Success Never Permeates Upwards!

Jonathan Farrington

During one of my senior management coaching sessions last week, I posed the question: “So just what is it that makes a company successful?”

I had the group whiteboard the exercise and brainstorm around it with some interesting results. For example:

Unsurprisingly, the finance orientated managers talked about healthy cash flow; strong financial foundations; low debtor days; controlled stock levels and robust management reporting systems.

On the other hand, sales and marketing people highlighted strong customer relationships; reliable products; good people who were fully developed and understood their place in the grand scheme of things. And so on …

All, however, highlighted strong leadership as being the most obvious commonality when identifying consistently successful companies, and of course, they are right.

Success permeates downwards and whatever happens in the boardroom affects every single employee: As leaders we have to accept the huge responsibility that we have for our people because they have given us their trust; their loyalty; their commitment.

I believe that there are in fact five main drivers that determine our success, but first let’s consider some other fundamental facts:

Change is continuous and will become more rapid as we move forward over time. Senior management must be capable of reacting to those changes and be prepared to take advantage of them and yet stay within the overall framework and agreed strategy.

The role of strategy is fundamental if the people within an organization are to be enabled to make the level of contribution of which they are capable. Strategy, based on a good grasp of the core competencies of a business, is an essential precursor to achieving optimal shareholder value.

The world’s leading organizations continuously seek to improve their performance. There may be unlimited potential for achieving accelerated improvement but if this potential is not being realised, good change agents must line up and mobilise all the forces (or drivers) for improvement.

So what are the five main drivers for improvement in organizations? They are quite simply:

  • Strategy
  • Lean operations
  • Balanced culture
  • Customer responsiveness
  • Leadership

Strategy sets direction, and gives focus to improvement. It must however be deployed throughout the organization to be effective.

Processes need to be mapped and analyzed in a methodical way; projects must be managed; problem symptoms traced to root causes; data must be collected before decisions are taken; trends in customer preferences detached and fed back; improvement activity of any kind reported on and coordinated; improvement action measured. Just about everything should be done to a discipline.

A balanced culture means effective, creative management of people. Customers are served by people, processes are managed by people. Only people can deliver quality improvement. For them to work well they must be empowered, given direction, measured, and reviewed and success recognised.

Customer responsiveness keeps the organization focused on customer needs, reactions and changing requirements.

Finally, leadership ensures that everyone is enthused and supported to work on the strategy, improve processes, served customers and active team players.

How do your leaders shape up?

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