition process that connects and involves every component and department of an organization by defining the direction of the organization, how it construes its strategy into execution, how it reassesses the organization’s direction, and then fine tuning its path.[i] Organizational leaders who seek to develop successful organizations and ultimately work towards long-term success and sustainability would benefit from adopting strategic thinking and planning skills.
Traditionally, strategic thinking and planning is allied with high level and top leadership teams with an organization.[ii] When a leader applies new thoughts, procedures, and processes to guide the persuasion of organizational members and its components towards the advancement of the organization, the leader is said to be practicing strategic thinking.[iii] Strategic thinking therefore considers the ‘now’ to be able to obtain imminent insight into the future.[iv] When a leader(s) employs activities that direct the organization towards an innovative and competitive arena in today’s internationally aggressive marketplace this includes strategic thinking. Thus, leaders who work towards finding unconventional ways to compete and provide client value are said to be practicing strategic thinking. Such leaders are able to indentify exceptional approaches to provide value to their clients. Strategic thinking is more of an indefinable, methodical, and future oriented activity for leaders.[v] Leaders who are looking for ways to formulate winning strategies for their organizations must consider using strategic thinking as a vehicle.[vi]
Traditional strategic planning relies on systematic processes to ascertain who the organization is in terms of its mission, what the organization does in terms of its believes, where the organization is headed in terms of its vision, and how the organization intends to get there in terms of planning[vii] while strategic thinking centers on mental processes essential for use of information and ideas which form an organization’s prospective direction.[viii] Strategic thinking makes available input for the strategic planning process through ground-breaking opportunities[ix] to enhance the organization’s performance and accomplishments. Strategic planning searches for means to create a new outline of the organization’s direction by adopting a novel and enhanced prospect.[x]
Questions Arose From the Strategic Thinking and Planning Literature
The following questions arose from the literature review based on strategic thinking and planning:
*What do you consider to be your strongest leadership qualities?
*Would you say you possess strategic leadership qualities? If so, mention a few?
*What is the vision of your organization?
*Are your staff/followers familiar with this vision?
*In what ways would you say your staff/followers are supportive of the vision?
*Have you taken part in a strategic planning process as a leader?
*If so, what time frame is adopted for the strategic planning and implementation process of your organization (monthly, quarterly, annually)?
*In your opinion, what is strategic thinking?
*Which strategic thinking and planning skills are necessary for a successful process?
*Which strategic thinking and planning tools do you use for your planning and implementation process?
*What obstacles do you consider as a hindrance to the practice and implementation of strategic thinking and planning within your organization?
*What systems do you have in place to assist you as a leader in identifying strategic thinkers within your organization?
*As a leader, do you use a strategic team? If so, how do you choose your team members?
*What would you consider as your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
*What strategies do you rely on to combat perceived weaknesses and threats to/within your organization?
*What specific tools do you rely on to determine the progress and growth of your organization?
*Please mention and explain 5 trends you perceive as having the potential to impact the long-term performance and success of your organization?
The first leader I chose to meet with was Matthew S. Essieh. Matthew is the president and chief executive officer of an information technology firm called EAI Information Systems located in Beaverton, Oregon. As a visionary leader,[xi] Matthew began his company from scratch 20 years ago. The company develops and modifies software solutions to assist financial service firms in controlling their retail investment programs for superior effectiveness and productivity.
Karen Howells was the second leader I chose to interview. Karen is the president and founder of the Howell’s Group, Inc.; a consulting firm in Portland, Oregon. Karen and her business focus on bringing ‘business to life’ through an exclusive and extremely tailored approach. Karen is a great communicator, a coach and a visionary.[xii]
The third leader interviewed was John T. Goldrick, Vice President for Enrollment Management and Student Life at the University of Portland. John oversees all student services including admissions, financial aid, student activities, judicial affairs, international student issues, career services, the Moreau Center for Service and Leadership, residential life, campus, ministry, health services, and public safety. John is a great strategist, a visionary and a great communicator.[xiii]
Responses from Leaders
What do you consider to be your strongest leadership qualities?
According to Matthew Essieh, his strongest leadership qualities include initiative and drive. Matthew reported he is driven internally; action oriented, allows other to follow, develops creative solutions to solve problems, and does not allow perceived problems to stand in his way. Karen Howells mentioned she connects quickly and authentically with clients, has the ability to motivate and influence others to get things done, is able to articulate a vision and inspires others to perform. John Goldrick loves to lead change, manages his employees well, has good intuition when hiring, has experience, works to keep his followers in the spotlight, and considers himself to be allocentric; more follower-centered than leader-centered. John stated he does not look for conflict, but at the same time, does not shy away from it.
