Organisations often boast about being, or aspiring to be, a results-driven organisation or having a results-driven culture, not understanding its pitfalls. Results are outcomes and when organisations focus mainly on outcomes, they develop undesirable side effects including diluted values, abandoned principles and poor behaviours.
As complex systems, organisations can’t be managed like machines, being steered towards a desired outcome. At best they can be nudged in the direction that leaders want to take them and even then, only if the necessary propensities to move in that direction have been cultivated with resilience and perseverance. Leaders that focus mainly on results are seeking a silver bullet that doesn’t exist. Building a great organisation requires integrity, commitment to the right values and behaviours, the resilience to persist with these values when things get tough and always be clear about where their “true north” is. Focusing on results therefore is not a silver bullet, its more like playing Russian roulette and not the best way to achieve the desired outcomes or results.
Pitfalls of Being or Becoming a Results Driven Organisation
Being or becoming a results-focused organisation can have benefits but the downsides far out way its benefits and below are some of the potential drawbacks of focusing mainly on results. The potential pitfalls are:
· Neglect of Process and Quality: Good processes are highly prized organisational assets that store the organisations knowledge and wisdom on how best to execute effectively and efficiently. Good processes are designed and then tested through their execution, monitoring and improvement of their performance. In a results-focused organisation, good processes are seldom given a chance to develop as there will be a tendency to prioritise outcomes over the designed processes used to achieve them. This creates a vicious circle whereby poor processes are blamed for working around them and good processes are never dewlap. This can lead to neglecting important aspects of quality, compliance, and ethics. Over time, this will result in subpar products or services and damage the organisation's reputation.
· Short-Term Thinking: An excessive focus on immediate results will lead to a reactive approach to management that may even be perceived as a virtue. 20% of the organisations people emerge as superhero’s as they can always get things done, but usually at the expense of the other 80%. Proactivity through planning is scorned or abandoned and may even be seen as unattainable or even naive. The organisation enters a spiral of poor management that limits sustainable growth. While short-term gains are essential, they should not come at the expense of the organisation's long-term stability and success.
· High Pressure and Stress: Constantly striving for results can create a high-pressure environment where employees feel stressed and burnt out. Root cause analyses of problems becomes undiscussable and phrases like you are “trying to boil the ocean” or “solve world hunger” emerge as pejorative statements to encourage people to “just get on and do it”. Discussions about psychologic safety are dismissed as “academic” and those aware smiles knowingly that that’s not how you get into the inner circle around here. This pressure can negatively impact morale, employee well-being, and overall job satisfaction.
· Risk Aversion: To maintain a focus on results, some organisations will become risk-averse, avoiding innovative approaches or new strategies. This can stifle creativity and limit the organisation's ability to adapt to changing market conditions or technological advancements.
· Tunnel Vision: A relentless pursuit of results will cause the organisation to become narrowly focused on specific metrics or KPIs. This tunnel vision will cause them to miss broader opportunities or overlook other important aspects of the business.
· Ethical Concerns: In extreme cases, a results-focused approach might incentivise unethical behaviour or corner-cutting to achieve targets. This can lead to scandals, legal issues, and reputational damage.
· Lack of Collaboration: When individual or team performance is solely measured by results, it can foster competition and discourage collaboration between departments. This can hinder knowledge-sharing and innovation across the organisation.
· Inflexibility: Rigid adherence to results can make it difficult for the organisation to adapt to changing circumstances or market dynamics. Flexibility and agility are essential in today's rapidly evolving business landscape.
· Employee Burnout and Turnover: The pressure to constantly achieve results can lead to employee burnout and high turnover rates. Losing experienced staff can be costly and disrupt the organisation's stability.
· Narrow Definition of Success: A focus solely on results will overlook the importance of other valuable aspects of an organisation, such as employee satisfaction, customer experience, and social responsibility.
Achieving Great Results with Fewer Pitfalls and Downsides
To mitigate the downsides that arise when organisations focus mainly on results, organisations should strive for a balanced approach that values both results and the means to achieve them. This includes fostering a healthy work culture, emphasising long-term planning, promoting innovation, and setting realistic and ethical targets.
