Training Your Business for the Future
I would like to begin this article on how to level up your organization with an admission: I love business.
Not just my own company, mind you, but the concept of people from different walks of life, different viewpoints, motivations and talents innovating together to have their common interests and investments, (time, energy and financial), make a difference in the world.
What’s not to love?
As a CEO, there are times when I love it a bit less of course, but all I have to do is take a drive down a commercial street, and look at all the successful businesses. Whether they are corporations, fast food, gas stations, mega-stores or mom and pops, they always help me to feel better simply by existing. Each is a testament to effective collaboration.
The funny thing is, since our company does human resource training and leadership development, we get to go into many different companies, in many different industries. We have developed customized training materials for international corporations and community churches, some of which were amazing, others, not as much. What we’ve found, is that the conversation that I have the most with people, no matter their organization, is usually about trying to forward either themselves, their current organization, or both.
Those conversations are one of the reasons that I love business.
It’s also one of the prerequisites to our company doing business with another company because it means that the potential business partner is still growing, learning and training no matter their current size or organizational culture.
After 35 years of these conversations, I have found some similarities in the behaviors and patterns of some of the largest and most successful businesses on the planet.
I’d like to share some of them with you.
How to Level Up Your Organization
‘Leveling-up’ an organization is something that our company has striven to do since its inception. Indeed, it’s something I have striven to accomplish over the entirety of my life.
Put simply, it refers to looking at the world around you and deciding how best to fit your best self into that world. It means looking for the best you for the world in which you live. For someone like me, that began with my family, and my educational options, and then of course moved on to my business relationships and life.
Put into business terms, it refers to trying to achieve, maintain, or re-establish a balance between the strategic goals of the organization, (e.g. profitability/sustainability, and turnover/morale), and what everyone now refers to as: work/life balance.
In order to level up your organization, you have to first:
KNOW WHAT’S IMPORTANT
The cultural differences from business to business are nothing short of amazing. There are companies with such an impressive degree of impact that their perceived corporate culture has impacted American pop culture as a whole. Imagine it, a corporation actually being treated as a person. Not too difficult if you look at the impact of companies like Nike, Google and Amazon.
In fact, U.S. courts have extended certain constitutional protections to corporations due to a matter of interpretation of the word "person" in the Fourteenth Amendment. Meaning corporations enjoy some of the same rights as people, at least constitutionally.
“If corporations are entities, that is, afforded some of the same rights and privileges, then perhaps it would be intelligent for us to learn and grow them using the same principles that govern the greatest individuals in our society.”
This is the next critical step to leveling up your organization.
If corporations are entities, that is, afforded some of the same rights and privileges, then perhaps it would be intelligent for us to learn and grow them using the same principles that govern the greatest individuals in our society. Not the worst. If we were to continue to have an impact on our society, wouldn’t it be great to know that the most influential organizations are using the same skills that we know are exhibited by the greatest people in our society?
So what are some of the skills and traits we like in our heroes?
To me, the first one is obvious: They know what’s important.
As an individual, are you more concerned with things or people, or both?
Do the people around you actually help your life?
For organizations, they become the same questions.
I was recently at an organization where the employees are not allowed to talk to the CEO. At all. Not even a “good morning” in the elevator. The employees I spoke to have an opinion about that.
Beyond that ‘opinion’, how loyal do you think they are to the organization as a whole? How willing to go out of their way to ensure its continued success?
“Only 1 in 5 employees strongly agree that their leaders are setting a good direction. Only 15% of employees strongly agree that their leaders are making them excited about the future of their company.” ~ February 2017 Gallup Poll Report
If you have a friend in your life for whom you do 10 things, and that person happily paid you for doing 7 of them, how long before you stopped doing the other 3? How long before you decided that leveling up meant going to a different friend, or in this case a different organization?
According to a Gallup Poll report entitled: ‘STATE OF THE AMERICAN WORKPLACE REPORT’ Feb. 2017, only 1 in 5 employees strongly agree that their leaders are setting a good direction. And only 15% of employees strongly agree that their leaders are making them excited about the future of their company.
When I talk about this disconnect, I can usually get a good sense as to the organization in which I’m standing, and what they can level up quickly.
