In the classic business book, Good to Great, Jim Collins states that to be effective, organizations need to first get "the right people on the bus (and the wrong people off the bus) and then figure out where to drive." In essence, who you have on your team, is more important for organization success than where you are headed and how you get there.
While I agree that getting the right people on the bus is as critical today as it was back in 2001 when Good to Great was first published, today's leaders are faced with more complicated challenges.
Most companies have done a good job hiring highly talented, super-smart people. Especially in today's economy, finding the who is not the problem. Where they struggle, is keeping them engaged and focused on the where and the how. To say it another way, you can have strong individual players, but unless there is an overarching purpose that requires them to become a team, little will be accomplished.
For this to happen, organizations need to be two things. First, they need to be smart. Smart organizations have the basics: Sales, Finance, HR, R&D, Product Development, IT, Services, Support, etc... -- all the bits and pieces that keep a company running. The truth is most companies are plenty smart. In today's world, though, that's not enough. Organizations have to be more than smart -- they have to be healthy as well.
Healthy organizations have low politics (not no politics -- but politics that don't get in the way). They have high morale, engaged employees, and no surprise, high productivity. Another thing you see in a healthy organization is a lack of confusion about where the company is going and how what every employee is doing fits. I saw this time and time again in my 13 years with Federal Express where employees would regularly do amazing things to ensure that our customers were getting the service they expected -- delivering critical payroll checks in a blizzard and completing customer pick-ups during the Loma Prieta earthquake are just two of many examples.
The trap that many companies fall into is that you can't do one without the other and you can't think about them separately. For organizations to be effective, you must imbed the smart stuff with the healthy stuff, keeping the right people engaged and productive.
Employee engagement happens when four things occur:
- The Leadership Team is aligned and cohesive.
- There is absolute clarity about organization direction (strategy).
- Every person in the organization understands how what they do fits with the strategy.
- Organization policies and practices support the above (this does not happen nearly enough).
One of my favorite quotes is from General Norman Schwarzkopf, who I heard speak not long after Desert Storm. He said: "Great leaders never tell people how to do their jobs. They set the goals and establish the framework. Lousy leaders think they know it all, and all the while, their organizations sit there, aquiver with potential."About the author: Amelia began her career at Federal Express. She was a Partner at Ernst & Young and the Chief Administrative Officer of Hyperion Solutions prior to founding The Thornton Group, a management consulting company specializing in all aspects of organizational health. Additional information can be found on her website: www.thorntongroup.com.