Would you say you possess strategic leadership qualities? If so, mention a few?
Each leader I interviewed believes they possess strategic leadership qualities. According to Matthew Essieh, the fact that he founded his company 20 years ago is a sign of possessing strategic leadership qualities. He stated he focuses on broader decision-making without being ‘bogged’ down by details or initiatives. Therefore, he focuses on the broader positive implications of what has to be done. According Matthew, he has always had the vision to own businesses in the United States and he has achieved that vision. Karen Howells’ feels she is able to scan the social and economic environment in order to be in touch with her clients, is pragmatic in her operations, intentionally keeps her business small, and has the ability to listen to client’s and team members’ needs and concerns. John approached the issue of possessing strategic leadership qualities quite differently. According to John, he considers the ‘what, why and when’ with regards to a planning point of view. John also mentioned he relies on assessment tools prior to the implementation of any plan. Therefore, the assessment process assists him in determining whether the move is strategic or not.
What is the vision of your organization?
Regarding the vision of the organization, Matthew Essieh stated his vision is, “To be the leader in providing financial services technology and responsive services to clients.” Karen Howells envisions her organization to be one of the strongest regional players. She also believes it takes leaders and organizations to the next level of success, does not work with failing organizations, and remains a ‘boutique firm’ that customizes its services to meet the needs of clients. According to John Goldrick, University of Portland’s vision is to be the best Catholic teaching university in the western United States focusing on faculty who are abreast in research and publication.
Are your staff/followers familiar with this vision?
Each of the leaders I interviewed stated their followers were familiar with the vision of the organization. According to Matthew, his staff believes in the vision because they live by it every day. “My followers understand that everything is client centered and has to be approached as a strategic partnership with clients,” said Karen Howells. Karen stated she knows her followers have bought into the vision because they often refer her to other clients. John Goldrick strongly believes his followers are familiar with the vision because he seldom discusses issues without relating it to the vision of the university. He also added it is an expectation he has of his followers and is incorporated into how they execute their work on a daily basis.
In what ways would you say your staff/followers are supportive of the vision?
According to Matthew, he reported his follower’s exhibit support for the vision of the organization through the work they do each day by providing innovative technology and responsive services to their customers. He mentioned the vision drives his employees to develop quality products for their clients. Karen Howells stated an emphatic “yes” as evidence of the fact her staff are supportive of the vision of the organization. John Goldrick stated his follower’s support of the vision of the organization and this is reinforced through annual retreats and full day discussions. According to him, his followers also provide regular feedback on the administration by highlighting the positives and negatives.
Have you taken part in a strategic planning process as a leader?
Matthew stated he and the organization has taken part in a strategic planning process and will participate in the process again this year. “Absolutely”, Karen Howells stated when asked whether she has ever taken part in a strategic planning process. According to Karen, she leads a lot of strategic planning session with her clients, as well as, with the staff in her business. John Goldrick stated he has taken part of numerous strategic planning sessions for the university during of fourteen years that he has been there. However, John stated the university does not typically put it into practice and this often results in frustration on the part of the followers. He mentioned the university put together a strategic plan, but it was not used because the goals and objectives were too many. John feels there are many problems associated with strategic plans. First, he thinks strategic plans are not fluent with the total needs of an existing organization. Second, strategic plans are usually not structured to operate as a living document and third, he believes the tasks provided in the strategic plan are usually in conflict with strategic thinking. Thus, he recommends fewer goals, objectives, and tasks should be incorporated into a strategic plan in order to make it more applicable to the specific departments at the university.
If so, what time frame is adopted for the strategic planning and implementation process of your organization (monthly, quarterly, annually)?
According to Matthew, his organization adopts the annual approach to the strategic planning process. He stated his organization revisits the plan annually. Karen Howells reported her firm adopts the semi-annual approach for the strategic planning process. According to Karen, she holds annual meetings with her followers to review the past year as part of their strategic planning process. According to John Goldrick, the University of Portland used to develop a strategic plan every 10 years, but now the school utilizes a five-year approach. He stated this is driven by the academic accreditation board regulations.
In your opinion, what is strategic thinking?
