10 Ways to Improve Your Organisation

Keep moving forward or get left behind!

Ambulance Chasing: Most consulting assignments are ‘ambulance chasing’ jobs i.e. something is obviously broken. Consultants are then tasked with coming to ‘fix’ this. There’s nothing unethical about this (a) the client has an issue where they need support (b) a consultant delivers the required support (c) assuming that the job is completed satisfactorily, they both live happily ever after. But…

Wider Menu: Problem solving is a very limited part of a wider menu that organization development consultants bring to the table. Many more proactive approaches are potentially available. In general terms, there are two possible drivers of organization change (1) vision inspired e.g. an effort to create a better tomorrow or (2) pain driven – focusing on more immediate performance issues.    In my experience circa 95% of organization development projects are ‘pain driven’ e.g. they are directed towards resolving immediate problems. So, why do executive teams constantly eat from a limited menu? John F. McDonnell suggests the following: “Without the spur of a crisis or a period of great stress, most organizations — like most people — are incapable of changing.” To use a musical analogy, it’s as if managers only know one scale and continually repeat this over and over again. Here’s a wider list of options for you to consider…

Option #1: Perfect Plc: The core idea here is to develop a Perfect Organization…Perfect Foresight (what the future will look like): Perfect Place to Work (for staff): Perfect Partner (for customers/suppliers): Perfect Place to Invest (for the parent company).

Advantages: Building a better tomorrow is a central idea in all successful change programmes. Under this heading you develop the future strategy with the leadership team and staff. Executives craft a clear future vision of the organization which is emotionally appealing to all stakeholders. And it’s not just about clarity. We need to ask: How inspiring or exciting this is and if it addresses WIFM? (“What’s in it for me?”).

Disadvantages: Because this is a somewhat unusual approach it can be viewed cynically (internally) and needs careful communications. It’s useful to have a positive prize for staff to aim towards e.g. to demonstrate how some of the savings made could be reinvested in the people.

Option #2: The BIG 6: Run the ruler over the entire organization. What’s working well and what’s not? What needs to start? Come up with a small number of key projects (e.g. 6) to work on. There’s an upper limit to what can be done. Therefore, you have to be confident enough to take things off the list, focusing on the big bets that will really make a difference. A change strategy implies choice. You can’t fight a battle on 57 fronts simultaneously.

Advantages: All organizations have a range of presenting issues. But only a tiny minority are shark issues which will really improve performance. Your job is to unearth those key issues. Priority issues jump out (they don’t get lost in the noise of everything else going on).

Disadvantages: Depending on the exact method deployed, can take some consulting time/is costly. Caveat: Focus some communications on the good news (what’s working well) alongside what needs to be fixed. 

Option #3: Strategy Review: Structured time out to consider the overall strategy for the organization. How clear is this? How well communicated – internally and externally? Do you have the resources to deliver on this?

Advantages: The fundamental element in developing high octane performance = Fog Clearance. Strategy reviews can be run at different levels of detail – but the end goal is always to make the road ahead clear and allow fast progress towards this.

Disadvantages: Depending on the design, it can be too abstract for some participants. Usually needs a drill down analysis into competitor offerings and sufficient time to consider a range of possible futures. Not cheap (if done comprehensively). Sometimes the process can be too-complex (you end up with a 50-page strategy manual that no-one pays attention to).

Option #4: CEO/Executive Coaching: Executives are the engine of the business and need to be functioning well. Provides access to authentic models of leadership along with a range of diagnostic tools to determine the current state of play. It can incorporate an Executive Audit i.e. getting underperforming leaders out of the business.

Advantages: Helps the CEO/senior executive to fully understand their role. What do they need to do? How should they deliver this? Can be a useful private forum for personal development or more general life issues. Executives normally welcome this (not hard to understand as it’s focused on their individual needs).

Disadvantages: Effectiveness depends on 2 things. Can you find the right coach? And does the individual executive really have an appetite for this? Impact tends to be slow (several months at best). Can be a tough personal journey. Not for the faint hearted.

Option #5: Management Teambuilding: How well is the senior team functioning vis a vis best practice models of executive teams? Sometimes this approach is combined with Executive Coaching.

