Overcoming the Five Pitfalls of Organizations

In my last post, I explored the five great pitfalls that derail organizations, cause them to under-perform, and create serious dysfunction.

In this post, I will describe five solutions to these pitfalls that have worked extraordinarily well in resolving many businesses’ issues.

1. Establish clear direction.

Establish-Clear-DirectionIn my previous post, I suggested that “absence of clear direction” is the number-one organizational pitfall.

Not only does the business disappoint key stakeholders when there is confusion about direction and strategy, but employees become disillusioned and disengaged when the organization lacks or fails to communicate clarity about where it’s going.

It never ceases to amaze me how many organizations expect people to make good decisions when the organization’s direction hasn’t been clearly articulated to its employees.The best solution we have found is one called “line of sight.” It begins at the top and consists of only a few key steps.

First, senior leaders schedule a carefully orchestrated retreat and use their time together to answer a few questions:

  • What does “winning” mean in our business?
  • Who are our key customers and what might they need in the future?
  • What are the initiatives that will enable us to grow the business in the future?

The second step in this process is the most critical. We call it “strategy in the middle.”

This principle comes to life when all the critical support functions, customers, teams, and operating teams within the business build their own function-specific strategies within the parameters of the business’ overarching strategy.

We have seen incredible improvements in Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) when organizations become aligned at a deep level, synchronize their activities, and focus their collective efforts on executing the strategy.

2. Heal teams that are disjointed and out of sync.

Heal TeamsAchieving great results and executing strategy is a team sport, and the best way to get team members to support one another is to have them engage in a series of serious, hard-hitting alignment meetings.

We generally suggest that these one- to two-day meetings be held offsite each quarter. During these offsite retreats, we work with teams on two areas of focus.

We call the first a “results forum” in which the team is given an opportunity to talk about accountability and execution and review their progress on key initiatives and priorities.The second area of focus centers on collaboration across functions, what is working, and how to improve its efficacy.

3. Eliminate ineffective leadership tendencies.

Businessman and women look at a portfolio and discuss strategyThis requires creating serious development plans and providing a tailor-made curriculum for each member of the leadership team. One of our clients takes this very seriously and coined the term “grow or go,” and they mean it.

In this organization, team members who aren’t demonstrating continuous improvement on their key competencies, learning new aspects of the business, or becoming more-skillful leaders aren’t welcome to stay in the organization long term.

But this hard-line approach isn’t as harsh as it sounds: The organization provides the support its leaders need by arranging for each team member to have an executive coach; it then becomes the individual leaders’ responsibility to demonstrate improvement and bridge their gaps.

4. Improve communication and focus on accountability.

Develop Awareness and Emotional IntelligenceA huge majority of our clients (upwards of 80%) ask us how they can create a “coaching culture” in which people can give and receive candid feedback openly and without fear of retribution. I believe it takes three essential steps to create this kind of environment:

  • The first is training and skill development on effective coaching processes. This must be followed by teaching people how to open a deeper dialogue when traditional coaching methods aren’t working.
  • The second is a discussion called Alternate Possible Behavior (APB) that was designed for intact teams. This methodology uses the power of the group to deliver both positive and negative feedback to everyone using a formal, structured process. This is phenomenal team-building exercise that helps people understand what the team values, what needs work, and how people can help the team perform better and grow the business.
  • The third is the creation of accountability teams or Opportunity for Improvement (OFI) teams. These teams are designed to drive organizational learning and change initiatives. The process is proven to deliver results and can be very effective in addressing organizational challenges.

5. Develop greater personal awareness or emotional intelligence.

TrapPrior to John (Jack) Mayer, Ph.D. and Peter Salovey, Ph.D. coining the term “emotional intelligence,” followed by Daniel Goleman publishing his bestselling book, self-awareness and emotional intelligence weren’t on anyone’s radar as critical factors for success in business.

Today’s complex world needs leaders who can be both introspective and reflective. They need to be able to examine their own, as well as understand others’, motives, emotions, and reactions. Leaders need to have broad perspective, imagination, and the ability to anticipate coming changes.

To overcome this common pitfall, we suggest developing a “peer-consulting team” that comes together once a month over an extended lunch and discusses issues related to emotional intelligence. The conversation could revolve around personal issues or challenges with bosses, co-workers, customers, or vendors.

These peer-consulting teams discuss the situation in a general way, but they also talk about their own behavior and contribution to the problem or conflict, which is the most important aspect of this dialogue. The team works together to discover new solutions and consider new methods. They hold each other accountable for making changes and report on their progress at the next meeting. Although this process is fairly informal, there are a few working agreements about openness, authenticity, and willingness to consider alternative perspectives that make the process work.

If you have questions or would like to discuss any of these pitfalls or their solutions in greater detail, I welcome your questions and comments. Please contact me about this or any of my posts, or make comments in the section below. I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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About the Author

Steven Stowell, Ph.D.

Dr. Steven J. Stowell is the Founder and President of the Center for Management and Organization Effectiveness, Inc. CMOE was created in 1978 for the purpose of helping individuals and teams maximize their effectiveness and create strategic competitiveness. Steve’s special interests lie in helping leaders and organizations transform into high-performance cultures that are focused on long-term, sustained growth. Steve began his career working in the energy industry. During the past 30 years, Steve has consulted with both small and large corporations, government agencies, school systems, and non-profit organizations in 35 different countries. Steve enjoys the challenges of • Helping functional organizations define, create, and execute strategy in order to differentiate the business. • Developing and designing creative and innovative learning experiences, simulations, and keynote presentations. • Helping functions across the organization be more effective and aligned in executing long-term plans. The centerpiece of Steve’s consulting, learning, and executive coaching work is his advocacy of applied research and data collection. Steve is a highly effective presenter and facilitator and enjoys creating customized solutions, assisting senior teams, defining strategic direction from the individual level to the corporate and business-unit level, and improving teams that are faced with important challenges and issues.