When asked to give his opinion on what he considered as strategic thinking, Matthew stated that he considers “strategic thinking to be the day-to-day operational type of thinking.” He also mentioned it is the process of stepping back and looking at the broader purpose and direction of the organization. Furthermore, he stated strategic thinking includes deliverables and the implementation of a strategic plan to achieve goals, objectives and the purpose of the organization. Matthew gave an example of opening up a new office in Accra, Ghana with a vision to reach out to the West African Sub-region as a form of strategic thinking. According to Karen Howells, a leader’s ability to walk onto a balcony to gain a better view of things in terms of social, economic and political issues determines whether he or she is a strategic thinker. Karen gave an example of a client who is using the current health bill to his advantage, and at the same time, helping others. Karen stated a strategic thinker considers how things fit both inside and outside of the organization to determine what actions need to be taken. “Such leaders strive to be ahead of the game,” Karen remarked. For John Goldrick strategic thinking comes into perspective when a leader considers the ‘why’ and not the ‘what’. Thus, the leader considers why the organization is doing what it has set out to do and asks if it is taking the appropriate path.
Which strategic thinking and planning skills are necessary for a successful process?
With regards to strategic thinking and planning skills necessary for a successful process, Matthew stated as the CEO of the organization, he considers the direction of a proposed product, what competitors are offering and whether the product will be successful within the next three years. He also mentioned he works in collaboration with his project manager who skills assist in product development. The project manager assists in determining the sustainability and success of the product and the costs involved. Karen Howells mentioned the following skills as necessary for a successful strategic thinking and planning process. For strategic thinking, the leader must be able to look ahead and envision the organization by utilizing different approaches. She also mentioned a strategic leader must know the market in which he or she operates in. For strategic planning to take place, Karen mentioned the leaders must seek to engage the entire organization in the process. According to Karen, she believes funneling, environmental scan, and annual planning sessions can facilitate a successful process. John Goldrick stated no planning process works if it originates from the top. Therefore, he listens to his followers and adopts an all inclusive process of planning. Trust, honesty, and openness are key to a strategic thinking and planning process. He stated leaders who are not open and do not listen develop ineffective plans.
Which strategic thinking and planning tools do you use for your planning and implementation process?
Matthew stated he uses individual people as tools for the planning and implementation process. He reported he relies on key players and stakeholders within his organization such as board members, staff members, and clients. He also reported he creates a culture of strategic thinking and planning to be used as a tool for the implementation process. According to Karen, she uses the ‘sticky wall’ idea as a tool during the strategic thinking and planning process. During this process, participants are encouraged to write their personal vision, mission, goals, objectives, and ideas, as well as, that of the organization. Karen then uses the data collected for the planning and implementation process. Karen also mentioned brainstorming and funneling as effective tools for the strategic thinking and planning process. John Goldrick stressed the use of communication as a dynamic tool for the strategic thinking and planning process. He suggested leaders adopt a discussion and explanation strategy when thinking and planning with their followers. Promulgation of information is key for a successful planning and thinking process, John Goldrick said.
What obstacles do you consider as a hindrance to the practice and implementation of strategic thinking and planning within your organization?
When the organizational culture is not open and receptive to strategic thinking and planning processes, its practice and implementation becomes an issue for leadership and followers, Matthew remarked. According to him, when followers are not invested in the overall success of the organization it becomes difficult for leadership to implement strategic thinking within the organization. Followers not just interest in their paycheck can be a huge success for this process. Karen stated the size of her organization is often a hindrance to strategic thinking and planning. She also mentioned a lack of energy because of other life circumstances have been a barrier to strategically thinking and planning for the organization’s progress and growth. John Goldrick mentioned a lack of creativity, a fear of change, apprehension towards taking risks, a fear of making mistakes, the inability to lack failure and a refusal to undertake true assessment of the situation can be huge hindrances to the strategic thinking and planning process.
What systems do you have in place to assist you as a leader in identifying strategic thinkers within your organization?
According to Matthew, he identifies strategic thinkers by providing followers with the opportunity to lead a software development project. He also creates small and ad hoc teams for individual followers to be given the opportunity to solve problems and develop new ideas. Karen relies on team members to assist in the strategic thinking process and therefore identifies who excels in such an area. She also works towards identifying potential employees and places them on short-term projects to allow her to observe and confirm they possess strategic thinking skills. John Goldrick, on the other hand, does not consider this process as a system. According to him, it is more of an appraisal process which he undertakes once a year with his followers to identify strengths and weaknesses. After this process, “I am able to identify strategic thinkers,” John said. However, he stated it is a difficult process to undertake with university administrators.
