How can you continually improve your employees’ morale and performance?
How can you stay ahead of your customers’ ever-changing needs?
How will you survive financially amidst rising costs?
A version of these questions was on the back cover of The Unstoppable Organization and drew my eye and pulled me in. The book’s author, Shawn Casemore, is an authority in employee and customer empowerment. His consulting practice is focused on helping leaders build organizations stronger through their people.
After reading the book, I talked with Shawn about his work and the book.
What are the characteristics of the “unstoppable organization”?
An Unstoppable Organization is one in which the CEO and leaders from across the organization perceive themselves as facilitators of their employees needs, suggestions and ideas. Their priority is to remove the barriers and obstacles that stand in the way of their employees getting their job done. In turn the leaders of Unstoppable Organizations recognize that by creating an environment in which their employees can thrive results in an environment in which customers are satisfied.
“An unstoppable organization is one that puts its people first, placing them at the forefront of creating a brand promise.” -Shawn Casemore
What is “customerizing” and why must companies do it?
An unstoppable organization is one that puts its people first, placing them at the forefront of creating a brand promise that will satisfy the evolution of customer demands. When people aren’t placed first, the brand promise ultimately will fail. Domino’s was only able to meet it’s brand promise of “30 minutes or it’s free” by having it’s entire team in each store be dedicated to creating a consistent product that was delivered on-time every-time. Your customers want customization, and it’s through your employees that you can actually define and meet this growing need. With the right product knowledge and a clear understanding of the customer, employees are well equipped to provide the ideas and support necessary to satisfy your brand promise.
“Businesses often forget about the culture and ultimately they suffer for it, because they cannot deliver good service from unhappy employees.” -Tony Hsieh
They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.
How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?
Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.
Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.
Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.
I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?
Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.
Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.
“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”
Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.
Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission
Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?
There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.
First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.
High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.
High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.
Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.
The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.
“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower