Thursday, December 23, 2010

Making work more workable

Happy hour. Thank God it’s Friday. Working for the weekend.

We’re conditioned to think the best part of work is not having to do it anymore, that we’re trading 40 hours on the job for a couple of days on the lake, in the garden, at the game. Anywhere but there.

Work isn’t like that for everybody, of course, and it doesn’t have to be like that for anybody. When we talk about organizational excellence, we’re talking about making the work life better for all those involved, from the boiler room to the board room.

It’s not easy, but it is possible. Through strategic planning and creation of inspired mission and vision statements that are acted out every day, a company can create a plan for the future that benefits everybody it touches: employees, stockholders, customers, vendors, and the communities in which it works.

This endeavor is a job in its own right. It takes the commitment of leadership and management and the ability to think long term. It also involves the participation of employees and requires them to think beyond the next paycheck. It doesn’t hurt to have a knowledgeable, objective third party involved, which is where we come in.

The payoff is a strong understanding of where the organization is going, why it’s going there, and how it’s going to get there.

The why involves the benefits for all parties. Those benefits are going to be different for every organization, but generally speaking, this means that one group won’t prosper at the expense of other groups. The company’s shareholders will see a return on investment while employees are treated well. Vendors will be treated fairly while customers receive a good value. In fact, each group should and will be as well off as possible.

As you mull all of this over, please don’t confuse benefits with getting your way. This doesn’t mean that everybody makes six figures while sitting in a corner office. After all, most offices only have four corners, and there’s only so much money coming in the door.

It does mean everybody can go to work understanding how they are contributing to a bigger picture and how they are part of an effort that’s grander than their own needs.

In this environment, we’re all still going to look forward to our family, leisure and other life activities, but we’ll also look forward to hitting the ground running on Monday mornings and not keep such a close eye on the clock when we’re there. For most people, that right there would be a benefit in its own right.

So, organizational excellence in the 21st century can and should be totally achievable – and be absolutely fun. This brief note suggests the mindset starting point.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Teleopathy: The subtle and vexing condition that is viral in many corporations

When creating a long-term strategic plan in the pursuit of organizational excellence, a company should have a set of goals that optimally serve all of its stakeholder groups. The key word in that sentence is should, and the main problem many groups face is that they don’t change their inward-focused mindsets to match the outward-focused approach that must be the heart of a solid multi-year plan.

More specifically, many companies prioritize the needs and goals of one stakeholder group above all others. When that happens, it nearly always is investors who are given top priority. This is what’s known as teleopathic behavior. Teleopathy is most simply defined as the unbalanced pursuit of objectives, and the needs of others often are sacrificed during that pursuit.

It’s easy to see how this happens in a typical corporate culture. While companies develop long-term strategic plans to guide them toward a prosperous future, they frequently measure their success in short-term increments, such as quarterly or annually.

In good economic times, ink flows black as sales and profits grow, and employees are added to handle increasing demand. Suppliers are called upon to provide more goods, and the community in which a company operates often benefits as dollars course through the local economy. All stakeholders are served, and everybody should be happy.

When sales slow and hard times hit, however, companies often work to keep that quarterly report looking good for its investors to the detriment of the other stakeholders--employees, customers, suppliers and the community as a whole. To maintain shareholder value, companies might downsize their workforce and bargain more sharply with suppliers. They often cut corners on customer service and reduce their investment in the community. All of this occurs in the name of maintaining shareholder value.

The tough decisions described above may be necessary for a company to remain viable when times get tough. If revenues fall and a company starts operating at a loss, tough decisions must be made, of course. That is, even an outward-focused and excellently run company might need to make such tough short-term decisions in the context of its mission for the long term. In this case, the decision process is balanced.

Returning to the behavior of the teleopathic condition, this unbalanced pursuit can be most harmful when it exists whether the company is in good times or bad. With teleopathy, the dominant behavior is inward-focused, short term and narrowly interested only in shareholders. This is a long-term recipe for failure. Problem is, it is wide spread, and it is viral.

One of the greatest consequences of teleopathy is this: when it’s pervasive, organizational excellence is impossible to achieve. Further, this behavior is a symptom of a larger problem – a leadership culture that is indeed inward and short term-focused, which is ultimately doomed to failure.

