Organization Effectiveness

With all our clients, we emphasize organization effectiveness, without which any sales process grinds to a halt. Organization Effectiveness is a function of what McKinsey & Company calls “Organizational Health” (See Beyond Performance). Healthy organizations are cohesive, friction-less, moving very rapidly toward a commonly held objective. In this case, the objective is continuously improving revenue and profitability over the long term. Grease’s experience is that successful sales execution requires superb organization effectiveness, which in turn draws on the three essential practices below:

  1. Communications Clarity: Be clear. Tell stories.
  2. Constructive Conflict: Resolve issue-oriented conflict fast and one-on-one.
  3. Collaborative Candor (especially in meetings): Be candid. “Speak for,” not about.
  4. Talent Acquisition: Stick to a 3-pronged template. Search Criteria, Interview Process, Interview Protocol. Follow it each time and every time

Healthy organizations communicate well orally and in writing. This means that communications are clear. They are devoid of dissembling, hedging, and mushy language. They are straightforward and to the point. They are pithy and targeted. They are not buttressed by hedged words that dodge responsibility. They are logical. Everyone gets it. Everyone doesn’t necessarily agree, but they understand.

Clear communications serve as the essential basis for efficient and effective decision-making. They speak for something and are backed up with reasons. They tell a story. They often persuade. Clear communication is an organizational skill. It needs to be learned, reinforced, and practiced. Effective organizations are clear first; persuasive second. Persuasiveness is a derivative of clarity. Be clear, or you don’t have a chance.

When speaking or writing to each other, suppliers, and customers, always tell a story. Why tell a story? Stories engage. We all learn from stories. Stories get our attention. We are a culture attuned to stories to think about situations, problems, courses of action. Stories have a logical sequence, which mirrors how we think. Books, newspapers, movies, magazines, periodicals, business reports, sales proposals are most effective when they tell a story.

Remember, “effective” means “everyone gets it.” All stories have an essential element that commands our attention, and without which our attention wanes. We cease to be interested. We stop listening. This element is conflict, tension. The resolution of this conflict is what keeps our interest. We stay engaged because we want to find out what happens or where this is heading. We try to persuade our colleagues, bosses, customers, or family without a story at our peril.

Remember: Storytelling is a skill. It is essential in business because it ensures that customers listen. If you want to engage customers, colleagues, or spouses, tell them a story. All nations and cultures are “wired” to listen to stories. As the Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe , said in his seminal novel, Things Fall Apart, “all stories are true,” which is taken to mean that all stories engage. From Seven Days in May, “I’m going to tell you the damnedest story you ever heard…”

Conflict is healthy and predictable. Confrontation is not. Effective organizations disagree, argue, dispute, stake turf, exhibit ownership and emotion. Like Khrushchev, they sometimes metaphorically “pound their shoe on the podium.” That said, they differentiate themselves by being oriented around issues, not people or personalities. They don’t infer motives. They don’t impugn others. They don’t try to resolve conflict in elevators, hallways, out of earshot of the person with whom they have a conflict. Conflict arises from unmet or disrupted expectations: “you said you’d do this, but you didn’t.” Effective organizations try to get outside the conflict, and resolve it quickly, privately, and one-on-one.

There are several models for resolving conflict constructively. Grease recommends the “PINCH” model. Its effectiveness derives from universal application throughout the organization as mandated by business unit heads, and top management. It is understood as “the way conflict is handled around here.” It is the hardest to instill in organizations. Why? Most folks don’t like conflict because it “feels” personal; therefore, they avoid it. Bad idea. Resolve all conflict quickly. Stay on the issue. Try it. Move on.

Effective organizations exhibit candor and courage.  Associates speak their minds up and down the organization.  It is expected, encouraged, required. There is no risk in doing so.  There is risk in not speaking one’s mind.  There is no hiding.  It is always issue-oriented.  Employees are expected to “speak for” something, not “about” something.  They are encouraged to take a position, answer the question, say “if it were I, I’d do this.”  Beware of “careerism.”  Careerism is the tendency of associates to “pull their punches” for fear that a candid response will adversely affect their careers.  This instinct is not apparent in healthy organizations that reward associates for saying what they think in open forum.   As Winston Churchill observed: “Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities because it’s the quality which guarantees all others.”

Collaborative Candor is all about effective time management.  Think meetings.  Arguably, meetings consume the most time and money in organizations.  Time is not on your side.  As with energy, you either have it or you don’t.  So, don’t waste time. Candor shortens all three kinds of meeting:  command (military), consultative (best for business), and consensus (public sector).  Whoever calls the meeting should declare what type it is on the front side.  Command decisions are unilateral: “I’m doing this. I thought you should know.”   Don’t have meetings for command decisions; rather, send an email.  Consultative decisions sound like this: “I’ve asked you to take this meeting to give me your input on a decision that I am going to make.” Go around the table once, ask clarifying questions, thank everyone for his or her time, and end the meeting.  Consensus decisions take forever and are often misunderstood once made.  “Consensus” means: “it’s not something I would do but I can support it.”  Avoid consensus meetings whenever you can.

Talent acquisition is the lifeblood of any organization.  Choosing the right candidate can make all the difference between success or failure, superb or lackluster performance, greatness or mediocrity. Any search process creates a pool of candidates. How do you choose the right one?

The problem is human beings.  We want to please, be welcoming, be fair, get to know others, have nice conversations, and be friends.  We are emotional. We have instincts. We are reluctant to judge.  All these instincts are pitfalls that lead to poor candidate choices.

And yet, talent acquisition is all about judging.  It’s about sifting through resumes and interviews, drawing inferences, evaluating life and work experiences, assessing fit and behavior.  

Successful talent acquisition requires a format: criteria, process, and protocol. Most importantly, it’s about sticking to it.  How do you learn all you can from a candidate in 30 minutes?  It’s about observation and listening.  How do you understand all that you need to know about a candidate who is right in front of you?  You ask questions and listen critically.  It’s also about remembering that you’re not trying to make friends. You’re trying run a successful organization with the best people you can find. 

Click here to determine how the Grease approach can improve your organization’s performance through more effective talent acquisition.

From our clients:

One of our biggest challenges is how we can best “add value” to companies in our portfolio. Acknowledging our strengths are financial, not operational, and being at a distance, we have limited insight into why companies falter or fail. But we have learned over the years to spot situations where success is elusive and management’s grasp of problems is difficult to follow. Our catch phrase is “It should not be this hard”. When it is this hard, we know the organization is constraining success – but we do not know why nor where.

Terry L. Brubaker
Vice Chairman & COO,
The Gladstone Companies

In the 20+ years that I worked with Graham Covington, he consistently delivered meaningful results that created positive momentum for the organization. Graham established this track record by: Using well-designed questions to clarify issues and bring the topic at hand into sharp focus….

Terry L. Lock
Senior Vice President (Retired),
Boise Cascade Corporation