Some managers will immediately say “Not here. Most of the people love it here.” And, if I were to give best-case/worst-case scenario, the best-case is a well-known, international corporation who, (when this subject came up during the free needs-analysis our company provides to learn about organizations), replied: “We just did an anonymous employee survey, we gave every employee several ways to state their opinions and submit questions, and got back a nearly 90% employee response. Each department, had the chance to review the input, and then either use their own initiatives to act or they can submit actionable items to the Employee Action Committee if the proposed action was over a certain time or dollar amount.
The EAC then reached back out to our population to see if anything has changed, and to gauge the ROI impact of the action to be taken. It’s working out that it’s not taking anywhere near as much money as we originally thought to get our people to get behind the company. In fact most of them simply responded to being asked.”
Worst-case: “Our employees love working here, and if they don’t they can always leave.”
Every person who has started and built a successful company can tell you about ‘the transition’, that’s the changes that occur over the course of growing your business. They don’t happen all at once, (otherwise I don’t think we’d even have businesses). These are subtle changes and choices that occur when you realize that while some people may want you to succeed in your business, you may be the only one who cares enough to act in the interest of your companies continued survival. The next level in the transition is usually the money. Everyone wants your service provided that its free or at a discount, and if you can pay them? Even better. There are several other steps, and as I’ve said, if you want to hear more, ask someone who has grown a business about the ‘transition’. The thing is, individuals react to all of these data differently. Some re-double their efforts in order to maintain their original idea of having a positive impact on the world around them.
They remain committed to what was important to them and their success from the beginning.
Know what’s important to level-up your organization.
For others, the transition helps them to become a bit colder, and a bit harsher. Since they never sat down to figure out what their company would look like as a success, they never figured out what was important, creating a vacuum of culture which, unfortunately, many corporations fill with simple dollar signs and metrics.
Again, knowing what’s important to your company is as important as knowing what’s important to you personally. As with most change, leveling up is a choice you must make for yourself first, and then your organization. If you had to write down what was important enough for you to keep throughout your life, what would it be?
If you are a CEO reading this, what would you want your legacy to be? What do you want your company’s legacy to be? Is your organization committed to leveling up in order to be sustainable for the future, or will the words: “But we’ve always done it this way”, ring through empty halls?
Know what’s important to that company and legacy, be able to share it, and share it every chance you get.
So now we know that knowing what’s the most important step to level up your organization, is it really a new thought? Of course not, but it seems that for a whole lot of organizations knowing what’s important and focusing on what’s important are where the breakdown happens. If I were to ask you how many organizations that you personally know seem to put politics over knowing and doing what’s important, how many organizations could you name?
For the sake of argument, let’s put this next component of how to level up your organization into an easily visualized metric:
P/T + S/C= O
That is profitability; in this case, the term profitability of course has its own equations, depending upon the specific organization, Gross/Operating margin etc., as does turnover.
In this instance, referring to loss of production time, employee on-boarding, and the overall amortization of continued training. Whereas ‘sustainability’ is, well, just that, how long an organization can have continued, predicative growth based upon Sales (s), and market change occurring internally and externally. All to produce a ‘screen shot’ of the organization current state.
Keeping in mind that while we could break this equation down further looking at items like EPS and strategic fundamentals, as mentioned in a great article in FORBES during the financial crisis: How To Predict Profits, that simply isn’t what this particular article is about.
There are so many organizations, large and growing, who consistently show a profit yet their turnover is outrageous, and unconscionable when looking at moral and employee satisfaction. This usually comes down to the next part of the equation:
What does every successful businesses managers spend their time?
Usually, they all have a common vision or direction, (which trickles down), guiding them. What employees in organizations all over the world seem to spend their time on is office politics.
And not the good kind.
Yes. There is a good kind. We’ll get to more on organizational culture later.
As far as time-spent is concerned, here are the three.
Here are three core responsibilities of management and leadership if you want to level up your organization;
- build an innovative culture that values feedback from all levels,
- building a highly-functioning, collaborative team, and
- make decisions based upon strategic platforms and level of achievement.
If you’re looking to level up your organization, leadership within your departments need to spend a portion of their time on developing and maintaining relationships, not only interdepartmentally, but organizationally, how ‘siloed’ would your organization be? How much different would your day look?
