Monthly Archives: May 2014

Fostering Cultures of Success: Five Key Investments in Capacity and Climate

High-performing organizations sustain their exceptional standards by establishing and fortifying an atmosphere of excellence – they foster a culture of success. Certainly, many organizations experience high-water marks of elevated performance, but too many do not advance this capability and ethos over an extended period of time.

Sustained high performance is not easy, yet very achievable when organizations pay attention to their internal and external dynamics and make the required investments in capacity and climate. It’s not enough to have a great product or service. It’s not enough to be trendy and hip in your brand. It’s not enough to just think big.

While there is much that can and must be done in leading an organization to greatness, there are five key investments of time, energy, and intellect that will help produce and maintain superior capacity and a positive climate.

First, set high standards and unwaveringly stand by them – greatness is achieved and sustained by organizations that passionately pursue and expect excellence. This approach has room to include measured risk-taking, not being paralyzed by missteps in progress toward achievement, and remaining flexible in addressing constant change.  Keep moving forward while embracing high standards and living by them. This focus is at the heart of achieving exceptional performance.

Second, establish your values and vision and be clear about goals and objectives – chart your course and make it clear so that your organization is not adrift. Make it easy for your workforce to collectively move in the same direction. Include a range of personnel in strategic planning and goal setting. Nurture inclusion and buy-in from throughout the organization – people thrive when they are engaged in the stakes of an organization.

Third, hire and develop the best people to fit your organizationthe most important element of your business, agency, or organization is the people. You must work to get the “right team” and then focus their collective best energy on your action. Hire smartly, develop your workforce, and inspire committed performance that is galvanized by high standards.

Fourth, understand your place in the market and community and be open to changethere are few things more certain than uncertainty. Scan your environment and recognize and accept changing conditions, then revise and refine your organization’s focus and performance to meet new demand signals. Have a strategic view that is informed by the dynamic reality of your situation.

Fifth, celebrate progress and reward commitment and loyaltymake your organization the team of choice for talented people. Reward effort and evident progress toward your aforementioned vision and goals. Forge an atmosphere of productive outcomes by encouraging creativity and willing investment from your workforce. Frequently meet with your people to share anecdotes of success and provide for the cultural “storytelling” to begin. Transcend the workspace – make sure your people know that they are part of something much bigger than the buildings and grounds that comprise your infrastructure.

The most successful organizations achieve these five key investments. Storied companies, agencies, non-profits, and the military services, know how to gain excellence and sustain it. They foster cultures of success.

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Organizational Alignment: People, Purpose, and Productivity

Getting everyone on the proverbial “same sheet of music” in an organization is the process of gaining organizational alignment. The effort to align can be equated to an orchestra learning a new arrangement. When everyone has the right music for their respective instrument – their organizational role – progress towards alignment can occur. The resulting sound – the organizational performance – can be exceptional when everyone plays their part in harmony with the other members.

Organizations large and small must confront the same human resource design and investment challenges in ensuring that their people:

  • effectively understand the organization’s values and mission,
  • know their role within the organization, and
  • are trained and empowered to fulfill that role.

These key attributes signify coherence in an organization. The more fully established and recognized these elements are the stronger the organizational alignment. These characteristics are at the core of determining whether or not an organization can sustain effective and efficient performance over time.

There are several lenses through which to consider alignment and its impact, including business goals and cost factors, the slope of the vertical or horizontal management structure, authority and span of control, and other organizational design concerns. Regardless of which optic you use to assess alignment, at the center of any organization’s performance will be the matter of how well its people are being employed, engaged, and empowered to effectively advance established goals and objectives. This lens reveals the alignment of people, purpose, and productivity.

Organizations that invest in fostering a culture of inclusion and communication aimed at encouraging workforce development, and the professional power of their people, improve their opportunity to perform well over time. Alignment of people and purpose requires getting everyone in the organization on that same sheet of music – working with mutual commitment to advance the organization’s vision, mission, and goals. How well this is accomplished will define how productive the organization can expect to be.

Forging and sustaining organizational alignment is no easy task, but one that is profoundly important and worth the on-going commitment at all levels – from the leadership to the new hire. The aforementioned culture should reflect the values and focus of the organization and illustrate how workers are key to maintaining a positive workplace climate that supports the entire enterprise.

There are three important actions that will contribute to gaining and maintaining the organizational alignment of people and purpose to achieve high productivity:

1.  Ensure that a thorough and introspective strategic assessment has been done for the organization. This vital strategic design investment should identify, inform, and underscore the organization’s values, vision, mission, and goals – all of which should be readily known and promoted throughout the organization.

