Does your organization have High Ambition?

"Let's just see where this one goes"

In Dublin City Council these staff are now classified as Outdoor Workers. When I was growing up we called them Binmen. It was the pre-Wheelie Bin era and a rough job. Heavy bins of rubbish had to be lifted above shoulder height and dumped into a truck. All day long, 5 days a week, a lot of horsing. My dad was a binman for over 20 years and, over time, I came to have a sort of fixation on how general waste is dealt with.

Middle East: On a recent visit to Dubai I came across a bin painted with purple flowers. It was definitely the first time I’d ever considered a bin as a thing of beauty. Normally utilitarian and unlikely to receive attention, this particular bin had been transformed into a piece of street art. Some urban planner thought about bins in an ambitious way and then converted that idea into something magical. So, how does this relate to managing organizations?

High Flyers: In similar vein, Etihad Airlines have demonstrated sky high ambition. They set their sights on becoming the best airline on the planet, a journey that’s well underway. The World Travel Awards, described by the Wall street Journal as the Oscars of the airline industry, are made annually. In 2010, 2011 and again in 2012 Etihad Airways won the Worlds Leading Airline Award with what they term as ‘a premier service across all cabins’. I’ve flown both economy and business class with Etihad and the service and in-flight entertainment services are great in both spaces.

Celebrating Achievement: Under the headings of excellence in customer relations, product innovation and business acumen, an event was recently held for the top 700 managers to celebrate the achievements made. It was part meeting and part Lady Ga Ga concert, a dazzling mix of top down information and technical wizardry. The newsletter which reported the event was put together in real time and distributed at the end of the conference. Ray Gammell leads the HR function and it’s great to see talented Irish Managers doing incredibly well abroad (there are a number of Irish people on the Etihad team). Even getting that hard-to-pronounce name embedded into the Irish psyche was a piece of marketing genius led by the sponsorships in Croke Park. At the core of this is the fact that Etihad, like the ad for Esso, believe ambition ‘puts a tiger in the tank’. I believe it too.

Ambition Deficit: While not all organizations can aspire to becoming world class, some suffer from ambition deficit. Ambitious organizations focus on getting the core elements for success lined up. They develop innovation mechanisms, push relentlessly for improvement and connect with staff in a way which triggers their 5th gear. Yes, raw ambition is a thing to admire, regardless of whether it’s focused on creating a world-class airline or the world’s most beautiful bin. Soren Kierkegaard (in Either/Or) captured this when he said:

If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of what can be. Pleasure disappoints, possibility never. And what wine is so sparkling, what so fragrant, what so intoxicating as possibility?

So, here’s the question. If your organization were on trial for having burning ambition, would there be enough evidence to secure a conviction? If you’re not already the CEO or a senior executive, don’t wait for someone else to declare their ambition. Stand up and declare your own. The senior team doesn’t have a monopoly on good ideas and you don’t have to be given permission to aim high.

Paul Mooney

PS Industrial Relations Breaking News! Did you hear about the Kerry gravediggers who went on strike? They said they would only deal with emergency cases.

PPS If you have a spare moment and want to inject a bit of fun in your life, have a glance at ‘Misery Bear‘ on U Tube (see link below). Put it in the diary as ‘Executive Relaxation’ time! (some days, you just need to have a laugh to keep going!).

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About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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