Advantages: Good opportunity to shape how the senior team work together. Lays down strong ‘groundrules’/sets the CEO’s expectations for the future. Can lead to a common understanding around how to manage the organization. Avoids conflict degenerating into combat among the senior team.

Disadvantages: Addresses both the ‘hard side’ of the agenda (how we want the business to run/perform) along with the ‘softer stuff’ (how we will behave). Not every manager is up for robust conversations.

Option #6: Staff Engagement: There are a plethora of ways to engage staff in the effective running of the organization. Often the best approach is to focus on ‘real’ problems and engage people in the resolution of these.

Advantages: People don’t resist their own ideas! Can be quite powerful/radical. There are a wide range of approaches (some quite creative) to this particular agenda.

Disadvantages: Time consuming and somewhat disruptive to the organization (unless you narrow the focus to specific topics). Requires heavy up-front investment. Sometimes completed as a ‘once-off’ rather than being sustainable (and falls off the radar).

Option #7: Organization Scorecard: Groundrules or values approach to changing internal behaviour. Few organizations follow this approach really well and maximize the impact. Looks simple – but can be difficult to implement. You have to really believe in this.

Advantages: Potentially useful if implemented well (i.e. it is a sustainable system that doesn’t need a lot of TLC). Can build on work already completed internally, ensuring that this becomes part of the way you manage the organization.

Disadvantages: Often part of a jigsaw – rather than a single, stand-alone piece of work. Where there are disconnects e.g. the organization leaders saying one thing and doing another – this can lead to cynicism and detracts value.

Option #8: Process Reengineering: To what extent do you need to smarten internal processes? The focus is on critical performance factors (the key processes in the business). While there’s some genius in the detail around how this is actually done, the basic idea is simple. Key processes are mapped (historically on paper – now using specialized software). A review of these maps indicates the most likely areas of cost savings (through process redesign, simplification or both).

Advantages: There are several upsides. Firstly, the gains made are completely measureable/quantifiable. It’s easy to see a ‘before’ and ‘after’ shot of what has happened (as distinct from a management development programme where it’s more difficult to measure outcomes). Secondly, the process is relatively short. Process re-engineering gains can normally be achieved over a 12-week period. Finally, if set up correctly, this can be highly engaging.

Disadvantages: Some of the other approaches to change could be described as ‘revolutionary’. They are BIG BANG changes, radical overhauls of existing systems, the organizational equivalent of the TV programme ‘Extreme Makeover’ where a house gets knocked down and completely rebuilt.   In contrast, a Process Re-engineering/Workout initiative is typically a series of small evolutionary steps.

Option #9: Cultural Change: The shorthand definition of culture is: “The way things are done around here.” Assuming you have solid ideas about the new culture, several levers are available to push people towards this (Performance Management; Engagement; Rewards; Rituals and Storytelling are probably the most potent).

Step 1: Culture Mapping: The concept of organization culture comes from anthropology. A consultant attempting to understand the culture in Google is on a similar mission to an anthropologist looking at the Fulani tribe in Nigeria. Goal = establishing the key beliefs in the existing culture (usually less than 6).

 Step 2: Future Proofing: Sometimes organizations are clear on what they want to ‘change’ but less certain about what they want to become. What will a better tomorrow look like? It’s not possible to change the entire culture (that doesn’t make sense). Culture is built over time. It’s normally either the shadow of a strong leader (Hewlett Packard & Ryanair are great examples) or the result of the organization learning to ‘survive’ in a particular environment over time.

Step 3: Behaviour Modification: The final stage in a cultural change programme is to modify people’s behaviour. The term ‘Behaviour Modification’ may sound like a social science experiment – but isn’t that what all leaders are engaged in?

Disadvantages: This can be quite a difficult ‘approach’ to explain to both managers and staff. Cultural issues are normally deeply embedded into the DNA of the organization and can’t simply be thrown overboard. In reality ‘changing’ an organization culture is an effort to identify elements to ‘change’ and elements to keep.

