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Enhancing Organizational Performance

A Moose in the Distance

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What do organizations want? The answer is nothing. Organizations are nothing more than an abstraction. Organizations are virtual, they do not exist. You can’t talk to an organization. You can’t touch an organization. You can’t expect an organization to operate in one fashion or another.

An organization is an amalgamation, a sum of its people. You can talk to an organization’s people. You can shake hands with its people and you can expect its people to behave in a certain fashion.

So what do organizations want? The answer is they want whatever it is the people within the organization want. If the people in the organization desire to behave in a respectful way towards others, then the organization becomes one that is known for respectful treatment. If the organization is one in which quality is paramount for each and every individual then the organization becomes one that is known for delivering quality products and services. The organization takes on the characteristics by which the majority of its people operate. (It is of course incumbent to the organization to provide the resources that people need in order to operate in the desired fashion).

What is the tipping point, the point at which an organization’s reputation is driven by those characteristics? Is it when a third of the people operate according to a certain shared vision, a half, two-thirds? I don’t know an exact number but I would suspect that the number will vary somewhat depending on the characteristic that is being adopted. Unfortunately, what is very clear is that a negative characteristic much more easily gets associated with an organization’s reputation than a positive one. It takes but a single breech of ethics to taint a reputation; a single quality issue can cause an organization to have to constantly reprove itself with a customer. A relatively minor labeling issue on a report, for instance, can cast the veracity of the whole report into doubt, doubt that is much more easily purchased than is a reputation of quality.

The notion of how an organization will operate, its standards, needs to percolate throughout the entire organization. Critical operating standards need to be infused into each and every aspect of organizational functioning. They need to break through any barriers that might exist as they find their way into each and every pocket of the organization. For instance, safety cannot be the imperative of a manufacturing unit and then felt not to apply elsewhere within the organization. Safety must be infused if it is to stick long term within the organization and become part of what the organization is, how it is defined.

I have had a desire (not an obsession, just an interest) that I have been pursuing for a number of years. I have been hoping to see a moose in its natural habitat. I have taken trips to Alaska, Vermont, Maine and Wyoming that have been at least partially driven by my desire to observe a wild moose. I have been successful twice in my pursuit of the elusive creature, once in Alaska and once in Wyoming. But each time there has been a slight snag. The moose has been so far away from me that they are no more than a small dot, visible as a moose by binoculars only. The notion of being close enough to observe their behaviors, to really feel their presence, to get a sense of what the creature is really like, has been slightly beyond my grasp each time. Each sighting has left me feeling somewhat unfulfilled. Somehow those partial successes have only driven me to plan my next foray into moose observation with a little more intensity.

Just as the pursuit of a desire will often fall somewhat short of the vision of perfection that you have in your head, the pursuit of the perfect organizational environment is an elusive goal as well. There is no such thing as a perfect organization, only a vision of perfection that one can strive for only to find that it is constantly somewhat out of reach. But that doesn’t mean we give up on our vision, our desires, we simply need to plan with a little more intensity for our next foray. We set goals; we set goals not because they represent an end state, but because they represent stops, however brief, along the way. In today’s competitive ever changing environment the eventually end state, the culmination of the dream does not exist. The end goal is an ever moving elusive target, but it is a goal that we must pursue.

© 2011 by Jeffrey M. Saltzman. All rights reserved.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

March 29, 2011 at 9:55 pm

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