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You Can Transform Your Organization

Heather Hughes

I was talking with a business leader recently, and he was lamenting the lack of passion and energy at his organization. He said he wanted to create an engaged and dynamic workplace, and had brought his managers together to talk about it - all to no avail. He told me it was essential to his organization’s success to retain great talent and improve his employee relations, but he feared some of his people were so disengaged that they were looking for other positions outside his operation. He continued by saying he wanted to improve his bottom line and create a passion for success throughout his organization, but he had no idea where to go next.

Make the connection

I told him he could do all of those things with a few careful actions - but it would require getting all of his managers on board.

This is summary of what we discussed, based on my experience with transforming an organization from despondent and glum to passionate and engaged.

I told him, “It starts by making sure everyone in the organization knows, understands and realizes they really can bring about positive and lasting change, in fact, that leaders are counting on them to do so. But in order to do that they have to see how their job IS connected to the vision, mission, and values, and that showing up and making their best contribution makes a difference to the results."

Acknowledge the chasm

It’s been shown time and again that when senior people go on an off-site to re-evaluate and re-develop the mission, vision, and values of the company, the people back at the office are raising their eyebrows and muttering:

"What are they up to now?"

"What a waste of time."

"What difference will that make around here?"

The disconnect between the well-intentioned senior leaders who are off searching for the right words to express the mission, vision and values that will chart the course for the organization, and the employees who fill their corporate offices or shop floors, is not a gap - it’s a chasm.

Blow up the “Magic Kingdom”

Monarch-butterfly-283x424Yes, your clients will be able to understand your corporate direction, as the information will appear on your web site and show up on corporate materials

Certainly, if they’ve done their homework, sales people pitching to your company will know what to focus on to reach your ears.

But your employees?

True, they will see the signs and read the words; after all, they are in the reception area, the boardrooms, and the meeting rooms.

But is that all that's wanted? Don’t leaders want the message to resonate with everyone so that the workplace takes on a new life and energy?

In most cases, the perception of the employees will be that their leaders were off in a fantasy land with no connection to the reality of their jobs.

It’s the leader's job to change that viewpoint - to bring the words to life – to them – to their jobs.

Connect the words

Most employees will never make the connection between those lofty words - even if they are expressed clearly, using simple, straightforward language - to their own jobs. In my experience employees will continue on in their tried-and-true pattern as if the executive retreat and the work of their leaders was of little consequence - as if none of it has any relevance to them.

The well-facilitated discussions and final decisions that led to beautifully prepared corporate signs that declare the Mission, Vision and Values will never propel the organization forward as intended.

The CEO could gather employees together to talk about what those words mean for the company and their department - that would be a good start. Drilling down, taking time, and opening up the communication lines to help employees understand how their job IS connected to the vision and mission must follow.

It’s essential to imbed the actions you expect from each individual into their personal annual performance plans, as this will result in behaviours that support the higher purpose of the organization.

The best results are achieved with a dedicated, strategic, and constant ripple-down process.

Forge the chain

Each vice-president or senior manager must talk about what the words mean with their managers; they have to ensure those managers know what’s expected of them and that they will be supported as they change past practices to align with the vision. The managers have to know their performance will be measured against that goal - that actions must follow and that they will be held accountable to make changes.

This strong message will help those same managers encourage others to focus and realign their work to meet the mission and vision. Typically this leads to staff meetings, animated discussions, and stronger action plans. It frequently leads to some confusion, perhaps a few disgruntled people, but there will certainly be passionate engagement. When you get employees talking about how they make a difference, they will find creative ways to improve.

There’s no doubt that when employees see the link from their job to the corporate mission and vision there is a heightened awareness of the impact of their actions. This in turn drives more effective and meaningful performance reviews, less absenteeism, higher retention, improved engagement, and a stronger bottom line.

The missing pieces in many organizations are those links that make up the chain from top to bottom.

Create resonance

Words agonized over at retreats - and finally placed on plaques - must mean something to the employees. Naturally those words resonate with the people who created them, so taking the next steps to making them resonate with the rest of the organization must follow if they are to have the intended impact.

So, next time you glance at those carefully crafted words, pause to ask yourself, “Did we take the steps to help our employees see that those words really do mean something for them?


The first step that business leader needs to do, or anyone responsible for leading others, is to look in the mirror and ask himself: “Am I passionate about my work? Do I have a personal vision for the group that I’m leading? Do I want to serve my followers to assist their personal growth and career aspirations?”

If the answer is not yes to all three questions then it’s time to move on. For one thing you’ll never achieve any degree of meaningful followership.

When I was a newbie manager in 1989, I fell on my face plenty and learned through trial and error (aided by the absence of any managerial training in my organization). However, I could answer strongly in the affirmative to the above three questions. The result: A highly motivated team that not only produced nationally recognized products and services but one that had a heck of a lot of fun along the way.

The next time you see that manager, Heather, present those three questions to him.

By Jim Taggart on 2011/04/07

Those are good questions Jim and worth asking of ourselves too whenever we are feeling stuck or a bit jaded by what we are dealing with. Sometimes I need to step back and reflect on what I am giving out, as being a business coach and helping others means I can be drained and not even notice. We all need to take time out to replenish so we can contiue to serve. My client had been so busy coaching and helping others and the progress was so slow he hadn’t noticed it at all. That’s a pity as progress, no matter how slow, is still progress and needs to be recognized. Once we stopped to look at where he had started from and where he was now, muchy of his old passion returned, especially when he and I formed a game plan to align his actions with the vision. He could see that would make a difference and it put more energy into his day.

By Heather Hughes on 2011/04/07

Heather, excellent points! One element that is important is the size and scale of the organization.

If a manager has under 50 people responsible to him/her directly, then an inspired, authentic, passionate and open manager can lead their team as Jim describes. But when the organization is much bigger, other factors come into play and the words and actions of the most visionary manager can be treated with cynicism by employees who are disconnected from that manager by layers of other managers, and layers of procedures that must be followed to get the job done. If there are layers of oversight and legal requirements (e.g. FOI, etc) the disconnect gets deeper.

I think Heather is right on when she points out that at the end of the day, every employee’s specific job, rewards and remuneration must link into the strategic goals so that the well-being and success of the organization is totally aligned with the well-being and individual success of the employee. This was one of Benedict/Maslow’s fundamental insights into a group this driven by positive rather than negative and self-destructive energy and in my years of management, the key to lasting improvement and empowering change.

By Ellen Godfrey on 2011/05/03

It’s all about seeing the purpose and knowing that what you are doing day by truly makes a difference. Then when the CEO speaks to the shareholders, or clients or at a staff meeting about the company’s performance, new products, or results the employees can say with pride, “I contributed to that.”
Ask any HR manager and they will tell you the employee’s ability to see the links between their work, aids tremendously in morale, engagement and retention.
It’s a valuable concept that too many at the top fail to recognize.

By Heather Hughes, CMC on 2011/05/03

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Posted by Heather Hughes
Posted on April 6, 2011

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Categories: change management, leadership, management, organizational development