My first job out of university was for the consulting division of a very large multinational corporation based out of their Chicago office. It was a tremendous place to learn; we worked on a variety of projects for clients across numerous industries. Everyone was smart and motivated, and I enjoyed most projects. People put the team goal ahead of their own ambitions, and they were supportive and generally in a good mood. We hit our goals time after time without any fuss, even when there were significant curve balls.
One project in particular stood out because it felt different from the others. It was during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, and we were a new team of about six or seven in a project management office. There was very little collaboration and expectations weren’t clear. Internal politics were rife. If we made a mistake, we were often berated in front of colleagues. Or, worse yet, in front of the client. It seemed as if everyone was in survival mode, trying desperately to hold onto their jobs. We didn’t feel supported or safe. We weren’t a healthy team.
In order for an organisation to be successful at its most fundamental level, it needs to be both smart and healthy.
It’s easy to give most of the attention to doing smart business and having smart strategies, but that’s just half the equation. And granted, it’s easier, more quantifiable, to talk about the topics associated with being a smart company: your accounting practices, your marketing strategy, your human resources policies, and so on.
But the other part of the equation is health. Organisations tend to avoid this topic because it’s not generally taught in business school. Companies think it’s too subjective because it’s often messy and emotional. But organisations that are also healthy are ones that have:
Combined, these lead to high levels of morale, productivity and innovation – without having to be incentivised. Why? Because people are hungry and psyched to be working for their company (see the sense of ownership?), which in turn means the best people don’t want to leave.
Nowadays, with companies competing in a world that is influenced by what other companies are doing in other countries, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish your organisation in terms of core business and strategy alone.
The truly great organisations have realised that a healthy culture becomes the multiplier of their business and strategy. Think Apple, Southwest Airlines, Harley Davidson, Google and Facebook, amongst others. They were able to build great legacies not because of superior products but because of their people: people who were more innovative, coped better with stress and responded better to challenges.
It’s only possible for an organisation to perform at a high level for a continued period of time if the workplace is productive and people want to be there. If you have an unhealthy culture, then your people will either be unhealthy or they’ll simply leave.
So whose responsibility is it to fix things? We’ll deal with this next week…