Ensuring Forward Motion

I had been planning to share two surprising and recurring statements that should make senior leaders in two industries pause. But then a third recurring statement crashed onto the scene 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.
* And as of late with Covid-19… We’re doing nothing until we know what the future holds.

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. Right now, our government needs quality at high-speed to battle our invisible enemy. 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. When do we ever know what the future holds? It’s okay to revisit workforce planning in an upside down economy like what we have today, but when suddenly given the gifts most people say they want – 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 are we doing with the time that just got created? It’s sounding to me like the answer can be … very little. Some organizations are frittering it away and many people are slowing or even freezing. And waiting. We are indeed in 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 are seeing 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? There’s no better time. Successful leaders get this.

Here’s the message: If leaders in all industries aren’t making it clear that there is forward motion today, you may have backward motion. That is the drag some leaders feel right now. We can and should be concerned about our country, and even our world, in this time that few would have imagined just six weeks ago. But we cannot do nothing. We can’t grind to a stop. And we definitely can’t shoot low. The key question for today 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’re sharing with a lot of leaders, and it’s getting great results. It’s a simple question to ask your employees: “What would you recommend we do differently during this 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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