As a leader, do you use a strategic team? If so, how do you choose your team members?
Matthew reported he uses strategic leadership teams within specific departments. Karen Howells uses a team of consultants as her strategic leadership team. According to Karen, when the need arises she utilizes other individuals from other organizations who possess the skills needed. According to John Goldrick, his strategic leadership team comprises of his staff which is made up of fourteen departmental heads. He reported the team meets for two hours every two weeks to deliberate on issues concerning the university. He stated, “I could not function without the team,” John said. He reported such collaboration allows us to work towards a common goal he concluded.
What would you consider as your organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
Matthew mentioned his organization possesses the following strengths. It is responsive to clients’ needs, flexible to solve client needs, relies on client needs to define its problems and adapts to client needs. He felt the organization had the following weaknesses: unrealistic client expectations and the lack of stability of a product. Matthew stated his organization is flexible and responsive and therefore this can be seen as an opportunity. The inability to meet customer expectations, a threat to credibility and the potential to lose customers are seen as threats, according the Matthew.
According to Karen, the individual clients the organization works with and the reputation of her team members are seen as strengths. As a leader, Karen stated her inability to clearly see the future is a weakness. Karen reported she has not been in good health over the past year and therefore does not have a committed direction for the organization and as a result has not marketed her services as readily as in recent years.
John Goldrick stated the strengths of the University of Portland is that it is a Catholic University and University of Portland is aware of what it wants. The University of Portland lacks self-confidence and therefore this is seen as a weakness. However, he sees opportunities in the horizon as individuals are beginning to recognize the identity of the institution. He foresees secularization and narcissism of the American society, the growing need for instant gratification, and the delayed enjoyment in higher education as threats to the welfare of the institution.
What strategies do you rely on to combat perceived weaknesses and threats to/within your organization?
Clear communication of customers’ expectations; internally enforcing flexibility, responsiveness to customer needs, and communication among leaders and followers; and ongoing training and accountability are strategies that Matthew utilizes to combat perceived weaknesses and threats to his organization. Karen uses change initiatives and time-lines to combat weaknesses and threats within her organization. John employs open communication; a collective approach to leadership; and endless conversation around the vision, mission, goals and objectives of the institution to combat weaknesses and threats.
What specific tools do you rely on to determine the progress and growth of your organization?
In determining the progress and growth of the his organization, Matthew keeps close accounts of sales figures, the measurement of profitability, client retention, cost management and the measurement of growth and retention of staff. According to Karen, she considers ‘how full the pipeline is,’ how may referrals the firm receives, and the level revenue for the firm. John presented a different approach to determining the progress and growth of his organization. According to John, he uses assessment tools and performance appraisals and reviews on a regular basis.
Please mention and explain 5 trends you perceive as having the potential to impact the long-term performance and success of your organization?
According to Matthew, the contraction and expansion of the financial services industry, mergers and acquisitions within the industry and the changing pace of technology and staying abreast of such changes are potential trends that may affect his organization. He also mentioned the workforce in the United States over the most recent years has not seen enough individuals being trained within the information technology industry. Therefore there is a limited workforce to tap into. He also stated the cost of labor and current privacy laws and regulations regarding sensitive data may also have an adverse affect on his organization in the near future. Karen believes the following trends will impact her organization’s performance and success over the course of time: clients’ desire for instant gratification, organizational fatigue and overload, and competition from competitors. Karen also mentioned the emergence and growth of small businesses can have a huge impact on her organization. Karen believes the current generation of young people, will have a significant impact on her company. John had similar views with Karen. John perceives secularization, narcissism, instant gratification and federal government regulations will impact the performance and success of the University of Portland.
The leaders in this interview were carefully selected as a result of my interests and practice in consulting and higher education. The questions were carefully crafted to elicit the needed information from the selected leaders regarding what they considered as their strengths as leaders and in the area of strategic thinking and planning. Interestingly the three leaders had similar views though operate in different industries. Their views regarding trends that will impact the future of their organization are proof of their ability to think and plan strategically in order to run successful organizations. All three leaders provided great examples of visionary leadership and they brought strategic thinking and planning to life. It is therefore in the good interest of organizational leaders to research and practice strategic thinking and planning principles. Leaders who lack the ability to think and plan strategically must rely on internal and external consultants[xiv] who will facilitate the process of imparting the needed knowledge, skills and expertise for a successful operation. Such leaders can take steps to build a resource base of materials centered on strategic thinking and planning for their organizations for the use of their followers in order to develop a culture of strategic thinking and planning in their organizations.
