10 Timeless Principles for Organizational Success
You may be thinking, "not another list." I promise, this is different. We are not discussing rules, which are inflexible and compliance-focused, or steps, which can be too tactical and lack context. Principles are timeless, universal truths that apply irrespective of context or type of organization.
Case in point: I originally wrote this article in January 2016. A lot has happened in our world since then, yet these principles remain relatively unchanged.
The 10 principles are interdependent and support each other. Like the fingers on our hands, each provides some value independently. However, maximum value and function come from them acting together cohesively as a hand, or better yet, as a set of hands.
Each principle and its importance are explained below. The associated questions help you assess how well you and your organization follow each principle in practice. At the end, we will briefly discuss how the principles work together and discuss some steps you can take to help your organization improve its performance.
1. Know where you are going (Vision), why you are going there (purpose) and how you are going to get there (Strategy)
The Vision defines your desired future state in a clear and specific manner. Purpose explains the organization's why. Strategy defines where and how you will compete and provides a high-level plan for what you will do, reflecting a set of choices to guide the organization to its future state. These are essential to steer the organization to long-term success.
Does your leadership team and employees clearly understand the organization's Purpose, Vision, and Strategy and what it means? If not, why? How can this be improved?
Related Article: Having a Vision Is Not Enough, You Need a Shared Common Vision
2. See differently. Look from different perspectives and zoom in and out
As a consultant and leader, I have heard complaints about 1) leaders only seeing things from one perspective and not considering those of other stakeholders and 2) leaders being either too big picture or too in the weeds. The best leaders consider things from multiple perspectives, including customers, employees, shareholders and communities. They know how and when to zoom out or zoom in. Zooming out gives perspective on the big picture, the broader path(s) to success and the major obstacles and critical steps to reach there. Zooming in helps determine and detail the necessary actions, how to execute them and tracks progress. Success requires both zooming in and zooming out.
Are your leaders and managers individually and collectively able to see things from different perspectives? If not, why? What impact does this have? How can this be improved?
3. Be adaptive and agile
Change is the norm, and market turbulence is commonplace. It's easy, but risky to respond by freezing or reacting (often mindlessly). Being adaptive and agile is what helps companies to not only survive but thrive in our ever-changing, fast-moving environment.
Adaptability is the capability to consider the current state of the organization, market, and competitive environment and then act intentionally, thoughtfully, and purposefully to make necessary adjustments and course corrections. Agility is the capability to rapidly change or adapt to changes, challenges and opportunities. Both are necessary for sustained success in our turbulent world.
Is your leadership team and organization adaptive and agile? If not, why? What are the impacts of this? What would it take to improve?
Related Article: Breaking Down Agile Business Strategies
4. Play offense
Many organizations have focused on defense for the last several years. However, advancing growth and improving profitability (offense) wins games. Defense protects and defends your position, but it has limited upside. Defense, by its nature, is reactive. Offense is proactive. Offense is about how you increase growth and profitability. The best offense is informed by contextual understanding and clear short- and long-term goals. For example, in football, the team needs to advance the ball, get first downs, be able to score, win the game, get in and win the playoffs, and then win the Super Bowl. While defense is essential, it is not sufficient for success.
Does your company play too much defense? Why? What impact does this have? What would it take to change?
5. Manage and allocate your attention
You and your organization have finite attention. Keeping your vision, purpose, strategy and critical priorities front of mind is vital. Be disciplined and intentional about where you train your focus and guide others to allocate theirs. Recognize that your influence is far-reaching. Where you concentrate guides others on where to focus. If you are distracted, do not be surprised when they are.
Have you and your organization effectively and consistently focused on your strategy and value creation? If not, why? What impact does this have? What would it take to improve?
Related Article: Refining Your Attention Amid a World of Distractions
6. Align and allocate your resources to support your strategy
After focus, resources (people and dollars) enable things to get done and drive results. Resources are finite and often scarce. They must be aligned and allocated to a prioritized portfolio of initiatives and projects to best enable the execution of your strategy. Saying "no" to or eliminating projects is just as important as saying "yes" and continuing to invest in projects.
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What would happen if every member of your team came to work focused on finding solutions and creating better results?
Do you align and allocate resources appropriately to support your strategy? Do you have a straightforward process and decision framework to support this? If not, why? How does this impact your results? What would it take to improve?
7. Be prepared
This principle is new. Being prepared has many components. First, it is vital to develop a robust understanding of the risks and uncertainty in and around the company and how they interact. Second, developing and maintaining a dynamic and strategic risk management process is critical. Third, recognize that organizational preparedness and resilience are vital components of, and incorporate them in, risk management. Fourth, make decisions, and act knowing that risk is a part of doing business.
Are you and your executives approaching risk, uncertainty and preparedness strategically and dynamically? How is this being done? If not, why not? What impact is this having? What would it take to improve preparedness?
8. Don't confuse activity with progress
Activity feels good and makes you look busy. However, activity is no substitute for progress. Activity needs to be purposeful and directed towards achieving objectives to deliver desired outcomes and create accountability for progress and results (see the tenth principle).
Does your organization and its leaders hold people accountable for progress and results? If not, why? What is the impact of not doing so? What would it take to improve?
9. Don't just tick the box
Doing things to tick a box is not enough. Engagement, doing the right things, and seeing them through to results is vital. Knowing "why" and how roles lead to outcomes are essential to this happening. A handoff is not an absolution of responsibility. Those involved must be accountable for making progress and achieving results. Collaboration and accountability go hand in hand.
Are you and your organization doing what is necessary to drive engagement and commitment? If not, why? What is the impact of this on our organizations? What would it take to improve engagement and purposefulness?
10. Measure, monitor and manage what is important – not everything
Items need to pass the "so what" test. Will this information influence a decision or cause us to act somehow? If not, it is likely not important. Second, understand that not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted. Qualitative tracking is just as important as quantitative tracking. Directionality and magnitude of change are important. Precision and accuracy aren't as important. Don't let debates about data quality obscure the issues that need to be addressed.
Are you and your organization paying attention to and acting on what is important? If not, why? What impact does this have on performance? What would it take to improve?
Putting the 10 Principles to Work
As you can see, these 10 principles are closely linked and interdependent. You can't just choose one or a few and expect great results. Value and performance breakthroughs come as these principles are collectively instilled and consistently practiced.
Throughout this article, I posed a number of questions. Answer them honestly, assess your performance on each principle and discuss the results with your colleagues. Assess the extent of the gaps in your organization, determine which are more important to address first, and develop a roadmap to building a sustainable, high-performing organization. Are you ready to start?
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About the Author
Jay Weiser is the Principal and Founder of Jay Weiser Consulting. Fueled by a passion for helping clients reach their potential, he enables leadership teams and their organizations to not only survive but thrive in the face of disruptiveness and uncertainty.