Getting To Where Organizations Really Work

Getting To Where Organizations

Really Work 

By Jim Koehneke, MA


Organizations are meant to work.  Given there is a market need, goods or services are created and delivered by a system that can produce them with reasonable cost and superior quality, and then deliver and service them for a profit.  Demand sustains production, and customers come back for more if they are delighted by the experience.  The problem most organizations face is that the system for delivering the goods or services was never properly set up from the beginning, continually experiences break-downs, and requires attention it usually doesn’t get.


Unfortunately, some organizations are led by individuals who do not know just how important it is to create a structure that will lead to success, and then pay constant attention to servicing the machinery (people, processes, internal systems, etc.) that makes the structure work.  Too often breakdowns in the system (unmet expectations) are seen as threat rather than information, and parts (people) are replaced or done away with as a strategy to fix the system.  While this approach does not work in the long run, it may give the short term perception that “positive” changes are happening.  (We see this play out all the time: downsizings are a trigger for stock values to shoot up.)  The bottom line is that real change has not occurred, and the system is in no better shape to handle the work than it was before.


This dilemma occurs primarily because of impatience (desire for instant gratification), and the focus on growing cash rather than providing real value to customers.  The addiction to “profits now” replaces the more long term view of establishing and maintaining a system that really works.  Task completion – getting products or services out the door – is valued to such a degree that process intervention (how the product or service is made and delivered) is forgotten.  Ready, fire, aim has seemingly become the standard for organizations to follow, but with some logical reason.  Things are changing so quickly that to hesitate is to lose out.


But taking aim saves time.  While getting it right the first time takes longer in the beginning, it saves countless hours of playing catch-up.  (We’ve heard that before, but haven’t yet taken it to heart.)  The question then becomes one of how to get it right from the beginning. The answer is to establish a sustainable structure in which success can occur over and over.  And when there is a breakdown, the problem can be easily identified and fixed.  This is not unlike getting our cars repaired – plug into the computer and the diagnostic will tell you what system to check and what to do to get up and running again.  For organizations, gather information (the diagnostic) to determine which system needs attention, then create an intervention to fix it.


One structure that really works is a guiding set of principles which enables a flow of energy and sustains the kind of results being sought.  This structure, importantly, combines human factors and task issues into one system.  Organizations that work are characterized by these four guiding principles:


Workforce commitment to an inspired and shared vision, identified by clear goals that create good for others, and clear standards to guide action and measure success.


This principle sets the stage and creates the game.  And the greater the collective alignment with the inspirational vision, the better will be the outcomes.  Many organizations are now realizing the value of obtaining employee buy-in and are seeking input.  As employees participate in creating and aligning to a real vision – and then solving problems when they arise – the more commitment there is to achieve identified targets.


The flow of success is best generated when the intention of the organization is to provide something useful and needed, not just to get market share or earn profit.  Interestingly, market share and profits increase as value and attention are focused on the customer.  Place “making a difference” ahead of “financial growth”, and you’ll get “business growth”.  Place “getting” ahead of “giving”, and an organization looses its reason for being and begins to atrophy.  Yes, earnings and profitability are important – like food is to all living creatures.  But to “live to eat” rather than “eat to live” misses the point.  We’re here for more than food; we’re here for true fulfillment which comes from fully expressing ourselves, providing service to others, and making a difference.


While it’s imperative to have a clear direction in which to head, it’s also vitally important to know and measure how well you’re doing along the way.  Process indicators and measurements can be firmly established in the culture, such as a shared commitment to achieve the standards outlined by the Malcolm Baldridge award criteria for quality and excellence.  Without these kind of measures, an organizational system tends to drift; and power, control, and politics take over as dominating factors which influence action.


Open and honest communication from competent and inspired managers and leaders who know how to create trust in a work environment of motivated people who fully participate, seek ways to innovate, delight customers with extraordinary service, and who are recognized for their contributions.


Said another way, “Create an environment of trust which empowers people to more fully contribute”.  Trust begins with competent and inspired people in leadership roles, who tell the truth and understand that they are there to act as communicators and resources to those employees they serve.  Without this attitude of commitment to vision and service to employees by top management, the system loses its power.  If control and blame pervade the culture, employees withhold their contributions.  They show up to collect a paycheck, but aren’t really there to work.  The message here is to hire and promote people who hold open and honest communication, commitment to the mission, and service to others as their personal standards of excellence.


Why is trust so important?  Because new ideas and risk taking flourish in an environment where failing and learning are ingredients for success.  Finding fault, blaming people, and trying to control outcomes through some form of punishment are simply outdated, abusive methods which once served organizations but which no longer work.  Leaders committed to uncovering underlying, objective reasons for failure, and then providing effective solutions (often in the form of training or additional resources) best serve the organization, and create the environment in which people can grow and fully contribute.


Right tools and fit: inspired workers who have the necessary resources and information, who are in the right job, with the right skills,  to produce high quality work and be successful.


This key principle of success reminds us that it’s often useful to start at the end and work backward.  Begin with: “What are the desired outcomes?”; “What skills and abilities are needed to get the job done (to the standards you have already set)?”; and “What resources are needed to support the work process?”  Figure these out first, then fill in the blanks.


Nothing is more critical to reaching your desired outcomes than having the right people in the right jobs.  Of no small importance here is that the people themselves often do not know where they best fit.  In all my work as a career coach, I find that starting with past successes and areas of unique contribution, followed by newly creating an inspired job objective, (no matter how much experience an individual has), is always useful. Clarifying and defining right job fit is a dynamic which changes and shifts over time.


Organizations which provide internal career development resources to employees, enabling those employees to understand where they want to be and best fit (either within or outside the system), are ahead of the game.  Employees need to move and change, feel challenged, and take on more responsibility.  Supporting them in this process is good for the organization, because it helps people get to where they can more fully contribute.


Keeping in place the necessary structures to empower and support outcomes, including effective process design, financial and information systems, cross-functional work teams with clear purpose and challenge, training and employee development, and rewards and celebration.


Keep focusing on and tinkering with the underlying processes and systems which support the desired outcomes.  Good questions to ask are: “Is our process design and work flow as effective as it could be?”; “Do we have the right mix of talent on the right teams?”; “How well do we train these folks?”; “Do we have the right information and technology to support the work in progress?”; Do we appropriately reward and acknowledge employees for the results they produce?”  Keep adding to the resources and find new ways to support the troops.


Nothing inspires employees to contribute more than real challenge – and to be in a fun game where everyone is focused on the same goal; where innovation and risk taking are encouraged in an environment of blame-free problem solving; and where employees are led by hard working people with vision, integrity, and competence.  This collective effort needs service-minded managers who help make sure employees are in the right job and supported with needed resources. . . and that they are richly rewarded for the results they produce.


The opportunity is in finding a real need and providing a real solution, and then creating and implementing the right structure for success.  A structure that will ensure your organization really works.


When success does occur, because the conditions for it were established and maintained, genuinely celebrate results.  And then give thanks for the chance to contribute and make a difference in peoples’ lives.  Celebration and gratitude put us back in touch with our spirit, and connect us to our soul.  We need this connection at work.


Jim Koehneke, MA is a Transformation Coach, who coaches and works with executives and teams to achieve high levels of

 performance and work satisfaction.

Jim can be reached by email:

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About Jim

Jim’s innovative and influential style of coaching and facilitation stems from over 15 years of Management experience in Human Resource and Organization Development. He has written two books, and has coached others in the area of Personal Development for the past 20 years.