Will your organization still exist 20 years from now? How about 50 years or even 100 years into the future?
There are clear indicators right in front of you that serve as clues to the probability that your company will thrive and prosper or wither away into the dust of also-rans.
Yes, there are many factors or variables that make or break an organization, such as the industry it’s in, the sorts of products it makes, the services it provides, and the economics and viability of its business model.
In every organization there are clear signs that it is poised to deal with the challenges of the future. These indicators can be found in its corporate culture. Think of them as markers in the company’s DNA. Each marker is good news because it shows that you have a healthy organization.
Over the last 30 years, the High Road® Institute has studied the cultures of successful and unsuccessful organizations. From this research, we have uncovered 15½ specific cultural norms that when in place boosts the odds that the organization will survive the winds of change and capriciousness of Murphy’s Law.
All but one of the 15 easily identifiable clues is clustered into three areas: 1) A Sense of Purpose, 2) Recognition and Acceptance, and 3) Supportive Structure. No single indicator or trait alone will ensure that your organization will be around in 100 years. But if a vast majority of the 15½ markers exist, you have a strong foundation that supports corporate longevity.
Some individuals survive poor living conditions, life-threatening diseases, and health challenges because they have a strong constitution and markers in their DNA which helps them stay healthy no matter what. Similarly, an organization must possess a strong constitution built into its DNA so it can weather a poor economy, threatening competition, or fickle customer challenges.
As you read this, ask yourself: “Do we have this marker in our corporate DNA?” If the condition adds to corporate and individual excellence, then it exists.
A Sense of Purpose Cluster
We have –
Clue 1: A strong sense of our purpose that everyone shares and believes in together with an inspiring vision that excites us all.
Clue 2: A high correlation among the mission, the strategies, the tactics, the measurements, and the rewards.
Clue 3: A widely and broadly shared understanding of where we are going and why.
Clue 4: An open culture with transparency and honest communication.
Clue 5: Sensible alignment between the business’s goals and plans and the organization’s ability to achieve them on time and on budget.
When your leaders, middle managers and front line people are working from the same playbook, it increases the likelihood that everyone will be involved in winning the longevity game. In many organizations, the direction, goals, and tactics are not shared, thus everyone ends up doing his or her own thing, acting like a herd of cats.
Your organization must have in its cultural norms these cornerstone beliefs that lead to longevity:
1. Our ultimate goal is to satisfy every customer—internal and external—and it is our primary responsibility to make that happen.
2. We win together or we lose together; winning is more fun than losing.
Recognition and Acceptance Cluster
We have –
Clue 6: A widespread commitment to be a learning organization, with policies and actions that support the practice of self-development.
Clue 7: A healthy mix of operational, financial, and employee feedback metrics for planning and making specific improvements.
Clue 8: A high respect for individual contributions.
Clue 9: A high respect for team and group contributions.
Clue 10: An explicit and continuing recognition for innovative/creative ideas and quick adoption of those ideas.
To be successful in the long-term, fresh ideas and perspectives must be captured, shared, and then used so that employees grow and the company improves. There are many organizations that stayed the course on what worked before, and they no longer exist.
The way to ensure your people employ continuous improvement and leaders search for better practices is to demonstrate a clear respect for everyone’s efforts and ideas. An organization begins a death spiral when employees are told, “Don’t think. Don’t speak. Just do your job.”
Your organization must have in its cultural norms these cornerstone beliefs that lead to staying relevant.
3. All feedback is valuable because it tells us if our strategies and tactics are working.
4. The more ideas and options we have to choose from, the better our decisions will be.
5. There is always a better way to do something and it’s our job to find it.
6. The actions we measure get managed, so we must measure what is important.
7. The actions we reward get repeated so we must reward only those behaviors that lead to excellence.
Supportive Structure Cluster
We have –
Clue 11: A superior ability to sense signals in the environment, using that awareness to adjust our strategies and tactics.
Clue 12: A high tolerance for different styles and methods.
Clue 13: A high tolerance for uncertainty.
Clue 14: A solid yet flexible structure designed around excellence and increasing value for every stakeholder.
Clue 15: An ability to successfully resolve the tension between wants and needs, and between the short-term fruits and long range investments.
Have you noticed that some machines seem to last beyond their planned lifetime and others fail before the warranty is out? When quality is prioritized and the machine is maintained while in use, the machine could operate seemingly forever.
An organization is a ‘machine’ that operates daily. Great companies design quality into strategies, decisions, goals, rewards, compensation, hiring practices, etc. Then they have their eyes wide open and keep their ears to the ground and when something isn’t working as planned, it gets fixed immediately.
To the detriment of customers, employees, lenders, and vendors, many of today’s business executives are overly focused on lowering costs, increasing profits, and receiving the next bonus check or stock option. While the ‘machine’ operates all around them, they are blind to the indicators that shout “the machine is failing!”
Your organization must have in its cultural norms these cornerstone beliefs that lead to sustainability.
8. Only those organizations that adapt to changing times stay relevant and this is the reason we must remain flexible and adaptable.
9. In the future nothing is guaranteed or can be taken for granted, so we must plan the future we want.
10. There are only two time frames: today and tomorrow. Today is for delivering what we promised yesterday and for preparing to do the same tomorrow.
11. If everyone in the organization thinks and acts the same we are in trouble. Therefore, we seek out diverse opinions, ideas, and ways of being so we can see the forest and its trees.
The Final Marker or Clue
We have –
Clue 15½: The ability to manage and lead towards one overriding and inspiring vision.
You might notice that this last clue is related to the first clue and that is intentional. It is one thing to write an inspirational vision and another thing to lead people to that vision while managing the organization with intention.
Consultants who pick through the rubble of failed organizations will tell you that the primary reason for the failure is that the leaders were not leading. Entrepreneurs, technologists, salespeople, inventors, and dreamers who create a business organization prefer to work in the business rather than on the business. They like selling, producing, and dreaming, but they typically abhor managing people, processes and systems. It is like the captain of a cruise ship who spends the day in the lounge chatting with the passengers while the ship is left to follow the currents and tides.
A leader of the organization must be the person everyone looks to for guidance and direction but when this individual is on the shop floor, out making sales calls, or a captive in endless meetings, there is no one steering the organization towards its desired destination.
Your organization must have in its cultural norms this final cornerstone belief that leads to staying alive.
12. If we fill this organization with bright dedicated people, employ the best ideas, and deliver the best products and services we will achieve everything that we can imagine.
The reason this last clue is only a half one is because what happens next is totally up to you. You have in your hands a diagnostic tool and 12 specific improvements that will help your organization prosper. You now have a plan. What will you do with it?
What You Can Do
Use this checklist to diagnose the health of your organization’s culture. Start conversations with the influencers in your organization about what can be done to add excellence and learning. Get employees involved in things that are not devaluing quality. Select metrics that provide feedback if things are working as planned. Adjust your purpose so that people get excited and inspired.
Finally, share this article with people who want their organizations to be relevant and successful 100 years from now.