Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Be A Learning Organization - Pursuing Excellence

Every company should pursue excellence in their organizations endeavors.  It's interesting to see how different organizations try to achieve this.  I've been in industry for 25 years, and education for 8 years, and I believe I'm a student of observation... in addition to formal training on organizations as part of my undergrad, and MBA, I've worked in a number of organizations, and here's some quick observations... organizations that succeed know how to provide excellent customer service.

  1. Organizations know that they build repeat business based on the service they provide, and the overall experience of the consumer.  They provide a "total package".  In food service, f the food is excellent, and the service is poor, the experience is bad.  Conversely, if the food is poor, then the service is irrelevant.  Prompt friendly service with a smile defines the service.
  2. Top down organizations that rely heavily on the carrot and stick approach.  These organizations reward excellence through recognition and promotional opportunities, and can be rewarding but stressful.  One organization moved to extremes of the continuum based on business cycles, and could temporarily withhold 15% of base salary and cancel bonuses during a downturn, and then during upturns would not only reimburse this... but offer fantastic quarterly bonuses based on perceived value to the organization.
  3. Organizations that accept divisiveness as a way of business, not by promoting it... but by allowing it to happen.  These are not "trust" organizations, and true openness and sharing does not occur.
  4.  Organizations that rely on what always worked to propel them into the future.  Unless this is a rapid adaption to change, these often go the way of the dinosaur... in a slow, painful way.  If your claim to fame is that your organization is more of a liability to close than to operate at a loss... chances are corporate Armageddon is on the way.
  5. Learning organizations... these are organizations that look for ways to improve how they are doing things, and focuses on continuous improvement.  It's not a mantra, it's engrained in the organization.  Change and evolution is organic... this can be across the organization, or for independent units... there can be high performance pockets of excellence.
  6. Organizations that lead by consensus.  These may proclaim to be learning organizations.  Instead of excellence, what is often achieved is nothing more than a level of mediocrity that is attained by compromise necessary to make a decision.  For examples of this, look at the evolution of a congressional budget proposal.
  7. Organizations that change because they need to do something, and inaction and continuous debate are not working.  When the dice are shuffled, new ideas can emerge... but this could be a result of luck instead of planning.  The converse can also be true.
So, how do you best manage change to have an effective organization?  My suggestion is to look at what's working inside of your own organization, and in organizations similar in size in the same industry.  Adopt what works... and avoid what doesn't work.  If it works for a much larger organization, use common sense to determine if that process will work in your organization, or if process heaviness, or lack of process will make this process ineffective for you.

Find areas that aren't working... and change them first.  If you're successful, then do like any successful company, and repeat the process change across each unit of the organization.  Remember, bench mark and compare at each step.  If you find that, after sufficient time for success, you aren't achieving expected results... look at what's changed, and evaluate if the lack of results is related to the new process, a lack of adoption, or staffing issues.

What does success look like?  It is a inherent sense of ownership, and a responsibility that is pervasive across the organization.  It's an environment where continual learning and openness are common, and where all levels of the organization are placed in areas where they receive direct customer feedback, and have a complete understanding of how they add value to the organization.

The organization has committed to provide a high level of customer service,  Staff take responsibility for knowing their part... and for continuous improvement.  They recognize that part of this evolution of skills and service is the responsibility of the team.  The team openly shares knowledge, and knowledge is not viewed as power to be hidden.  There is a focus on continuous improvement of baseline skills, and on hiring professionals that meet the culture and have a propensity to learn and contribute. Those who do not contribute adequately are counseled, trained, or found a position where they can succeed given sufficient effort.  Staff are evaluated based on their contributions, not their looks... personality (other than to the extent it contributes to their success), clicks, or other criteria.

Feedback loops are instant and continuous, and calculated risk is rewarded... and mitigated where possible.  Staff knows where they stand at all times, and evaluations are a reinforcement of communications that have occurred since the last evaluation, and do not contain surprises.  Evaluations are tools that document performance by providing examples through objective feedback, by providing recommendations, and by outlining a plan for employee development.

Employees in this organization may be more mobile and could exit the organization.  Often the organization is successful, and able to retain staff by offering them leadership opportunities and providing new skills and training.  As staff enter and exit the organization, they contribute their skills to the learning culture... and take the new skills they've acquired when they move to a different position and leave the organization in a better state than when they were hired.  There is not reliance on a single star... the goal is to have a constellation of stars that are all extremely capable.

Happy evolution... or extinction... it's often a conscious, deliberate decision... so go and choose!