Is your organization one for whom “business as usual” no longer works? Whether that result is precipitated by fewer customers, budget cutbacks, employee layoffs and/or furloughs, or some other unplanned change, the point is that you find yourself having to do more with less. The question I hear most often is, “How do we operate given our new reality?”
There are three important reasons why the answers to this question are critical:
- The organization’s short-term survival depends on them.
- Choices made now will have long-term implications: many or most of the new ways of operating are likely to be permanent.
- In addition to keeping employees engaged now, management must consider how to retain good performers when the economy turns around and people have more options about where to work.
My answer to the question of how to operate given the new reality is that the focus, first and foremost, has got to be on employees. Here’s why: creating an “employee-centered workplace” produces a situation in which all stakeholders are better off. I define “employee-centered workplace” as an environment in which every person, process, program, and policy is focused on helping employees become fully successful. When they are fully successful, individuals serve customers and clients well, and the organization is able to deliver its promised value.
Although not an exhaustive list, here are six steps to get you started on optimizing your results now and on positioning your organization for success in the coming recovery.
1. Identify clearly the value the organization provides for its customers or clients.
Organizations cannot optimize results if the value they provide is not crystal clear to all parties. Their value is not who they are or what they do; it’s the benefits customers and clients receive (from their perspective) as a result of having purchased the products or services. For example, first responders such as firefighters, police, and aid workers take action rapidly in emergency situations; if asked, they will tell you that’s their job. But the value they provide is preserving lives and property.
2. Make sure everyone and everything in the organization supports the value it provides.
Every person, process, program, and policy must contribute to the organization’s value. If they do not, the organization is wasting resources and cannot optimize its business results.
It is critical that every employee sees clearly the value the organization offers and, importantly, how he/she contributes to providing it. When both these conditions are met, workers are inspired to perform their best because they understand the importance of the roles they play. Imagine the difference in motivation and engagement, for example, between a park employee who goes to work every day focused on the number of trash cans to be emptied, bathrooms to be cleaned, and lawns to be mowed, vs. one who anticipates spending the day ensuring that people have a safe and enjoyable recreation experience.
3. Empower employees by teaching them that they always have choices.
While there are many situations over which we have little or no control, we have two sets of choices about how to address their consequences. First, we always have control over how we view our situations: we get to choose how we experience them, no matter how dire they may be. For example, we can choose to see the current economic downturn as an opportunity to be leveraged, or we can decide to see it as an obstacle against which we are helpless to act.
Second, we get to choose how to take action to address the situations facing us. In a program I offer called Influencing Options, I teach people about three empowering, healthy options they have in any situation:
- Influence – i.e., try to change the external circumstances.
- Accept – i.e., change their internal mindset and truly let it go.
- Remove – i.e., leave, either immediately or in the future.
4. Prioritize by assessing the extent to which every person, program, process, and policy supports the value the organization provides.
Once the organization’s value is clarified, management must be relentless about judging everything in the organization against this standard: “How much does it contribute to the value we offer?”
If the answer is “nothing,” stop doing it or get rid of it! Keep those people and things that are critical to providing the value — i.e., the organization would be unable to provide the value if they were missing. As resources permit, add the people and things that are very important — i.e., there would be a significant negative impact on the quality of the value (from the customers’ and clients’ perspective) if they were missing. Then add the people and things that are important — i.e., that would have a negative impact if missing. Under no circumstances should management add people or things that fail to contribute to the value provided by the organization.
5. Support and nurture your managers, especially those on the front lines.
It is more important than ever for organizations to support their management team, especially those who work most closely with employees. This is not the time to skimp on the training and development that prepares them for their critical roles! If they do not feel supported, how can they possibly be expected to inspire and support their employees? Researchers repeatedly have shown that supervisors’ behaviors have a direct impact on employee behaviors and attitudes. Happy customers are out of the question when the employees who serve them are unhappy or dissatisfied.
6. Be as open and transparent in providing information as possible.
It’s in everyone’s best interests for employees to be fully informed. Let them in on as much of the decision-making as possible. Communicate process and results frequently and widely. If people believe the decision-making process is fair, they will accept the results even if they don’t like or agree with them.
You may think that you cannot afford to take any of the above actions. My question is, how can you afford not to take them? The organization’s short-term survival and its long-term ability to thrive are at stake.
Recommended Books on What to Do When “Business as Usual” Doesn’t Work Anymore:
- The End of Business As Usual: Rewire the Way You Work to Succeed in the Consumer Revolution
- Screw Business As Usual
- Business As Unusual: The Handbook for Managing and Supervising Organizational Change
- Guts!: Companies that Blow the Doors off Business-as-usual
- No More Business as Usual
Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. For additional articles please visit our web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com at (562) 985-0333.
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