Three surprising, simple ways to make your organization better

Make Your Organization Better

By this point, we should all probably understand that there’s a difference between “strategy” and “operations,” although, sadly, many people don’t understand that. Strategy refers to “ideas and actions, big-picture goals, moving forward.” Stuff like that. Operations is the process of getting there. You can almost think — a bit narrow, yes — of strategy as the why and the what, and operations as the how, the who, and the where. (Again, narrow, but that can work.)

We also should probably understand by now that “talent,” or the general idea of “having good people in your organization,” is fairly important.

Finally, we should know that people — especially good, motivated people — want to work at a place where the overall identity (even down to the notion of purpose) has some alignment back to them.

Taking all that together, here’s the deal: If you want to have a good strategy and good operations, you ultimately need good people, and to get good people, you need some sense of identity/purpose. 

But how do you do that?

Turns out, you really just need to think about three things:

  • The value proposition you offer to customers
  • The capabilities that allow you to create said value
  • What set of products will leverage those capabilities

I think this is a good starting place, yes, and we’ll talk more about this list in the next few paragraphs. My one concern with the above is that it doesn’t really address internal issues in terms of shaping an identity/purpose — and by “internal” in this case, I mean things around your own employees. That’s important, and it gets ignored very often.

Alright, so let’s go back to this Harvard article where the three elements come from. Read this paragraph and tell me it’s not dead-center spot-on about a lot of companies:

So why is it that so many companies struggle to develop strong identities and the capabilities that enable them? Because most organizations, instead of answering the fundamental questions about how they create value for customers and deriving their strategic imperatives from there, try to keep up with the market by pursuing a multitude of generally disconnected growth avenues and organizational changes. The problem is one of incoherence: In their run for growth, companies often wind up serving so many different customer segments and so many different needs with disconnected product groups, capabilities, and strategies that it’s impossible to define what the company is really about. And although such companies may be OK at many things or may have been great at a point in their growth, their lack of focus creates a struggle to be truly excellent at anything in the long run.

Here’s the essential summary of that paragraph:

  • The goal of your organization should be to figure out what customers want and provide that to them.
  • Instead, what often happens is that senior leadership — likely because of downward pressure to make money — pursues a bunch of different things to “keep up with the market.”
  • All the different things they’re pursuing can make the narrative of the brand pretty jumbled, which can also have an impact on the bottom line.

In short, you meet a lot of executives like this guy:


From a sheer business standpoint — i.e. how are you going to make money? — I think the three bullet points above (starting with value proposition) make sense. That’s where you need to start. After all, if you don’t have revenue, who cares how well you’re treating your employees? Eventually they’ll need money to live. (I run into this with a bunch of freelance contracts I’ve done.)

In the broader scheme, I’d say these are the three ways to establish an identity / “culture:”

  • Figure out how you make money, and communicate/explain that to your staff as transparently as possible: People need to understand how the revenue is generated, and how their specific work — what they do day-to-day — plays back into that. I’ve worked at way too many companies where the knowledge about what gets people paid is way too clustered at the top of the hierarchy. Everyone should know, and be able to explain, the business model(s). That’s one type of positive alignment.
  • Once you’ve established that, think about the core tenets of interaction: Think about things like respect, communicationsempathy, and training your managers on these as legitimate tenets. In sum, the focus/idea is making money — everyone needs that — but the way in which you make money is centered around positive ways of interacting.
  • Finally, think about how you’re going to adapt and change over time: Maybe Stop-And-Think? Maybe Five-Minute Rules? Maybe personal “Big Data?” Everyone can’t be on a treadmill of meetings and conference calls. There needs to be a context for recharging.

I hate it when people start lobbing around words like “culture.” Those don’t mean anything to anyone — or, rather, they mean 100 things to everyone, and when a term isn’t well-defined, people run back to the safe shelter of one that is (“3pm meeting”).

What I typed above in bold is extremely simplistic in terms of how a large organization functions, yes, but I think the core things you need are there: people understand the source of money/the business model; people understand the umbrella of how everyone should interact with each other; and people understand that there are mechanisms in place to adapt/change both the strategic plan and the operations plan when need be.

That, to me, is an “identity” and starts to provide a “purpose.” And we know that purpose alignment — self to organization — is the most powerful thing out there.

In sum, then:

  • Use concrete words.
  • Explain where the money comes from.
  • Set up a series of guidelines for working together.
  • Set up the ideas around how processes can shift/change.
  • Continue to preach that you value people and what they want.

Could this ever work? Probably not — because of this. But it would be nice to think it could, right?


Ted Bauer


  1. It is always good to define your own company with valued core values. Focus on one aspect and make that set yourself apart from competition. Business is tough and especially depending on what business your in. The economy doesn’t help even if you have the best business tactics.

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