Who REALLY matters, what REALLY matters in your company or organization? Do customers come first? Or employees? Are values the centerpiece? Or open communication, or support for entrepreneurialism, or collaborative leadership.
Now, be honest. The answer may be none of the above. Unless your company or organization is an exception, it’s the CEO who comes first, followed by his lieutenants. Customers are well down the list. What really matters is making money and little else. Few people know what the company’s values are, much less follow them.
It can be trouble enough to put the boss and making money ahead of other parts of the organization or other concepts. Few employees or customers root for an uninspiring organization. Ideas, solutions get stymied when management denies permission for people down the line to participate.
It can be trouble multiplied when reality is denied.
People tend to read from different pages… vision is cloudy…saying one thing and doing another breeds contempt…numbers are fictional…employees operate by guesswork (and the organization dies by guesswork). The list of dysfunctional behavior goes on and on. And, ultimately, companies, organizations suffer the consequences.
How does it happen that some companies, organizations get it so wrong?
Leadership… pure and simple.
Leaders run organizations and organizations are the sum of decisions, says Art Kleiner in his book, Who Really Matters, one of the best explanations of how organizations work.
An organization’s core group of leaders influences those decisions, says Kleiner. “If people believe the core group needs and wants something to happen, they assume that making it happen is part of their job.” Put another way, regardless of what leaders say matters, if leaders indicate otherwise, the reality is otherwise.
No matter the damage, many leaders can’t bring themselves to change, to stop telling people, “Do what I say, not what I do.”
Why? Core group members are generally happy campers… they like having power, living in the spotlight. And they’re usually unwilling to give up their influence. Organizations are set up to fall in love with core group members… and to treat them with deference. Who’s going to tell the emperors they aren’t wearing any clothes?
Core group leaders can get it right… if they so choose.
The way to do it: Include almost everyone in the core group. It’s a choice. As Kleiner puts it, organizations do exist where decision-makers take into account all the members of the organization, where everyone works on behalf of everyone else and things don’t dissolve into either bureaucratic torpor or chaotic everyone-for-themselves anarchy. Southwest Airlines, Toyota are a couple of examples of inclusive core groups.
For most leaders, that means changing the way they think …about different aspects of running an organization, including how people are paid, how relationships are built. That’s a tall order for those more comfortable with different management styles. One thing’s for sure, responsibility for change can’t be passed off down the ranks. No one outside the core group of leaders can make it happen in an organization.
Some signals that leaders are pulling everyone into the core group.
They pay attention to how employees are recruited, promoted, trained, rewarded. It’s one of the best places to get leverage for changing an organization.
They model the way by paying attention to what really counts. That means attending meetings, being visible around creative elements in the company.
They let communication flow freely. They encourage new patterns of conversation…who people talk with, what they talk about, topics of conversation, frequency of contact and those who overhear them.
They support entrepreneurial activity, regardless of errors or failure. They know that allowing an idea, project to go down in flames is a learning opportunity that could yield huge dividends later. Some of the best strategy adopted by the largest companies can come from unplanned entrepreneurial activity.
They exhibit quality leadership… which means they take credit where credit is due for the leadership they have provided their teams, companies.
In sum, disconnects between what’s said and what is are deadly. But organizations, leaders can choose a different route. Exactly how to do it can be the subject of several strategic conversations.