Strategic thinking and outcomes should not be mysterious – they should be stated in plain language, to the point, and easy to understand and share throughout the organization. This is not a C-suite exercise but rather a holistic action to make the strategic message clear, concise, and compelling – for everyone.

2.  Ensure that a comprehensive “on-boarding program” is actualized and actively monitored that embraces each new employee and informs them about the organization’s values and priorities, as determined by and maintained in the above strategic design effort. A dynamic on-boarding program will plant the seeds of iterative and sustained success in furthering the organization’s culture.

The benefits of an on-boarding program will be evident over the long-term as new employees start-out more fully informed with tools to aid in their success. This must be much more than providing an organizational chart and map of the break rooms and exits. This is the professional “welcome wagon”. Make people glad to be there, well-informed, and eager to get to work and contribute to the organization’s culture of success.

3.  Ensure that the leadership and managerial members are committed to modeling the best of the organization’s expectations – they must be the culture that is desired and intended. This is the all-important “talking the talk and walking the walk”.

Sustained organizational success will be undermined, if not extinguished, if the leadership isn’t sincere and prepared to go the distance. The leadership must set the tone and be consistent in their adherence to the organizational ethos and climate. Nothing is more convincing than conviction.

At the end of the day, how well an organization realizes alignment of people and purpose will directly correlate to success or failure over time. If done well, remarkable outcomes can be attained and sustained. The organizational orchestra will make remarkably productive music.

 Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC

Seven Steps to Leading Better Meetings

Workplace meetings are an essential part of our professional lives. There are short ones, long ones, important ones, not-so-important ones, exciting ones, and boring ones – meetings are an aspect of how we get things done in organizations.

Unfortunately, we can become desensitized to the real dynamic importance that our meetings should represent. We sometimes drift through them simply as necessary evils. Let’s stop doing that.

When leading a meeting, whether routine or marking a significant development, there are seven important steps that you can take to ensure its relevance and success. While these steps may seem obvious, they are too often ignored.

These seven steps will make your meetings more effective and garner solid contribution from the participants.

Step One – Ensure that the meeting, even if routine, has value – have a clear answer as to why you are meeting. Meetings must have purpose and direction. Make it apparent why you have gathered the group and what you expect to accomplish. This step is sometimes ignored and can give the impression that a leader calls a meeting simply because they can. Nothing kills the mood like hubris.

Step Two – Have a meeting agenda and follow it. Meeting discipline is first established with the agenda – make it matter by using it. A good agenda is the meeting map that first draws people in and provides the framework to “see” the events and anticipate the topical progress. A written agenda may not be necessary for established routine sessions, but it still can add value if provided.

Step Three – Ensure that only necessary participants are in attendance.   Keep the meeting to the core group that is required to address the agenda – remember that everyone’s time is valuable. There is little benefit in having someone attend to simply observe, unless it is viewed as a training or growth opportunity. “Back-benching” can be necessary and helpful but use it thoughtfully – there is a potential to waste a lot of talented people’s time.

Step Four – Ensure that everyone contributes. Solicit participation from all attendees – if you don’t, perhaps they shouldn’t be there. Building on Step 3, those at the table should be expected to add value, participate, and be better for attending. Foster inclusion and contribution. Work to have people leave the meeting feeling that their time was respected and well spent.

Step Five – Ensure that everyone is aware of the time limit – set a “hard stop”. Help people manage their time and expectations. Meetings should start and stop on time – this discipline gains support for meeting as participants can better plan their day. Make sure that the session avoids the dreaded run-on ending – the long goodbye. Any after-meeting chatter should be optional.

Step Six – Ensure that the meeting remains focused – attention drift and topic creep happen all the time – reign it in. Work to be clear, concise, and compelling in the conduct of the meeting. As famously said, brevity is the soul of wit – stay on point. This focus will garner more enthusiasm for subsequent meetings.

Step Seven – Ensure that someone is keeping a “parking lot” of issues or topics that emerge in the meeting but cannot be addressed at that time. A robust meeting will likely reveal other matters of interest that need to be tracked. Capture these issues and ideas for later consideration – there may be some golden nuggets that will inform your next good meeting.

In addition to these seven steps, consider following-up non-routine meetings with a thanks and a brief summary, separate from any meeting minutes, so that the attendees understand your appreciation for their time and contribution. This thoughtfulness goes a long way to emphasizing the relevance of the meeting and your expectation that it was meaningful.

Meetings may be a large and necessary part of our professional lives, but they certainly don’t need to be drudgery. Lead meetings that engage people and garner value – today, tomorrow, and always. Alright, I have to go – I have a meeting. 

Steve Wischmann

President/CEO

Horizon Performance Solutions, LLC