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This month's topic: Building Blocks for a Vital Organization, Part II

August 23, 2005      
Topics of Trust and Leadership, from the authors of The Trusted Leader


The Trusted Leader

Previous Issues:

Building Blocks for a Vital Organization, Part I

Is Your Organization Vital?

Developing a Community of Future Leaders


Next month's issue: The Building Blocks for a Vital Organization, Part III


The authors of The Trusted LeaderIn this article we continue our discussion of the building blocks for vital organizations.

Last month's issue covered 1, 2, and 3, which were Know What Makes the Business Tick, Know the Performance Indicators and Rewards, and Delineate Roles and Responsibilities.

As always, your feedback and comments on this newsletter are welcome at info@trustedleader.com.

-Rob and Anne-

7 Building Blocks for a Vital Organization, Part II

Understand How Business is Done

In the vital organization, employees truly understand how the company does business. If yours is an insurance company, does everyone in the organization understand what happens when someone calls up and says “I want to buy insurance?”

Or would it be more accurate to say that there are silos of knowledge in your company, and someone in one department might not really have any idea how work gets done elsewhere – how their own personal cog fits onto the wheel?

Just about the neatest technique we’ve seen used to support this building block is a “day in the life” program, where people from various parts of the company are tapped to spend a full day with a particular customer, learning about that customer’s business and its needs from their perspective.

“Word spreads; an entire department, sometimes an entire company, gains insights simply by sending a representative into “new” territory for eight hours.”

Another similar, technique is to have people “spend a day in the life of your product, or service.” At one manufacturing company we know of, employees from different departments are regularly rotated through a “day on the assembly line.” They literally follow the path the product takes as it is assembled and readied for shipping.

Another iteration of this technique? The shadow program, where employees – again at a variety of levels – are tapped to spend a day with a manager from a different function.

The value of these programs is that the benefit extends quickly beyond the person or people who participate directly. Word spreads; an entire department, sometimes an entire company, gains insights simply by sending a representative into “new” territory for eight hours.

Two HBR articles come to mind: Staple Yourself to an Order (Benson P. Shapiro, V. Kasturi Rangan, and John J. Sviokla, July 1992) and Spend a Day in the Life of Your Customers (Francis J. Guillart, Frederick D. Sturdivant, January 1994). Worth a read.

Prepare for Exceptions

You can't always predict them, but you can have a policy for dealing with “exceptions.” Most people know what to do under “normal” circumstances. But many organizations get stumped when faced with a situation that is even slightly out of the ordinary.

What happens, for instance, when a product that has never been customized needs to be customized for an important customer? Is there a chain of command in place to make the requisite decisions? Or will the request flounder for weeks, bouncing back and forth from manager to manager while the customer waxes angry and employees become uneasy?

“If something unusual crops up, the person it touches first must say 'OK, this is an exception; let’s not try to do this our normal way.'”

Consider one publishing company we know of, which has a very neat way of handling proposals from would-be authors – at least those that are either very good or very bad. Proposals that are clearly “on target” are immediately accepted, and proposals that clearly “won’t work” are immediately rejected.

But the review process doesn’t take into consideration those proposals that might be “almost right” -- the ones that don’t quite fit, but that have potential. Those neither-here-nor-there documents bounce from desk to desk, sometimes for months. And as time passes, anyone whose desk they bounce onto is increasingly reluctant to take any action. The extra effort to bring about closure – the trying to figure out what should be done and by whom – is increasingly distasteful because it gets in the way of the otherwise smooth accept-or-reject policy. Meanwhile, irritation builds on the outside.

One way to begin to create and sustain this building block is to demand that your troops “name it and claim it.” If something unusual crops up, the person it touches first must say “OK, this is an exception; let’s not try to do this our ‘normal’ way” and go from there. Another idea is to devote a cadre of experts to “exceptions” – special deals, quirky programs. These people are employed specifically to deal with things that are out of the norm.

Do the math for your own company. What is the value (or the cost) of the typical “exception?” The customized product for an important client? The accelerated delivery of a product? How much time (and money) are you losing while your “exceptions” remain unresolved? You might be better off dedicating an individual, or a small group, to the job.

Stay tuned for our September issue, when we discuss building block 6, Resolve Conflicts.

If you have something to say about organizational vitality let us know.

~ ~ ~

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