Ensuring Forward Motion

I want to share a few surprising and recurring statements that should make senior leaders in two industries pause – the third one is courtesy of Covid-19. Together these statements demonstrate the type of disconnect that can be reflected in organizations of all types and sizes. We hear these statements from employees, managers, and even HR professionals.

* We are a non-profit, so we aren’t focused on revenue.
* We are a government contractor, so we can’t focus on quality.
* When Covid-19 took hold of the country, we found that we did nothing until we had a better sense of what the future held.

These did not make the list because they were said only once, or even three times. I am sharing them because it’s important for leaders in all industries to understand the deep and frequent disconnect that can exist between employees and the top unless you work hard to maintain that connection. It’s one of the reasons we at Oyster are proponents of quality employee engagement efforts.  Because engagement, in addition to being rocket fuel for higher performance, also leads to clarification and alignment around effort. Without that, it’s like accelerating at the top while braking down below, which destroys the organizational engine.

Non-profits can use different financial terms, but in the end, they still crave profit. It’s more a matter of where that money then goes – instead of to shareholders, it goes someplace like a program or a reinvestment into an organization or an industry (as with associations). Over the years I have had many people misunderstand the value of success for non-profits. They frequently don’t understand financial success and good management equal survival – that is, survival of their purpose, goal, cause, or passion. And don’t get me started on all the people who say they think it would be “nice” to retire at a non-profit, as though you get to nap after lunch. If we shoot low, we might be successful in the short-term, but survival is unlikely. Financial acumen is essential in all organizations, so we shouldn’t rest in this concept applying only to non-profits.

We tend to hear Statement 2 when managers at government contractors woefully wish out loud that they were at a better place where quality mattered. Now, I do get where this comes from. There are still some body shops out there churning through government work, off in a corner where quality isn’t a focus. But in general, when senior leaders and C-level types get a taste of success, we tend to want more of it. And that leads to wanting to do things better. So the people steering really need to tell the people pedaling what the plan is. When managers (including HR professionals) tell me that successful behavior is out of reach “because we are a government contractor,” there is a seriously broken link. We don’t hear this from other industries. But I think similar disconnects can exist at other organizations.

The statement relevant to us all is the third one. After Covid-19, we learned a hard lesson: when do we ever know what the future holds? When suddenly given the gifts most people said they wanted – the ability to work at home all the time, the ability to recoup all that commuting time and in-person meeting time, and the ability to work with one’s dog at one’s feet – what did we do with the time that got created? Some organizations frittered it away and many people struggled and “froze”. It was indeed a traumatic time. But nothing helps us handle trauma and fear better than working on a project, pushing toward a goal, or developing oneself. Your competitors may be moving out, so you better be too.

Here’s something we saw at Oyster. All of the things that lead toward increased organizational success can be done flawlessly with virtual tools. Coach leaders? You bet. Develop employees? For sure. Determine what our employees really think, how they engage our customers, and how long they might stick around, all so we can close the performance gap? Successful leaders get this.

Here’s the message: If leaders in all industries aren’t making it clear that there is forward motion today, no matter what crisis you are facing, you may have backward motion. We learned from the extremely trying times of COVID that we cannot do nothing. We can’t grind to a stop. And we definitely can’t shoot low. When faced with these challenging circumstances that are beyond our control, the key question for is, “What are we doing right now, today, to ensure organizational forward motion, and how are we communicating it?”

Here’s a question that we’ve shared with a lot of leaders, and it’s gets great results. It’s a simple question to ask your employees: “What would you recommend we do differently to manage through this difficult time?” They’ll be pleased you asked, and you might be surprised at the ideas generated. If you do, please continue sharing the results with me. Forward!

Contact Oyster OD for a free consultation on how we can work with you and your leadership team to increase performance. Julie Nielsen is president of Oyster Organizational Development, a firm that helps organizations leverage their teams for success. Julie has over 30 years of experience in helping organizations and individuals succeed. 


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