Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Organizational Resiliency to Time and Change Effects

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The arrow of time in our universe is unidirectional, moving from the past, to the present and forward into the future.  No matter how much we might desire to freeze moments that are precious to us, capturing forever their special meanings, they slip through our fingers as time marches on oblivious, neither slowing, standing still, nor retreating from its own journey. Though we sometimes seem to view ourselves as disconnected observers of time, remembering past and projecting or modifying the future from some place outside of the flow, we live within the time flow and are firmly subject to it.

One thing that is certain, as time moves forward things change. Things change for people as well as for organizations, inexorably. And just like you cannot control the flow of time in which we reside, you cannot slow down, stop or reverse change from happening. But both individuals and organizations can do things that will help them cope with change and to deal with, mitigate and even use its effects to personal and organizational advantage.

One key to dealing with the effects of change is to become more resilient, on an individual level and an organizational level.  How does a child raised in poverty in the Bronx rise to become a Supreme Court judge, or a child from humble roots in Ohio become the Speaker of the House, or a child raised by a teen mom, in an unstable, unpredictable environment, rise to become President of the United States? These were not children of privilege, these were children of resilience. Look at the innumerable children of immigrants, living and growing up in marginal conditions, who over the years became the engines of our economic prosperity, the pillars of our educational institutions, the creative geniuses behind our innovations and technological breakthroughs, or perhaps simply the doctor who saves the life of your child.

Organizations of resilience are seen everywhere we turn, from family farms, to single proprietor craftspeople, to large private sector corporations, to governmental entities, to NGOs and educational institutions. During the course of a year these organizations may be dealing with recession and the resultant drop in business, the next a merger or acquisition perhaps a hostile takeover, the next a disruptive new competitor, the next a disruptive new technology.  Each and every organization out there today will have a continuous stream of challenges that they will need to successfully overcome. And in today’s environment those challenges are coming at them at a faster and more furious pace.  How do these organizations become more rather than less resilient to the forces that will constantly impinge and perhaps even use the constant state-of-change to their advantage?

Resiliency is the notion of positive adaptation when faced with significant adversity or environmental threats. This definition implies that significant threats or severe adversity is present and that the individual or organization positively copes with those threats. The research that has been done on resiliency has shown that being more resilient rather than less leads to more positive outcomes for both individuals and organizations. And it is pretty clear that organizations that partake of certain activities can enhance their resiliency. Cutting across the literature the activities that make organizations more resilient seem to fall within 3 main buckets. The first one is paying attention to and mitigating the effects of the external environmental factors. The second bucket is investing in organizational capabilities and the third is recognition of achievements. Each of these buckets has sub-activities that could be summarized as follows:

Environment

Monitoring: Information collection, environmental monitoring and the appropriate analysis, dissemination and actions surrounding that information (for example, employee, customer and supplier surveys, mystery shopper, competitive benchmarking, technology awareness monitoring, market trends, the gathering and analysis of other business metrics)

Reducing: Minimizing the occurrence of negative chain reactions that can occur from one threat, before they spiral out of control. Compartmentalization of negative events so that they do not affect the entire organization. (for example, by the use of strong internal and external communications networks, strong accountability systems).

Investment

Warding: Investing in a shared vision, a shared operating style, senior leadership, employees, products and services, and quality—the standardization of those products and services as well as organizational procedures. (for example, creating a customer service culture, of a values statement, or a standard of operational excellence)

Transforming: Turning risks into opportunities by developing a culture of innovative and creating organizational capabilities (for example, rewarding innovative ideas and performance that goes above and beyond to solve problems, creating deep bench strength, tapping into the diversity of talent and developing that talent)

Enhancing: Increasing organizational effectiveness and efficacy (for example, cost control, state-of-the-art business processes, contingency planning)

Achievement

Celebrating: Celebrating and rewarding organizational and personal accomplishments (for example, successful completion of organizational and personal goals; installing robust reward and recognition systems)

In reviewing a number of models and then stepping back from any single model of organizational performance, there appear to be six enduring challenges that virtually any organization faces in its pursuit of growth and financial sustainability, in terms of increasing its resiliency or, more generally, Organizational Vitality. These are the challenges that organizations need to become more resilient upon. Three of these challenges can be viewed as internally focused and there can be viewed as externally focused. They are:

Internally

Clear and Compelling Leadership. The overarching mission and direction of the organization needs to be developed and translated through its leaders in order to properly secure and align resources.

Engaged Employees. Organizations need to create an engaging experience to encourage the most from the people who fuel the processes, create the innovation, and deliver for the customers.

Quality Work Processes. Products need to be efficiently created and, along with services, effectively delivered.

Externally

Attractive Offerings. Organizations seek to create value by providing customers—particularly paying customers—with valued and competitive products and services.

Service Orientation. Organizations need to instill a service orientation. No matter what the organization offers, it must be offered in a manner that distinguishes the organization.

Customer as Brand Advocates. Developing brand advocates who are willing to speak highly of your products or service in this interconnected age is critical.

Increasing an organization’s resiliency like any other activity is not a magic bullet that solves each and every problem faced, however the evidence does seem clear that resiliency enhancement can have positive and lasting organizational performance improvement affects.

References:

Saltzman, J.M. & Brooks, S.M. (2010), Strategic Surveying in the Global Marketplace and the Role of Vitality Measures. In Lundby, K. (ed.), Going Global: Practical Applications and Recommendations for HR and OD Professionals in the Global Workplace. Jossey Bass.

© 2010 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

Visit OV: www.orgvitality.com

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