12 Keys to an Effective Organization (Part 3 of 3)
Submitted by Herman Dixon, CLU, CLF, LUTCF, LTCP
NAIFA-West Virginia Past President, Speaker, Author, Executive Advisor
CLICK HERE for previous articles featuring Parts 1 and 2
Our study of the 12 Keys to an Effective Organization continues with keys #9 through #12.
(9) The effective organization develops people continuously. It was once said that business grows to the same degree that the people connected to that business grow.
Development costs, but it also pays. Effective organizations understand that the better road to excellence comes from enabling their associates to expand their comfort zones of learning.
The Marriott Corporation spends in the tens of millions each year on developing their expanding team of associates. Their commitment to enabling their associates to climb the ladder of success within the Marriott structure has long been a leading factor in their excellent retention and development of personnel. In turn, this culture of family and unlimited opportunity has led to sound business expansion and solid profit over the years. Their philosophy centers on the reality that training determines most often what they will become.
The effective organization has well-developed plans that embody the cafeteria of options necessary for efficient growth and development. Learning programs are a process, not a project. This simply means that investment dollars are not thrown at challenges only when those challenges make it necessary to take some action. These organizations follow the thoughts of former President Dwight Eisenhower, "Neither a wiser man nor a brave man lies down on the tracks of history to wait for the train of the future to run over him."
Effective organizations do the same as it pertains to people development. They strategize about the future and then provide the development that related associates will need to meet and master future demands in the areas critical to business and personal success. Famed mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said, “In the conditions of modern life, the rule is absolute, the race that does not value trained intelligence is doomed.” The same can apply to companies: the one that does not continually develop its people will eventually be doomed.
(10) The effective organization has a true focus on customers and the area community. It has long been noted in multiple business settings that the customer is the most important person in any business. Without someone to buy a product or service, the business offering would be futile. Further, since most often employees come from the area community, impacted business operations must willfully engage within the community so that it demonstrates outward commitment. People, the community, in turn will respond and support those who echo their values, listen and are attentive to their needs, and who provide opportunity for lifestyle enhancement. Effective organizations flourish when customers are appreciably praised and communities are actively supported.
State Farm Insurance Companies are well-known for their “good neighbor” mindset. The company’s commitment to their broad customer-based communities is unprecedented. Its independent agents are the company’s immediate partners responsible for high attention to customers and active participation in every community represented. State Farm discovered early in their history that success depended greatly on how the community at large viewed their brand. They understood that placing a focus on making each community in their sphere of influence the best it can be through many varied philanthropic activities, proves to all concerned that they are a company to be trusted. In essence, the organization is part of the community and what impacts the community also impacts the company, its agents, and its success.
Effective organizations will never take a blind view of the communities and related areas in which they are housed. Coretta Scott King said, “The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by the compassionate action of its members.” That simple yet powerful statement most effectively describes how effective organizations strive to have impact. As a member of the community, they assess the needs and then go about making an impact.
(11) The effective organization utilizes clear, concise communication. Poor communication has long been the foundation for disagreements, wars, and failures in processes. It has even been said that 60% of all management shortfalls result from flawed communication of some type. Therefore, it is critically important to ensure that any communication is exactly what is expected. S. W. Steven Brown said, “Communication does not begin with being understood, but with understanding others.”
Effective organizations understand that messaging, whether it is internal to its associates or external to its customers, as well as the community at large, is vital to enable goals to be reached and branding to be promoted. People have to understand what their role may be and what specifically needs to be accomplished. Customers have to understand how a product or service adds value to their personal situation. The community at large must understand how corporate entities help make their community more progressive and inviting. What’s said or left unsaid matters. It can be as Peter Drucker once noted, “The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn’t being said.”
Clear, concise communication follows many patterns, but one thing remains constant. That one thing is simply to always communicate what individuals, customers, or the community at large need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Effective organizations strive to enact that reality. It is not simply sending a message, but more importantly, it is presenting a direction; a direction that in its content creates precise meaning and clear understanding so that even the most discrete critic has complete awareness of what is being done and why.
When communication falls short, you will find challenges. Here are two examples:
Coca-Cola decided to launch a campaign to keep up with Pepsi, a new rival at the time. They declared that they were launching a new Coke brand in hopes of keeping themselves looking fresh and better than ever. Unfortunately, customers didn't want a new brand of Coke and began stockpiling existing beverages. The company quickly back peddled and brought back the old Coke but the damage had been done.
Toyota Motors had an issue with several models having faulty brakes. They downplayed the challenge and did not make a recall. When they finally decided to do so, it was too late for the millions of vehicles that had issues. Not until Consumer Reports came out strongly against the vehicles in question did they alter their communications and convey what they should have initially communicated. That decision was too late. Although the situation was eventually fully handled, failing to accept responsibility from the outset affected how customers perceived Toyota's brand.
One of the best examples of effective communication occurred in 1982 when a deranged individual injected the best selling Tylenol capsules with poison that ended up killing several individuals. McNeil Consumer Products, a subsidiary of the health care giant, Johnson & Johnson, manufactured Tylenol. To its credit, the company took an active role with the media in issuing mass warning communications and immediately called for a massive recall of the more than 31 million bottles of Tylenol in circulation. Though to this day no one has been charged with this crime, the company’s clear and effective communication brought forth safety precautions that have literally prevented other similar issues from occurring.
Whether it is addressing new company policy or changes in pricing or even warnings to the community, effective organizations do not resist the challenges of providing information that needs to be heard. They take no shortcuts. They boldly go forward. They communicate and, in the end, they succeed. Truly, communication is serious business. The power of words matters. Effective organizations communicate effectively.
(12) The effective organization directs attention toward the future. One of the most famous quotes regarding future encounters came from National Hockey League Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.” Effective organizations have a focus in their operations on where the “puck” is going to be. They don’t necessarily overlook current reality; but, they do understand that what got them to where they are today, will most likely not keep them in the forefront in the future. Therefore, they must evaluate the market and focus on future needs and demands so that they are better positioned to cascade the rapids of future demands.
Effective organizations are never “forced” into the future. They believe in the future. They keep their eye focused on the future. They firmly believe, despite their current baseline of success, that their best is yet to come. This keeps them striving for a higher level of excellence and also impacts how they are evaluating their operations, personnel and skills demands. As Will and Ariel Durant once noted, “The future never just happened. It was created.”
Apple is a brand that has had its focus on the future. Since its launch in 1976 in a garage, it has transitioned to an international giant of current times. Its concept of Mac vs PC solidified its position in the personal computer arena as a unique alternative for consumers. Apple’s pledge to create the next best thing makes consumers lives easier and better. Thus the company’s growth from its humble MAC to iPhones, iPads, and now television, plus what is yet to be produced, is a great example of how an effective organization evaluates the marketplace, looks to the future and then soars to become part of and/or a leader in the effort. It is not only marketing exploration, but more importantly, with such organizations, it is an expected way of life. Without such commitment, where would the next great product or service evolve?
Effective organizations are the lifeblood of the world’s marketplace and a valuable component of consumer society. Their unique commitment to excellence and to creating value is unparalleled in today’s thriving economy. They have created a cornerstone of strength that enables their structure to soar to new heights. Is it then possible for any business to join their successful ranks? Perhaps it is. However, it will demand strict adherence to the 12 Keys and for committing to not simply great impact on its corner of society, but to become extraordinary in their endeavors. Only then will the essence of effectiveness be realized.