Almost every business and organization has an organizational diagram with boxes connected by lines that depict functional and hierarchical relationships of the departments, divisions, branches, and offices within. These diagrams are a useful starting point to understanding general relationships within the company, but can't convey much about how the elements work together.
The structure (how the company is organized and who works for whom) and processes of every organization are extremely important; they shape, guide and direct almost everything the company does, from business intelligence to strategic planning to hiring employees and taking care of customers. But in many companies, these two key engines of organizational culture and performance simply run in the background, little noticed and under-appreciated for their impacts on the business. Occasionally, something may draw attention, usually when it's dreadfully dysfunctional, but even this may not be enough to decisively engage and fix the offending issue. The structure and processes of organizations are not easy to fix; they cut across every aspect of the company and amending them, even for great gain, requires monumental effort and usually a search for consensus. Taken together with the general lack of understanding on how they drive business performance, there is normally little appetite for reform. Thus, it is leaders' business to understand, engage, and do the right things.
Straightforward organizational challenges can have well defined solutions around which general agreements are easily made. But for serious matters, the challenges, let alone solutions, are rarely straightforward. Problems like this are complex, difficult, mysterious, and sometimes require gut wrenching choices, if properly addressed. This is where a clear understanding of the authority and responsibility to secure the right outcomes is essential.
Surprisingly enough, in many organizations, the matter of making clear in whom the responsibility and authority lays for tasks, projects, and processes are ambiguous; unstated and left to the imagination of the workforce, including the person who will ultimately be seen as the “responsible party”.
It’s not difficult to visualize the effects and results of this kind of arrangement.
"To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects." Margaret Thatcher
My experiences in organizations of all sizes indicate that there is an almost universal organizational yearning for everyone to "get along" in all that is done. For leaders this usually means that every, or most, problems are resolved at levels below them by employees working together and achieving consensus on solutions. In some cases this is fine.
Straightforward challenges can have well defined solutions around which general agreement can be made. But for serious matters at the highest levels of large organizations, the challenges, let alone solutions, are rarely straightforward. Problems at this level are complex, difficult, mysterious, and require gut wrenching choices, if properly addressed. It's at this level where consensus based organizational behavior breaks down and indeed cause much damage.
"The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, but that's the way to bet." - Damon Runyon
Understanding that all organizations, and their sub elements, have finite production capacity is an essential part of leading effectively. Yet this is one of the most common gaps in the perspectives of otherwise enlightened and experienced executives who I work with. On reflection, all of us would agree that a large, more efficient, and more effective company or business will create greater value, larger output, and higher quality effects than a small one. But this realization is seldom matched by the actions of leaders who routinely fail to realize the essential physics of organizational production. Size matters; so do internal processes, leadership, managership, technology, and other factors in the ability of a company to produce.
“Do not look for happiness outside yourself. The awakened seek happiness inside.” ― Peter Deunov
Everything that matters about each organization is embodied in its culture; its habits, attitudes and practices. The output of organizational culture is organizational performance. A highly motivated or inspired culture results in above average or superior performance. Apathetic or indifferent culture likewise guarantees substandard performance. Culture creates performance for all organizations, be it a business, university, government agency, military units; you name it. Habits, attitudes, and practices are direct determinants of organizational performance. High performing organizations have high performing cultures. Their people, leadership, organization and processes, and industry-specific practices are highly developed and well executed.
“Something deeply hidden had to be behind things.” ― Albert Einstein, Autobiographical Notes
The present state of organizational performance is pretty discouraging when viewed across a spectrum of sectors; government, academia, business, not-for-profit, the military, and others. Many important institutions are underperforming in major ways; the Department of Veterans Affairs wait time scandal, General Motor's systematic failure to deal with defective ignition switches, Target's and Home Depot's inability to secure the personal data of millions of customers, the Deepwater Horizon environmental catastrophe, Toshiba's massive accounting scandal, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) compromise of millions of individuals' most personal data, Fiat Chrysler Automobile's record NHTSA's fine for safety violations, multiple Washington D.C. Metro system fiascos; there is an almost daily recounting of monumental organizational failures. Countless millions of dollars are lost and lives are lost on a routine basis.
The New York Times covered a sweeping internal investigation of General Motors released in June that condemned the company for its decade-long failure to fix a deadly safety defect, one that led to “devastating consequences,” including at least 13 deaths.
"Each one of us can make a difference. Together we make change." Barbara Mikulski
The really gifted leaders do it because they have a passion to make a difference, to, as Steve Jobs once said "..make a dent in the universe." Leaders owe that level of caring and commitment to their employees and organizations so together they can do the challenging things necessary to make the change that Barbara Mikluski spoke about. Without it, the true potential of people and organizations can't be realized.
We see them every day. Companies that are on auto pilot, doing the same things they have done for years, even decades. Their people are going through the motions, showing up, marking time, getting by, and living lives of quiet desperation. A few businesses may even be profitable in the near term, but the life has left them and they are getting by on borrowed time. In government and the not-for-profit worlds, the distorting effects of free money can delay inevitable failure for decades, absent a public and catastrophic event. But even that may not reverse the trend and those organizations continue to plod along. We hear about these organizations almost daily in the news; OPM, Veterans Affairs, and others.