Leader Volume 9, Number 1
a Focused and Flexible Organization
Jacobsen is president of Jacobsen Consulting (Sunnyvale, CA; phone
408.244.6672; email firstname.lastname@example.org), helping
organizations create and implement changes.
of the 21st century will be intense and competitive.
However, relations with employees, vendors and strategic
allies will need to be collaborative.
Such an environment will require focused and flexible
leadership. We have
only begun to see the effects of the information and internet
promises to come on faster and have more impact than the
industrial revolution. In
such an environment, the ability of people to work flexibly for
common goals will be a deciding factor in the success of an
What does it take
to lead in such an environment?
First, let's consider leadership. Leadership needs to
create an environment that inspires and enables people to perform
at their best in the pursuit of common goals.
(This applies to virtual organizations and strategic
alliances, too.) Leadership is more than a charismatic person with
a cadre of followers. It
is essential at all levels and in all areas of a business.
It used to be that people in data processing were
information "czars." Then the model changed.
Now everyone has a PC or workstation.
Information technology is now distributed throughout
Do leaders need
to be charismatic? No!
A passion for the organization's goals, values consistent with the
culture, caring, fairness, support for people in their pursuits,
and credibility are much more important for a leader than
organization has its own culture: values, purpose, mission,
vision, and ways in which people relate to their work and each
other. In a start-up,
these are determined by the founder.
Before a business grows beyond the scope of its start-up
team, the team needs to define its culture. When Bill Hewlett and
Dave Packard started their business they hadn't thought much about
such issues. As their business grew they realized that there was more to
it than making oscillators. They
defined their underlying values and the way they wanted to do
business - "The HP Way."
As a business
grows, the role of the founder changes.
Initially the founder's focus is on establishing the
business. As it grows his/her role changes to that of a conductor who
orchestrates the performance of the entire organization.
Orchestrating an entire organization requires attention to
the following nine key issues.
business you are in. Do
your market research. What
is the outlook for your industry?
What quantum changes could dramatically redefine it?
Who are your customers?
What do they want/need?
What motivates them to buy?
Who is your competition?
What strategic advantages do you have (or seek)?
The people who
work for you can create your competitive edge.
Think of your business in terms of their competencies, not
just products, services, and markets.
Honda started out in the motorcycle business.
Their competency was in building high performance engines.
That opened the door for them to make cars, generators,
outboard motors, ATVs, etc.
facilities, technology, policies, systems and processes are needed
to focus attention on the critical issues and tasks?
What is the nature of the work needed to fulfill your
purpose and mission? What
are the mindsets and competencies of the people you need?
How will you deal with intergenerational and intercultural
differences? How much of a physical organization is needed? What can be
virtual? How will you create a sense of community among people in
multiple locations? What work environment do you need to recruit,
retain and motivate people?
influences how people interact.
If your organization depends on creative problem solving,
create places conducive to dialogue and teamwork.
Pacific Bell, in their San Ramon, CA, facility, has
conversation areas that invite people to meet, brainstorm and
To promote market
responsiveness, keep business units as small and focused as
bureaucratic organizations in today's world are like the Exxon
Valdez or Titanic. They
were not paying attention to their environment. When they finally
recognized danger, their communications system was too slow, and
they had too much inertia to change course and avoid disaster.
Hire only people
whose values are consistent with those of the organization, and
who can help grow your business.
People whose values are at odds will always be out of sync.
It is presumptuous to think that they will change their
values. It is easier
to hire the right people initially than to have to deal with the
subsequent problems of people who don't work out.
If you want a
"gold medal" in the "Olympics" of your market,
hire "Olympians"--people with the potential to
"bring home the gold."
Teams are a fact
of organizational life, and will continue to be.
Most complex issues require the diversity of perspectives
and opportunity for buy-in afforded by a team.
Teams can be incredibly productive, but 90% of them that
have not had team training fail to meet their objectives.
For teams that have been trained on how to work together,
the failure rate drops to 5%.
Teams for "career-defining" projects need such
training and sometimes a coach.
While training is
valuable, coaching creates learning at the "teachable
moment"--the critical time for learning.
