Clearly define and communicate your organization’s expectations
As we developed the “Leadership Pledge,” the mid-term results made us realize that we were on the right path. Simultaneously, a specific progression, links in the chain of change, became apparent.
As detailed in pervious columns, it’s clear that once we brought people into the business who had a high probability of being successful (Step 1), we had to make sure they had the tools to do their job, (Step 2). The next logical step is often taken for granted, but you have to tell each person precisely what he or she is accountable for.
As leaders we must always clearly define and communicate the organization’s expectations, be it a business division, a parent-teacher association or an athletic team. Simply put, relationships flourish or fail based on a mutual understanding of each person’s expectations. What has surprised me as I’ve worked with so many organizations is how often this understanding gets lost in the clutter of rules, mandates, demands and directives.
Before going further it’s important to draw the distinction between rules and policies and procedures. Every organization must have well-defined and understood processes in place to ensure customer satisfaction. At The Berry Co., our processes were all centered on making certain the ad got in the book right. As chair of Greene Hospital board I can assure you that there are well-defined processes in place to insure our patients of quality health care. Procedures are necessary in every organization to make certain the customer gets what they want.
Rules are different … and not nearly as effective. To wit, three of the definitions of “rules” in Webster’s are: 1. to exercise control, dominion, or direction over; 2. to dominate by powerful influence; 3. to decide or declare authoritatively. Is it any wonder that anyone with an ounce of ambition and a strong desire to be accountable resents being managed by leaders who hide behind rules?
As Curt Coffman and Marcus Buckingham suggest in the book First Break All The Rules, “a company burdened by rules slowly strangles the organization’s flexibility, responsiveness, and most importantly good will.” I believe it goes deeper than that because it discourages creativity, imagination, ingenuity, spontaneity and ambition.
So who or what is the culprit that causes professional and personal relationships to suffocate due to an overload of rules that ultimately sap our energy and enthusiasm? A lack of trust!
Rules generally are created in the wake of a mistake that was made, often a costly mistake. Experience shows that employees who do things the wrong way do so either as a result of a lack of attitude or aptitude — they either don’t care or can’t do it correctly.
How big is the problem? Try Sarbanes-Oxley. From the largest multi-national company to the smallest mom-and-pop, there is not anyone reading this article that hasn’t been a victim of this type of management style. So, what’s the solution?
Truth #4 “Rules are for the Weak, Uncompromised Standards of the Excellence are for the Strong.”
Standards of excellence are a completely different matter. Standards of excellence encourage maximum performance and trumpet individual performance. They are gold standard objectives that define great organizations from sports dynasties to General Electric and everything in between. Uncompromised standards of excellence create a greatness that is envied by customers but seldom duplicated.
The solidarity of intent fills the team with the strength of knowing its purpose. Once these standards of excellence are defined, they must be communicated throughout the entire organization. Within an organization that is focused squarely on behavior, employees must clearly understand their individual roles and responsibilities to ensure success.
I encourage everyone to embrace simplicity as their leadership style. In any form of communication understatement is the clearest form of self expression.
For many reasons, this proven approach falls by the wayside. While teaching in the MBA capstone course at the University of Dayton as an Executive-In-Resident with Joe Schenk, the case studies often show that organizations spend 80 percent of their time formulating strategy and 20 percent implementing those strategies. I was always quick to point out to our students success is determined when organizations reverse this percentage.
You can begin to appreciate how effective The Berry Co.’s standards of excellence are in their simplicity: we sold ads and satisfied customers. Everyone in the organization knew that and every strategy in our business aligned with those two fundamental purposes for our existence.
I’m shocked at the number of organizations that are forever paralyzed in the planning phase. Far too often they become obsessed with complexity and strategic planning that takes away from what they need to focus on: the customer and who and what influences their decisions.
I’ll close with this one last thought. No matter what field you are in, ask yourself the following question:
Does your organization have a clear understanding of its responsibilities and are there uncompromised standards of excellence that are clear to everyone? As the famous American philosopher Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going you probably won’t get there!”
Pete Luongo is retired president and CEO of The Berry Co., executive director of the Center for Leadership and Executive Development at the University of Dayton, author of “10 Truths About Leadership … It’s Not Just About Winning” and a public speaker. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.