True value will be realized if and only if goals and strategies are established to optimally serve all stakeholder groups through all economic cycles, through good times and bad. It truly takes discipline and courage. This discipline and courage are grounded in a common vision that truly inspires every employee, from the boiler room to the CEO’s office, to always serve all stakeholders.

It’s a tall order, to be sure, but it’s an achievable one for a company that has a strong, livable vision, a mission that involves all stakeholders, and a strategic plan that takes into account what’s best for all involved.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Strategic planning, visions, missions, and stuff

In our blog, we focus on organizational excellence in every post. Today we discuss one of the centerpieces of that excellence – core purposes and strategic plans.

When meeting with clients and traveling around, I talk a lot about developing a playbook for an organization or business. A playbook, or a multi-year strategic plan, is an essential tool for any organization that wants to reach its full potential. Before a business can create such a tool, though, there are a couple of absolute gotta-haves that must be in place at the front of the book—a livable vision statement and a mission statement. When properly thought through, written well and used together, these three elements can go a long way toward helping any organization attain true excellence.

Over the years, I have often heard leaders downplay and even pooh-pooh vision and mission statements and multi-year strategic plans. While outfits might do well without such formal playbook-like guidance, I know, deeply, that they probably were all falling short of their best, no matter how well they might have been doing. I wonder how well John Wooden’s UCLA basketball dynasty would have done by just playing street ball. Phil Jackson’s Bulls and Lakers are another fine example of what a unifying set of guidelines—vision, mission and plan—can produce. All businesses and organizations maximize their success probability through such playbook guidance. Of all things, this truism is not rocket science, yet downplaying a playbook or performing a going-through-the-motions creation of a strategic plan persists for so many. This is an organizational and, collectively, societal tragedy.

A vision statement is a forward-looking statement—a picture of the elegantly desirable future—that explains what the organization wants to achieve in a broad sense. Ideally, it’s inspirational and is embraced from the boiler room to the CEO’s corner office. It should energize executives, employees, investors and customers alike.

For example, the American Hospital Association has an elegant vision. It’s a vision of a society of healthy communities, where all individuals reach their highest potential for health. Think about that for a minute. I’ve never worked in a hospital, but this vision inspires even me.

The mission statement is an organization’s brief explanation as to how it is working toward fulfillment of the vision, the very reason for existence. Going back to our friends at the AHA, that organization’s mission is “to advance the health of individuals and communities. The AHA leads, represents and serves hospitals, health systems and other related organizations that are accountable to the community and committed to health improvement.”

Again, good. Note how they don’t mention what they actually do on a day-to-day basis. This is good, and here’s why. Let’s say you and I worked at the American Hospital Association, and there was some issue at hand—an important decision that needed to be made. One of us could step back and ask, “Which option really helps us to advance the health of individuals and communities?” In a practical sense, it might be a silly question to ask if we were trying to decide where to buy copy paper or toilet cleaner. I would argue, though, that at some level, the vision and mission statements are relevant in every decision a company makes.

Now you’re ready for the playbook.

Next comes the multi-year plan part of the playbook. This is where we get into goals and strategies. There are a few ways to ensure the playbook is written so that it will be followed—and ultimately successful.

The playbook should be written in everyday street language that everybody can understand. It should be developed for a finite period of time, and it should be adaptable. The amount of time isn’t altogether relevant; most are three to five years, though organizations in some cultures have 300-year plans. It’s just important to have time attached to each goal so that they don’t get permanently back-burnered.

Most importantly, the number of goals should be closely related to the number of stakeholder groups, and nearly every organization has at least five primary stakeholder groups: investors, customers, employees, suppliers, and the community or communities in which the organization exists. Each also must have the general common good or public interest in mind.

For a strategic plan to be embraced, it must have goals connected to the vision and mission statements, and those goals must provide value to each stakeholder group. They must energize the people of the organization – make them want to excel, to be best in the world.

If it’s a good playbook with benefits for everybody, it’s more likely to be successfully executed—and more likely to get an organization closer to fulfilling its mission and realizing its vision.

The Takeaway? Each individual and organization should want to know, indeed must know, who they are, what they love, where they are going and how to get there. As importantly, they need to know how high is up for them, their true potential.
Organizations that develop and continuously update their playbooks over time, changing them with shifts in society and the marketplace, will see their potential (how high is up for them) and will have fun achieving it. Those who don’t will waddle along, doing at best pretty good, with opportunity costs being incurred all along the way.