[i] Hughes, R. & Beatty, K.C (2005). Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success. Jossey- Boss, San- Francisco, CA.
[ii] Fairholm, M. & Card, M. (2009). Perspectives of Strategic Thinking: From Controlling Chaos to Embracing it. Journal of Management. 15(1), 17-30.
[iii] Hughes, R. & Beatty,K.C (2005). Becoming a Strategic Leader: Your Role in Your Organization’s Enduring Success. Jossey- Boss, San- Francisco, CA.
[iv] Sanders, I. (1998). Strategic Thinking. Strategy & Leadership. 33(5), 5-12
[v] Goldman, E.F. (2007). Strategic Thinking at the Top. MITSloan Management Review. 48 (4). 75-80
[vi] Abraham, S. (2005). Stretching Strategic Thinking. Strategy & Leadership. 33(5) 5-12.
[vii] Strong, B. (2005) Strategic Planning: What’s So Strategic About It? Educase Quarterly.
[viii] Sanders. (1998).
[ix] Briefing Notes: What is Strategic Thinking? (Philadelphia, PA: Center for Applied Research, 200), 1.
[x] Fairholm & Card. (2009).
[xi]Jones, T. (2010). What is Your Vision? Leadership Excellence. 27(3), 6.
[xii] Robert N. Lussier, R.N. & Achua, C.F. (2007). Leadership: Theory, Application, & Skill Development: Thompson Higher Education. Mason, Ohio.
[xiii]Richardson, D. (2009). The Urgency Factor…Leadership Communication In Chaotic Times. Of Counsel. 28(8), 10-13.
[xiv] Block, P. (2000), Flawless Consulting: A Guide to Getting Your Expertise Used. Pfeiffer, San Francisco, CA. 5.
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Strategic thinking is a knowledge acquisition process that connects and involves every component and department of an organization by defining the direction of the organization, how it construes its strategy into execution, how it reassesses the organization’s direction, and then fine tuning its path.Peter Carlos Okantey Articles
This is a short story about a small high tech company that in spite of some developing employee relations issues has been very successful. In order to protect the guilty, we will call this company Wacko Technology.
On the surface everything at Wacko appears to be rather calm. They are making money so little else seems that important. Oh, there are one or two tell-tale signs of trouble brewing beneath the service such as Wacko’s rising 18% turnover rate. Also Wacko’s break room is filled with “toxic gossip” as well as the not too small matter of constant employee gripes and complaints. To say the least, all was not well at Wacko.
While considering Wacko’s situation, I began to get those same uneasy feelings you get when watching a documentary on volcanoes. In the program’s opening scene you are speeding in a helicopter towards a tropical island paradise, surrounded by clear blue water and white sand beaches, covered in softly swaying palm trees and beautiful tropical flowers. But just before the first commercial break your dream of this island paradise becoming your next vacation destination is totally destroyed by the shattering forces of an exploding volcano. The shock is so great to your senses you grab the remote and quickly begin searching for an escape, but you end up settling on another disaster by watching the Red Sox blow a seven game lead in the AL East.
It has not been that good a day. After having spent your entire day fighting fires at work and now to see you vacation dream being consumed by smoke and ash followed by watching another year of the Curse of the Bambino play out on ESPN has about pushed you over the edge.
If you are experiencing pre-volcano anxiety concerning your organization, this may be a good time to intervene with an employee driven organization development program that is based on the principle that, "the person closest to the problem is the best expert on the problem". Don't worry, this solution is not going to replace you. In fact, it will contribute greatly to strengthening your position of leadership at all levels of the organization. The leadership principle at work here is simple. Give your employees a voice by “asking employees their opinion, listening to what they have to say and acting on it”.
You begin by first asking your employees in confidential one-on-one interviews; “What three things, if done extraordinarily well, will have the greatest impact on the quality of work and the quality of work life for you, your fellow employees, customers and your company?” These interviews are best conducted by your HR department or an outside consultant. Once you have completed interviews with each of your employees (or a representative percentage), organize their suggestions in order of importance and provide your employees access to your listing through feedback meetings or by email. This lets employees know you value their opinion. On the front end, if there are any suggestions you will not be implementing, it is very important to let your employees know what you will not be doing and explain why. Don't be afraid to say no as long as you explain why.