Think of it this way, every one of us knows someone who spends a great deal of her or his time on fruitless efforts. You know someone who spends more time gossiping at work than actually working, more time arguing about how right they are rather than moving forward on a project. The thing is no one can do that alone, it takes others to participate. If you are like me, you’ve, (at least once), found yourself involved in one of these time-wasting sessions.
The truth is they will never truly go away, not in any organization. But not all of us come to work to not work. We put in our time and lend our skills to our organization of choice because we want to be a part of something successful. If we all limit our time with those non-productive activities, and focused on the three above, you will see yourself not only as a part of that organization.
You’ll also see that time seems to speed up. It’s the difference between sitting around bored, and being busy. When you have nothing to do, and are bored, how slowly does time pass as compared to when you are focusing on some activity that you, if not enjoy, find consuming?
If the departments in your company all focused a portion of their time on developing and maintaining relationships, not only interdepartmentally, but organizationally, how ‘siloed’ would your organization be?
+ Skills and ability
A few years ago, while at an organization in Japan, I had the chance to speak with a CEO about how he viewed employees when it came to readily accessible skills. It remains one of the most eye-opening experiences of my career. At the start of the conversation, he (in broken-English) and I ( in fractured Japanese) talked about how important it was that employees had the skills that the organization required in order to be successful.
I agreed. I added that it was important that we found out about those skills during the interview process. After several moments of thought, he spoke again saying, “Yes. Interviewing is important because that is when you discover if the [candidate] has abilities that will serve the organization and its population later. And if you can help them to do so.”
I actually asked him to repeat what he’d said, because I must admit that it had never occurred to me that this was a responsibility of an organization.
Luckily, one of his bi-lingual employees came and sat with us and was easily pulled into the conversation. (We were at dinner. It’s funny to me how many of the most amazing conversations about business and growth moments I have had away from work.)
The concept that he went on to explain was that everyone uses their skills and abilities to help the greater good. “Whether that is company, city, village or person. Many forget that striving together is a skill by itself, and one that must be mastered and then mastered again. No one is the same today as they were yesterday, so we must learn to accept the changing skills of those around us in order to gain advantage.”
Imagine. Your organization genuinely asking you to continue to move forward in your search for new skills and abilities because they, and you, are important to tomorrow’s success. And it doesn’t matter if that success is in the same department that you are were in last year, because someone else is growing to fill your old shoes while you invent new ones. For the company as an entity, that’s quite an amazing skill to have.
Let’s immediately change this word to ‘Character’. I simply prefer it to the word ‘Culture’ because I believe that word has become a way for many of us to remove accountability. How many times have you heard someone say: “Well, that’s just the culture here”?
I cringe every time I hear that. Organizations in and of themselves don’t have a culture, they have floors, ceilings, cubicles etc.
Culture comes from the population coming in to that space. If you work for an older organization, large or small, I’m certain you can attest to how the people who worked there before you still have an effect on the culture you enjoy.
So, let’s talk about character. We could go into the actual definition of the word, but since we are discussing actual steps, towards success, let’s assume that we all know what the word means, and move on to what it means to you.
If I were to meet you in person, and ask you about your character, what would your response be? Nearly everyone I’ve ever asked begins with the deer in the headlights look, and then they begin to tell me what they believe in, what’s important to them, and what they hope others can see from their actions.
If a potential employee were to ask you to define the character of your organization what would your response be?
If a potential employee were to ask you to define the character of your organization, what how would you respond? How would your employees respond? Your front-line managers? Your Sales Reps?
Organizational character, unlike our belief in company culture, is something that we not only can affect, but the very question itself is one that begs action.
When asked about company culture, most people begin to tell me about something that is separate from themselves or their position within the company.
Character almost demands the word ‘we’, as in ‘we believe’ or ‘we try to’. It is, in many ways, the very crux of the equation of success because it requires an active vision for each department and employee. The words used to answer the question usually end with some sort of emotional content. I recently asked several people at a networking event this question, and over half of them ended with phrases like: “happy” or “caring”. And all of them were smiling, the same could not always be said when I asked them about their company culture.
What about you? Answer this question:
What is the character of your organization? And how does it match your own character? Is your character enough to level up your organization?
The answer to that question, if asked by everyone, will give you the last piece of the formulae for success. A profitable, time conscious, skills adoptive and character-culture minded:
P/T + S/C= O
That’s how you can successfully level up your organization.