Which organization do you want to be?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Mid-terms elections and organizational excellence

Back in January, I wrote about Wall Street’s well-documented institutional failures
and the bad mindset that contributed to the recent recession. Our thoughts then, regarding how organizations and sectors of the economy can be dysfunctional but can be dramatically improved just by adopting a new mindset apply every bit as much to our political sector, which is now moving toward the mid-term elections. Politics as usual shows the same self-serving inward focused mindset. We talk here about improving that behavior so that the public interest is best served.

The problem for corporations, at its root, is short-term, inward-focused thinking that concentrates largely on how the quarterly report looks to investors and shareholders, to the detriment at times of the organization’s long term maximum value. The solution is the same now as it was when Adam Smith wrote in the late 1700s and Milton Friedman wrote in the second half of the 1900s about maximizing value in a firm and an economy, a society. This solution is a long-term, outward-focused outlook that concentrates on optimizing a company’s value for everybody it affects: customers, employees, and, yes, shareholders. - all stakeholders.

The imperative is to drop this bad mindset and replace it with a new millennium mindset. A bad mindset is inward-focused with the short term as the relevant time frame. It is also usually win-lose. The good “new millennium” mindset that we all must strive for is outward-focused (stakeholder-focused) with the long term as the relevant time frame. And, rather than a win-lose inclination it zealously works to optimize the value it provides between and among its stakeholders.

The free enterprise, capitalist economy in the United States, conducted the way it
should be conducted, is an economy that all can embrace, left, right, liberal, conservative and so on. But when it is not conducted properly, bad things happen. The financial crisis and its strongly lingering effects, the “real” economy dysfunctions including the auto industry (GM, Chrysler) and others all are infected with these bad mindset-based and leadership-allowed culture and behavioral practices. We all should want to fix this systemic problem. And, those in Congress, no matter their party affiliation, who attach themselves to this bad mindset are as culpable as the organizations themselves. In fact, their acquiescence and involvement in it is the “inside the beltway “problem we hear so much about.

As we approach the Nov. 2 mid-term elections, it’s good to revisit these ideas and
look at how they apply to politics. It’s easy to confuse legitimate philosophical and political differences—Democrat vs. Republican, conservative vs. liberal—with bad, short-term-driven behavior.

As the inward-focused corporation focuses too narrowly on quarterly and similar short
term results, the inward-focused politician focuses primarily on his or her public image – and re-election. Indeed, no longstanding political party and no ad-hoc movement—like the Tea Party—is immune from this dysfunction, nor has any one party figured out how to be consistently and truly outward-focused statespersons, communicate this wisdom and earn the voters’ approval. What tragic irony. The American people are far wiser collectively and at kitchen tables around the nation than these inward-focused short term office holders. As a note too tempting to pass up, the extreme liberal and conservative radio and TV political talking heads, of course, fan the flames because they are the essence of inward-focus and short-term behavior – and they want to win the ratings battles.

I served two terms as a citizen legislator in the Montana State Senate in the 1980s. My colleagues included ranchers, farmers, people in the crafts, main street business people, attorneys, physicians and teachers from across the state. In other words, we weren’t career politicians. We went to Helena to represent the interests of Montana and Montanans collectively, and of the communities we came from. We were not focused on having and retaining a position of power.

Don’t let me mislead though. Politics could get just about as dysfunctional then
as it does now, but most of the legislators and other elected leaders—and the voters—
didn’t seem as content to settle for sound bites and stereotypical political posturing. Today,there is but a glimmer of such enlightened, wisdom-based conversation in some races, but most seem to have an inability to lift their minds and their rhetoric to this higher level.

Our words from January help us present the prescription for resolution, and we encourage all candidates to think deeply and act courageously on the matter. There is a “beltway” mindset that needs fixing, and I believe it is wrapped up in the same dysfunction we talked about innJanuary. The courage to rise above the fray is precisely what real leaders need. It is indeed possible, though unlikely given the present polarized and immature campaign dialogues.

We encourage a step back, a deep breath and a call to wisdom from any candidate willing and able to do it. Voters will listen and will support such candidates. Voters are wise and see right through the charades. As of now, though, they do not see much real courage, much real focus on the long term - jobs and all other public interest matters. As a result, they see no real, well-grounded hope for a better future—just more immature, inward-focused waddling.

