Three Invisible Obstacles to Profitable Growth

Most CEOs I meet run their organizations atop a false assumption that creates a powerful yet almost invisible drag on their performance.  Do you have the same false assumption that they do?

The assumption is that your communication of strategy, tactics, goals, and behaviors through the organization actually works the way you intend.  Yes, you’re the CEO.  Yes, you do communicate with your team – perhaps even very often.  But note well that there is a difference between “telling” and “effectively communicating,” in a manner designed to create and reinforce desired behaviors and results.

During a recent coaching session with the CEO and General Manager of a successful office furniture distributor, both of them were shocked to learn that they were out of alignment on the most fundamental goal for the business.  The CEO’s top priority for the GM: create profitable growth.   The GM, however, believed that her top priority was to protect the CEO’s investment.  More background: The CEO and GM have worked together for years and are also friends away from the office.

Neither could fathom how it was possible – after all they worked together for years and were also friends – to be out of alignment in such a fundamental way.  Yet they were.

Now think about your leadership team and front-line staff, and consider the probability that you’re just not all as in synch as you should be.  My own experience with numerous clients and plenty of independent, credible research suggests that it’s not just highly likely – it’s predictable.

Lack of alignment is predictable when 1 or more of the following 3 conditions – invisible obstacles to profitable growth – exist in your business:

Unclear Vision, Strategy, and Metrics to Measure Progress

The Problem:
If you haven’t clarified your vision (“where” the business is headed) and your strategy (“how” you are going to approach your chosen markets to make the vision a reality), you can’t communicate a sense of direction and guidelines to help your people make decisions in their day-to-day work.  What’s more, the absence of simple, clear metrics to indicate progress reduces accountability and further increases confusion regarding what’s most important.  The acid test: pick 4 people at random in your company and ask them to tell you your vision, your strategy, and the KPIs that are most critical to the business achieving its objectives this year.  At least 3 of them should answer all three elements accurately.

How it Feels:
Like the business is adrift and that you’re constantly reacting to external events.

The Fix:
Gather your senior team and invest the time and energy to create a clear vision and strategy for your business.  A qualified coach or external facilitator with a proven process for this will dramatically improve the quality of your dialogue and the outcome, which must be actionable for it to have value.  Once the strategy is clear, create Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to measure critical numbers for both people and process, which must always remain in balance.

Ineffective Communication

The Problem:
In their book “Made to Stick,” Chip and Dan Heath highlight The Curse of Knowledge as a key contributor to ineffective communication.  The research behind this demonstrates that you routinely communicate from your own frame of reference (i.e. CEO or Business Owner with complete access to all results and records of the business plus your own thoughts about the future).  The Curse of Knowledge causes you to communicate in ways that make it difficult for your team to understand and internalize.  It’s like the Gary Larson cartoon with a man talking to his dog and all the dog hears is “Blah, blah, blah, Fido.  Blah, blah, blah Fido.”  The details are lost in translation!

How it Feels:
You wonder why your front line staff don’t say and do the things that you would say and do if you were in their jobs yourself and why they don’t “get it.”

The Fix:
Be sure that your communications are translated in a way that everyone in the organization – from top to bottom – can clearly understand and act upon them.  Humans are fantastic at pattern recognition – so think about explaining strategies and plans in familiar terms; for example “your tic-tac-toe” strategy” or “this quarter’s Jeopardy theme to ensure that we ask our customers 3 questions on every call.”  You should spend at least as much time figuring out how to translate your strategies and initiatives as you do creating them to ensure understanding and to permanently overcome the Curse of Knowledge.

Lack of Regular Communication Rhythms

The Problem:
Repetition is the mother of all learning.  It’s how you learned your multiplication tables, how to ride a bike, how to eat, and virtually every other behavior and piece of knowledge you’ve mastered.  Unless you have regular communication rhythms – daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual – established as habitual practices, you are limiting repetition learning, information flow, and “think” time for your senior team.  In full swing, for example, a daily huddle discipline can completely align an organization with hundreds of staff in the span of 30 minutes – with most of the staff attending a single 6-7 minute meeting.

How it Feels:
Like you are disconnected from your front line staff and customer touch points or like the organization isn’t as “tight” as it used to be when it was smaller.

The Fix:
Implement daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meeting rhythms in your business.  Daily huddles are to synch work units and to create daily top-to-bottom alignment and information flow.  Weekly meetings are for your extended management team to focus on monthly objectives, obstacles, and problem solving.  Monthly meetings are for senior management to focus on quarterly objectives, obstacles, problem solving, team development / learning, and the evolution of your plan.  Quarterly meetings are for executive management to focus on strategy, annual objectives, longer-term goals, team development / learning, and the evolution of your plan.

If any one of these three conditions exist in your business, it is predictable that you have a lack of alignment – which means that your organization is falling victim to an invisible drag on performance and growth.

Clint Eastwood as Cool Hand Luke said “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”  Overcoming your assumptions and naming the right problem is always about 50% of any solution.  The other 50% lies in your ability to implement The Fix – processes and disciplines – required to create a permanent remedy.

Mark Green is a business growth expert who works with companies to help them implement a proven, easy-to-use framework to run and grow the business faster and more profitably, while expending less effort and less time. To learn more about Mark or his firm, visit his website or contact him directly at (888) 720-7337 or Mark.Green@Performance-Dynamics.net.

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