People typically develop greater skill faster with
People want to
master what they do. As
technology changes, or as people are expected to gain new
proficiencies, they need education, training and support.
I was on the Board of Directors of the Sunnyvale School
District Education Foundation when it introduced multi-media
technology into classrooms. One reason for the program's success was that
as "customers" for your leadership and work environment.
Most whose skills are in demand have a choice of where they
work. In deciding to
join your business, or stay, they consider not only monetary
issues, but also the quality of leadership and the desirability of
your work environment. In
treating employees as "customers," you will need to do
Find out what is most important to help bring out the best
in them. Then provide
what will attract them and foster motivation.
People want to
work for an organization that they believe in and can be proud of.
Create a sense of purpose and belonging, and communicate a
consistent message of respect, trust, caring and appreciation.
Eliminate fear. Trust is impossible in an atmosphere of fear.
People need to feel valued, important and included.
distinctions demotivate people who are treated less favorably than
others. No one wants
to be "second-class."
The harm of such distinctions far exceeds their value as a
recognition factor for a few people.
respect by treating them as business partners.
Involve them in issues that affect them such as the design
of the work processes they use.
People who help design their work processes understand them
much better, and have more commitment to making them work. Share
performance and financial information widely.
Determine which measures are needed for self-management.
After employees have been trained in how to understand and
use such information, make it available so that they can track
their progress. Yes, there is a risk in sharing it. Someone might leave to work for a competitor.
But people who are treated as business partners are less
likely to leave and more likely to perform better for you.
that make sense. Define
a strong set of values and a philosophy of business by which your
business can live. Communicate
it to job applicants in their interviews.
Communicate it again in new employee orientations.
As you create policies and work processes, make sure they
are consistent with your values.
And act consistently with them.
Your credibility depends on how well you live up to the
standards you espouse.
clear, high expectations, and test for understanding.
Emphasize those aspects of work that are most important to
customer satisfaction, and to the success of your business. Involve people in setting goals that prompt them to stretch
and grow. To make
sure that you are on the same wavelength, ask them to paraphrase
their understanding of goals and expectations in their own words.
Establish a way
to deal constructively with disagreements and conflict. When two or more people work together, conflict is
inevitable. It is
resolved more quickly and with better results when a process for
dealing with it has been established before an issue arises.
Unresolved conflicts undermine morale and productivity.
I know a number of outstanding people who have changed jobs
only because there was no accepted way to resolve issues that were
important to them.
Pay for results.
Split compensation between base pay and pay related to
results. Everyone can
have some affect on growth and the bottom line, and needs to be
included in a pay system that recognizes their effect on results. People pay attention to what is recognized, measured and
rewarded, so choose measures carefully.
Use base pay to cover ongoing obligations and incentive pay
for what adds joy to their lives and motivates them.
While stock and stock options can be very powerful
motivators in publicly held businesses, cash bonuses can be, too,
in privately-held and not-for-profit businesses.
It is natural for
people to resist change when they have not been a party to it. Thus, involve people in designing changes that will affect
them. Another reason
why people resist change is that during the transition period they
move from competence in the old ways to temporary incompetence
with the new. Just think how long it takes to become proficient with a new
resistance to change, introduce it as an "experiment." An experiment tests a hypothesis.
The experimental environment frees people to try a change
knowing that it will be revisited.
They are more open to new ways when they are involved in
the process and have some influence.
If an experiment works for them, they will strive to make
it succeed and be adopted. I
have seen people embrace a change introduced as an experiment that
they never would have accepted if it had been introduced as a fait
Effective use of time.
Your time is
limited and precious. Use
it in ways that give you the best return.
Get competent people (staff or consultants) to handle
responsibilities that do not make the best use of your time or
talents. If you are
not in control of your use of time, get a coach to help you.
environment of the 21st century will be intense and
will have a core workforce and a satellite of people they call on
as allies. Teams will
be basic units for solving problems.
People will need to be skilled as leaders and team players,
as they will serve in both roles on different teams.
To succeed in this environment, people, and their ability
to work together flexibly for common goals, will be a major
deciding factor in the success of an enterprise. Attracting, retaining and growing "Olympians," and
creating a motivational work environment for them, will be a
management art form that distinguishes the winners from the