Next go to work on a “quick start plan” by announcing and implementing any suggestions that can be put in place quickly and that you feel are critical to addressing employee dissatisfaction. In order to address the remaining employee suggestions create an Organization Development Committee (7 to 9 member committee) made up of a cross section of employees, which should include two or three well respected front line managers. This committee will be responsible for developing, for management’s approval plans and programs that address employee concerns and suggestions taken from the employee OD interviews. The manager’s involvement in the committee is to act as the “boss interpreter” directing the group’s recommendations towards plans that will be accepted by management. Allow the committee to own the process and the chairperson of the OD committee to be responsible for communicating to employees all aspects of the committee’s activity including announcement of action plans and programs developed as a result of employee input. An OD Plan of this type has a six month shelf life so I strongly suggest someone in senior management take responsibility for championing the OD committee work.
By asking your employee’s for their opinion you begin a participative process that will change the culture of your organization. But what is so remarkable about an employee driven OD program is not only will your employees effectively address issues that threaten employee morale and productivity but the program will also empower employees companywide by giving them a voice. Your employees’ voice will be expressed by:
*Creating a belief that they can make a difference by seeing their ideas are valued and implemented.
*Taking greater initiative and action to make things better.
*Taking responsibility to do the right thing and not always waiting for management direction.
*Taking leadership by being willing to help others move in the right direction.
*Becoming self-correcting by making themselves accountable to the standards they set.
*Becoming more confident and proud of the work they do and the organization they work for.
*Working in a more collaborative way to help assure the best thinking and employee support made part by the critical plans as they are implemented.
*Taking responsibility for developing and maintaining a positive employee culture.
Strengthening relationships that are built on trust.
*Expanding of the social circle within the organization where employees feel like they belong to something bigger them themselves.
Creating peer pressure for the majority who are no longer willing to accept difficult, nonproductive employee behavior. These problem employees then become isolated and their counterproductive attitude and behavior will be minimized. These employees will either slowly change for the better or will become so uncomfortable they will leave the organization. This is how you create positive turnover.
Volcanologists tell us that the study of volcanoes is not a perfect science and that there is much more to learn before they are able predict a volcanic eruption. The same may be true for predicting the eruption of employee relations problems, but there is a way to prevent these nasty employee eruptions …. simply give your employees a voice.
About the authors:
Michael E. Hackett is a retired Human Resource executive and management consultant based in Brentwood Tennessee. www.hacketthrconsultant.comj Michael has distinguished himself in the field of Human Resources Management and Organizational Development, with more than 40 years of human resources consulting, management and executive level experience in business, industry, government and healthcare. Michael has served as an Adjunct University Professor for more than 25 years, where he has taught a variety of management, leadership, customer service and strategic planning courses. Hackett has authored a number of management articles; and as conference leader, he has conducted training programs for business, industry, government, hospitals, universities, and professional associations. Michael’s academic credits include a BS and MS degrees from The University of Memphis. You may reach Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org
P. Daniel Hackett is a Construction Project Engineer with J. E. Dunn Corporation in Brentwood Tennessee. Dan’s academic credits include a BS degree in Building Construction Science from Auburn University and a MS degree in Sustainable Practices from Lipscomb University in Nashville. Dan was also a intern assistant with Hackett and Assistant while attending Auburn University.
This material is copyright protected. No part of this document may be reproduced, in any form or by any means without permission from weLEAD Incorporated. Copyright waiver may be acquired from the weLEAD website.
This is a short story about a small high tech company that in spite of some developing employee relations issues has been very successful. In order to protect the guilty, we will call this company Wacko Technology. On the surface everything at Wacko appears to be rather calm. They are making money so little else seems that important. Oh, there are one or two teMichael and Daniel Hackett Articles
Let’s be honest, any kind of change, much less corporate change, is difficult, really difficult. Whether a start-up experiencing growing pains, a company faced with increased competition, a floundering company trying to stay afloat, or a successful business attempting to expand into global markets, the path toward change can often be unclear at best and the barriers can seem insurmountable at worst. Yet change your company must if it is going to become or remain a “player” in its market. The question isn’t whether your business must change; that is a given if you want it to survive and thrive. Rather, the question is: Will our company change?