And it is this selfless outward-focused, truly servant-leader mindset from politicians, and from organizations and their leaders, for which there is an urgent clarion call to embrace and adopt.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The 'foundation' of happiness

I had the opportunity to lead a session with the founders of the Anaconda Community Foundation and some of the organization’s board members. The Foundation raises money for charitable causes in Anaconda and the nearby area.
            As I reflect back on the session, which occurred Sept. 24, I’m reminded why I enjoy working with foundations. By their very nature, foundations operate at a higher level of happiness than many organizations—and even than some individuals.
            When giving a presentation, among other basic foundation subjects, I talk about the different levels of happiness. This concept is well known and truly useful in a dialogue about pursuing excellence.
            We discuss the four levels of happiness. All four of them are good, and all but one are or can be readily achieved. The levels H1 through H4 are best described the following way:
H1: Instant gratification. Eat a cheeseburger. Drink a pint of Guinness. Watch a re-run of “Seinfeld.” These will bring you the H1 level of happiness, or short-term happiness.
            H2: Achievement. Beat someone at racquetball. Win the NCAA basketball pool at the office. Lose 10 pounds. It’s a feeling of accomplishment that makes you happy. While H2 can involve the perverse pleasure of seeing your opponent fail, its focus is the thrill that comes with victory, on achievement, not causing another the agony of defeat.
            Both H1 and H2 are positive, but both are inward focused.
            H3: Contributive. This is the level of happiness that companies should strive to attain—and where the Anaconda Community Foundation finds itself. Individuals should shoot for it as well, but for our purposes, we’ll focus on organizations. With H3, an organization concerns itself primarily with how its activities benefit others. In business terms, this translates to being focused on the value of services and products realized by customers and the other main stakeholders of a business or organization of any kind.
            H3 or contributive (other-focused) happiness can and should produce, as a by- product, maximized value for any organization.  An organization that does its best to benefit others can achieve its own long term maximum value as a direct result. With H1 and H2, inward focused happiness is the end goal and the end result.
H4: Transcendental focus. This involves being H3 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and giving your total self in service to others. We’re talking about Mother Teresa-caliber stuff here. Living this way tends to be, but should not be, about as difficult as walking to the summit of Mount Everest on your hands with no oxygen. It’s good to shoot for, but nearly impossible to accomplish. Still, it is a great calling, a great gift.
The Anaconda Community Foundation is operating at a solid H3 level of existence and happiness, because by its own mission statement, its own reason for existence, it is other-focused. We spent our time together honing the organization’s mission statement and vision statement.
The Foundation is one kind of organization whose purpose is obviously stakeholder or other-focused. The real lesson here, though, is that every kind of organization can and will in fact maximize its own long term value ( for its owners, for example, in a for-profit organization) if it exists and acts in this stakeholder, other-focused H3 manner – and it will in fact be happy.
The Foundation’s founders, Bob and Joan Morris, expressed their gratitude for the planning session and suggested the organization might bring me back again. I will continue to monitor their good works in the Anaconda area and root for their success.
Joan put the following note on my Facebook page: “Jack Haffey (without associates) assisted our board in clarifying our mission and vision. He did a great job with us, helping us say clearly what we were all about and where we thought we were headed. It will help our board stay focused and better achieve our goals. Thanks, Jack. Your help is beyond valuable!”
Reading that, I felt like I achieved an H3 level moment myself.

Monday, September 27, 2010

MCAT board refocuses after all-day session

I recently spent a few days with my sons and their families in Missoula. If you’ve been to Missoula, you know this to be true: there’s no finer place to be in the fall than the Garden City.
            While there, I got to thinking about a session I did last spring with Missoula Community Access Television. I stopped in to talk with MCAT Executive Director Joel Baird and see how things were going.
            For 21 years, Joel has been involved with the organization, which provides public-access television within the city of Missoula. His board members speak highly of him, and I’ve come to hold him in high regard.
            During our meeting, I asked Joel to give his assessment of Jack Haffey & Associates’ services to Linn Parish, a writer in Spokane Valley, Wash., who had the good sense to marry my niece. Joel and Linn talked earlier this week, and Linn wrote a short report for me on their conversation. Here is his report:
            Organizational excellence consultant Jack Haffey spent a Saturday last May at a board retreat with Missoula Community Access Television’s board of directors. In the span of a few hours, the board learned a lot about something they hadn’t spent much time on previously: each other.
            Ultimately, MCAT Executive Director Joel Baird said, the board retreat helped the organization’s leaders understand one another and rededicate themselves to their core mission: to increase communication in the community by providing airtime for educators, government leaders, and the general public on cable television.
            At the time, Baird said, there was a lack of group cohesion on the board. Two of the directors were often at loggerheads with one another. Each has a large personality, and they frequently came down on opposing sides of issues that arose. When Haffey came in, Baird said, he made an effective argument for group cohesion that fit the situation, and the group was responsive.
            “What he was able to do was make the members of the board become more three-dimensional to each other,” Baird said. “He adroitly set up the moment.”
            Each board member ended up talking about himself or herself for five minutes or so. There was some posturing—there always is—but for the most part, Baird said, everybody gave honest, full-bodied talks about themselves.
            The session proved to be a good pre-cursor for a strategic planning session that would allow the organization to assess its direction and vision for the future, and the board is considering bringing Haffey back to lead such a session this fall.
            “He does a good turn practicing his craft,” Baird said. “Psychologically, he sets the stage very well.”