Option #10: Cause Marketing (CSR): Some companies choose a Corporate Social Responsibility agenda in order to ensure that the company ‘stands for’ something positive. This can be a simple ‘sponsorship’ arrangement (e.g. RSA Insurance & the Irish Cricket Team; Guinness sponsoring Hurling with the GAA).

Advantages: In more recent times, the issue of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is often linked to the core product e.g. the Dove campaign for Real Beauty is a way for normal women (not supermodels) to identify with the company’s products. Closer to home, AIB sponsored the Better Ireland awards – which gave them a presence in local communities (a good fit with a business located in local communities). Some of the German discount supermarkets are now going down this route. Normally, this idea is not comprehensive enough to build an entire change plan around it – but it can be ‘part of’ a wider programme. One of the upsides of CSR is that it allows employees to feel that the company stands for something noble – not just profitability.

Disadvantages: May not provide a fully comprehensive solution – but can be part of a jigsaw of events. Some companies allow staff to ‘choose’ a cause – often related to something internal e.g. someone may have a child or a family member with a particular medical condition. Key Point: This is not about cheque book support – but about developing real staff engagement – a physical demonstration of the company beliefs in action.

Execution = Key: ‘Having just a vision is no solution, everything depends on Execution.’  Ideas are always interesting, but results pay the bills. At some point all the boring stuff (plans, timelines, clear ownership, progress chasing, dealing with underperformance) come into play to ensure that this stuff doesn’t fall by the wayside.

Why not consider some of these wider approaches to Organization Development? Don’t limit yourself to what you have always done before. Organization Development offers a world of possibilities. As  Jack Welch reminded us: “Change before you have to.”


PS Lighter Notes:

Bumper Stickers from the USA.

 Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

 As long as there are tests, there will be prayer in public schools.

Sometimes I wake up grumpy; other times I let him sleep.

 When you do a good deed, get a receipt, in case heaven is like the IRS.

 If we aren’t supposed to eat animals, why are they made of meat?

 I souport publik edekasion.

There are 3 kinds of people: those who can count and those who can’t.

Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘Nice doggie!’… till you can find a rock.

Never raise your hands to your kids. It leaves your groin unprotected.

If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?

I intend to live forever — so far, so good.

Shin: a device for finding furniture in the dark.

How do you tell when you run out of invisible ink?

Join the Army. Meet interesting people. Kill them.

Laughing stock: cattle with a sense of humor.

Wear short sleeves! Support your right to bare arms!

“Anytime 4 New Yorkers get into a cab together without arguing, a bank robbery has just taken place.”
- Johnny Carson

Irish Jokes: Paddy says to Mick: “I found this pen. Is it yours?” 

Mick Says: “Throw it over here and I’ll check.” and then starts writing with it.

“That’s mine all right” he says.

“How do you know?” asks Paddy

“Look. It’s my handwriting!” 


Non PC Joke from Kevin Griffin – look away now if you are easily offended…

“I Just got back from Thailand and had a lucky escape with a Ladyboy. She looked like a lady, walked like a lady, even kissed like a lady. It was only when she drove me to her place and reversed the car into the garage first time – that I thought to myself: “Hey, hang on a minute here….”

Check our website http://www.tandemconsulting.ie or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.


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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One Response to 10 Ways to Improve Your Organisation

  1. John Rothgeb says:

    Great post and summary of approaches to improving an organization. My preferred approach is a hybrid approach starting with staff engagement and use a little of the other approaches where needed or possible. I think the way to do staff engagement is to push some authority down to the lowest level (allow employees to make decisions up to some level, say $100 or $500, in favor of customers or employees) thus freeing up managers for more important decisions and empowering employees. The advantage is that you get to see a track record of employee decisions to know who to promote and it most directly affects the customers. The danger there is some managers aren’t up to give any authority or decision away no matter what.

    If that isn’t a possibility, then I like the “low hanging fruit” approach. Find what is easiest to do, will have the most impact on customers and/or employees and (20%) the least effort will have the (80%) most effect. The difficulty with that is in the identification. It usually takes lots of good adn focused conversations with both customers and employees as well as solid data analysis.

    Thanks for the jokes!

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