If you answer in the affirmative, there are two more questions that you must ask. First, what will your company change? In the ever-morphing marketplace, there isn’t always clarity on what needs to be changed for a company to stay competitive. Second, how specifically will your company change? It’s one thing to have grand ideas about what changes your company needs to make. It’s an entirely different thing to take those “50,000 feet” ideas and bring them down to Earth.
Though change is always complex, like all complicated processes, it begins with a basic framework that orients and guides the course of transformation. A useful way of framing this process is by what The Trium Group calls “the Six I’s”: intention, inspiration, information, insight, integration, and implementation.
The foundation of any change is intention that change is needed. Intention provides the objective for an initial course of action that will lead to the desired change. For example, “We intend to modify our sales practices to make it more customer friendly” or “ Our intention is to increase our market share by 25% over the next 12 months.” This intention creates a sense of purpose that provides the preliminary impetus for the change.
As the saying goes, though, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. Simply knowing what your company wants just isn’t enough for change to occur. Instead, there needs to be inspiration that puts the wind in the sails to propel the change forward. Because change is so difficult, the motivation to change must come from a deep place within the leadership of an organization and that strong desire for change must then emanate outward and be embraced through all levels of the organization. This inspiration can be grounded in many forms so that it is more readily accessible to everyone involved in making the change a reality, whether due to a sense of ownership, pride in being part of a productive team, personal ambition, or the determination to take the company to the next level. The key is to infect your organization with this inspiration from the corner office to the “boots on the ground.” Without this powerful emotion, any efforts at change are sure to be dead in the water.
One of scariest things about change when it’s first proposed is lack of clarity and its magnitude.
Everyone knows that a change needs to be made, but there are many questions that are left unanswered and the change can seem overwhelming It can feel like you are told to climb Mt. Everest, but without the necessary equipment, route, or guidance. This feeling of “How can I possibly do this?” is where the idea of change collides with the reality of change. And that collision can stop even the most powerful inspiration in its tracks.
The remedy for this feeling of being overwhelmed is information. When everyone in your organization has the relevant data needed to put the required change in perspective, the scope and process of change seem more manageable. You want to answer the what, why, who, where, when, and how of the change. So, my recommendation to you when it comes time to announce the changes through your organization is to follow it very soon after (if not concurrently) with the information that will allow everyone to gain perspective and understand that the change is not only possible, but doable.
Once everyone in your company understands the ins and outs of the proposed change, insight is necessary to take the intention, inspiration, and information and make the change personal. In other words, every team member must understand their role in the organization-wide change. This insight provides each person with a framework and process that will guide them in their particular responsibilities in making the change happen.
One of the most challenging aspects of company-wide change is that your team is expected to make the changes while also continuing to fulfill their normal roles and responsibilities. The stress-inducing question that everyone asks is: “How am I going to do this when I’m already maxed out in my ‘day job’?” This is where you must ensure effective integration of the change process into everyone’s already-busy schedules. The simple reality is that change will not occur if your people lack the time, energy, or resources to do their part in initiating the change. You must be explicit in identifying the when and how of the change for each member of your team, otherwise they are likely going to feel overwhelmed and demoralized, both of which will undermine the company-wide efforts at the needed change.
All of your company’s efforts to this point are in preparation for rolling out the intended change in your company. Everything to this point will go for naught if it isn’t able to take action in pursuit of the change objectives. The final phase of the change process, implementation, is where the rubber meets the road. If you have successfully fulfilled the mandates of the first five I’s, meaning everyone in your company knows the what, when, where, and how, implementation should be, well, not easy, but a natural extension of the earlier groundwork. These efforts will then, over time, produce the intended change and help your company to achieve its goals and find continued success.
About the author:
Jim Taylor a partner at the Trium Group, a boutique corporate consulting firm based in San Francisco that specializes in strategic, organizational, and human transformation and performance. You can contact Jim at
This material is copyright protected. No part of this document may be reproduced, in any form or by any means without permission from weLEAD Incorporated. Copyright waiver may be acquired from the weLEAD website
Let’s be honest, any kind of change, much less corporate change, is difficult, really difficult. Whether a start-up experiencing growing pains, a company faced with increased competition, a floundering company trying to stay afloat, or a successful business attempting to expand into global markets, the path toward change can often be unclear at best and the barriers can seem insurmountable atJim Taylor, PhD Articles
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