In our studies of high performance organizations, (organizations that sustain high levels of productivity, profitability and employee satisfaction over time), my colleagues and I found that although these organizations have their own unique and distinct culture, four views are widely held in all.
Leaders in high performing organizations keep a big picture perspective. They see their organization as a complex system, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They look for patterns of interrelationships in a series of events rather than seeing them as isolated snapshots.
Leaders consider both the long-term and short-term impact of their decisions. When solving problems, leaders are willing to take the time to get to the root of a problem rather than settling for a quick fix that addresses only the surface. Digging down to reveal the structure that underlies complex situations, they look for leverage points where real change can occur.
A Sense of Urgency
There is a widely held view that work is important and urgent, and there is support for taking initiative, making bold moves, experimentation, learning, and action. Mistakes are viewed as a natural and necessary part of the creative process. This bias for action is not random as it is counterbalanced by systems thinking.
Because people have the needed information and skills to act in the best interest of the customer and the organization, they are able to respond quickly. And because boundaries around decision-making are clear and allow autonomy, there is no need to wait for requests to go up the chain of command for approval before action can occur.
Employees Are An Appreciating Asset
Employees are considered a competitive advantage, growing more valuable with time as their capabilities and knowledge increase. These companies take good care of their people, investing in continuing education to develop employee potential and properly rewarding employees for acquiring and sharing their knowledge and skills.
High performance organizations develop systems and processes for attracting and retaining good people because they view an investment in people as essential for long-term results.
High performance organizations are woven into the very fiber of their communities. As involved citizens, they have a sense of social responsibility that goes beyond marketing and public relations.
They sponsor special programs in response to community needs, support education and career development services in the community, and provide direct support to charitable organizations.
Employees feel a sense of pride that their company is a pillar in the community; and, the company itself has stature in the community.
These four views appear to be underpinnings that give rise to the culture of high performance organizations, separate from the six observable characteristics described in our report.
* Investigations, conducted over a three year period by Don Carew, Fred Finch, Fay Kandarian, Eunice Parisi-Carew and Jesse Stoner, included a meta-study of the past twenty years. We also conducted a statistically valid study of over a thousand workers in a variety of industries. Learn more about our research results.
Great points Jesse. Naturally I gravitate towards number three. Your people are a real competitive advantage and determine whether you will be mediocre or extraordinary in performance. When people understand and buy into the vision of the company, at every level of performance there is contribution that is given with the bigger picture in mind. You can replicate the process, the systems and the product, but you cannot copy how it is delivered. That is where your people give you the edge.
It is so important, Thabo. With the emphasis on customer service over the past years, many leaders have forgotten that how you treat your customers is a reflection of how you treat your people. I love your comment that “You can replicate the process, the systems and the product, but you cannot copy how it is delivered.” It is so true!
I really enjoyed your informative article. However,I would argue that these observations are easier to introduce in to private sector sector industry than in to institutionalised public sector organisations.
Hi Richard, You raise an important point – how do these findings related to the public sector? I believe these same qualities are present in both private and public sector organisations when they are high performing organisations. As a result of his research for his book Good to Great and the Social Sectors, Jim Collins noted, “The difference between successful organizations is not between the business and the social sector, the difference is between good organizations and great ones.” My own experience is that these views are not easy to introduce into any organisation – private or public. It requires a sustained concerted effort and commitment on the part of leadership.
Thank you for giving “systems thinking” its do. It never gets enough credit and far too often is an afterthought, if it even gets a thought. Regards.
Hi Michael, I’m always surprised at how often people at the top of the organizations I’ve worked with get caught in short-term, crisis management instead of thinking from a systems perspective. It is indeed a key differentiator between average and superior organizations. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts.
Some excellent points raised and good to see that systems thinking is at number one. The ability to see the bigger picture, patterns, interconnections, inter-relations etc enables that essential holistic ‘helicopter’ perspective and feedback. Also facilitates greater alignment from each of the different parts to organisational goals and in effectively dealing with complex problems. It is often the way the organisation is structured that evokes behaviours which determine events
Hi Vera, Thanks for your helpful illumination of what systems thinking is about. I find it’s one of the most difficult things to explain to those who tend not to think that way.
Great post, Jesse and one I celebrated as one of the week’s five best.
Your recognition means a lot, Wally. I’m honored!