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Road to Organizational Excellence

            In many ways, I’ve had a calling to help people and organizations achieve excellence my entire adult life. Since high school, I’ve been both informally and formally developing the theories and concepts I share with organizations throughout the Western U.S. My experiences in workplaces—as an employee, a manager, a state senator and as a consultant—reaffirm the theories I’ve come to hold as truths.
            In simplest terms, these two facts, when coupled, are the most important things I now know for certain. 1. Work isn’t a source of inspiration and excitement for organizations as a whole and for many people within an organization. 2. Work can be both energizing and inspirational—every hour, every day—for every person who works toward an organization’s success and for the organization itself.
            The first fact causes many workers and many organizations to underlive their lives, with a significant opportunity cost to themselves and society. The second fact, though, suggests we can achieve our highest potential—and have fun doing it.
            I grew up in Anaconda, Mont., a small town built around a copper smelter that has generations of good, hard-working people. My family lived across the street from the Butte, Anaconda & Pacific Railroad (BA&P) office, and every day I would watch people come to work in the morning and leave at quitting time. These were good people—many of them were parents of friends and people I knew —and I know they worked hard. But they looked joyless as they came and went, and that left an impression in my mind.
            I saw the same absence of enthusiasm when I took my first job with the Boeing Co. in Seattle after graduating from Carroll College in 1967. I worked in a room with 200 people in a one-story building that held 2,000 employees. The 747 jumbo jet, now the most recognizable commercial airliner in the world, was in development at the time, and it was an exciting time for a company heading toward a milestone in aviation history. You wouldn’t have always known it, however, by watching the employees and management. I say this knowing that Boeing was then and is now a top-tier global corporation. Still, Boeing and its wonderful people had and have a higher level of excellence they can achieve.
            I returned to Montana a short time later to teach high school math and to coach. It was in the classroom and on the basketball court at Anaconda Central High School that I got a taste of teaching inspiration and dedication to excellence. My best lessons didn’t involve teaching algebraic equations or the pick and roll. Rather, they involved using my desire and ability to motivate and lead by example, and I believe that helped my students succeed. Even though I only taught for a couple of years, I still run into former students who remember some of the life lessons I tried to weave into my lesson plans. I took that passion for excellence with me to South Bend, Indiana, where I earned a master of business administration (MBA) degree from Notre Dame.
            After graduating Notre Dame, I returned again to Big Sky Country and took a job with The Montana Power Co., a company with which I would spend 30 years. At Montana Power, we had a united purpose, a common cause that was pretty cut and dry: generate and deliver power and natural gas to the homeowners and businesses in our state. I am deeply indebted to my fellow employees at MPC for their commitment to stakeholders and their friendship. As with other organizations, though, we also had a higher level of potential to serve that we could have reached.
            As my career progressed, I started to assert my beliefs into my management style. I became more and more “other focused,” leading in such a way that I concentrated on helping those around me achieve what they needed to achieve to be inspired by their jobs and successful in their careers – and to collectively help the organization achieve its full potential. By the time I was Chief Operating Officer at Montana Power, I focused on helping other executives and managers to know their aptitudes and passions so they could excel at their jobs and actualize their potentials.
            I left Montana Power in 2002 when the company was acquired, but I haven’t stopped developing my theories and concepts for achieving organizational excellence. Indeed, it has become my passion, my calling, and the passion of Jack Haffey & Associates.