By far the best way to achieve an organisations desired outcome, with fewer “negative side effects”, is to focus on being a “values and behaviours” driven organisation. An organisation that aspires to develop and promote the right values and behaviours will achieve their desired or better results (outcomes).
Becoming a “values and behaviours” driven organisation is a subset of becoming a high-performance organisation (HPO). A HPO is defined as being one that “consistently outperforms its peers and achieves exceptional results”. The following are some of the key attributes commonly associated with high-performance organisations:
· Clear Vision and Strategy that is Effectively Deployed: They have a clear and compelling vision of their future and a well-defined strategy that has been well formulated and deployed to achieve it. This vision serves as a guiding force, and when deployed effectively, employees and managers are aligned with it.
· Process Focused: Being process focused provides a structured framework that streamlines communication, enhances efficiency, and promotes a sense of clarity and accountability among team members. Process ownership and process management (process governance) provides the basis for structured horizontal collaboration and distributed leadership.
Active process management is the norm where the practice of actively monitoring and controlling processes within an organization to ensure efficient and effective operations is standard. Active process management involves the continuous evaluation, analysis, and improvement of processes to enhance productivity, quality, and customer satisfaction.
· Strong and Distributed Leadership: HPOs have leaders who inspire, motivate, and empower their teams to excel. Effective distributed leadership, also known as shared or collaborative leadership, is crucial in driving an organisation towards high performance. Distributed leadership is a leadership approach in which the decision-making authority and responsibilities are distributed among multiple individuals or teams within an organisation rather than being concentrated in the hands of a single leader or a small group of leaders.
It is a departure from the traditional hierarchical leadership model where decisions flow from the top-down and where mid-level managers often abdicate their role as leaders, complaining about what is not working instead of stepping up an taking ownership for solutions instead of being the bearer of bad tidings all the time.
In a distributed leadership model, different individuals or teams take on leadership roles as necessary and contribute their expertise and knowledge to various aspects of the organisation's operations. This form of leadership encourages a more inclusive and participative approach, as it leverages the diverse skills and perspectives of employees throughout the organisation.
· Employee Engagement: Employees in high-performance organisations are highly engaged and committed to the organisation's goals because they resonate with their own goals and ambitions. They feel valued and are actively involved in decision-making processes because they feel the organisation cares about them and their ambitions, so they reciprocate. Just like communication, engagement is a two-way process.
· Talent Management: HPOs attract top talent and have robust systems in place for talent development and retention. They invest in training and creating opportunities for their employees to grow.
· Data-Driven Decision Making: They rely on data and analytics to make informed decisions. They gather and analyse relevant data to optimise performance and find areas for improvement. Ironically, many results driven organisations have poor data and analytics to make informed decisions and rely therefore on “superheroes” to get things done which results in power struggles between different factions across the organisation.
· Are Comfortable Moving up and Down the Ladder of Abstraction
Many organisations get stuck at one end of S.I. Hayakawa’s ladder of abstraction, ridiculously stuck at the top of the ladder where intellectually blank assertions are not just tolerated but become “how you get on around here”. At the other end of the ladder, people are constantly stuck in the weeds and can’t see the woods for the trees. A well-developed management team will recognise intellectually blank assertions and have little tolerance for them, will always feel comfortable holding each other accountable and reserve the right to ask for and expect evidence and data to underscore assertions. The ability to work both ends of the ladder as needed is key to effective communication and good management.
· Customer-Centric Approach: Successful organisations focus on understanding and meeting customer needs, internal customers (other teams & processes), customers across the supply and demand chains (vendors and channel partners) and external (the end customer). They aim to deliver exceptional products or services and build long-term relationships with all their customers.
· Continuous Improvement: High-performance organisations understand that the modern organisation and the customers it serves are complex and perfection is impossible to achieve. As such it is never satisfied with the status quo and fosters a culture of continuous improvement, where managers and employees are encouraged to innovate and find better ways of doing things daily.
· Collaborative Culture: To be or become a high performing organisation it is not just enough to be willing to collaborate but there needs to be in place structured collaboration where people can work together to solve common problems. Collaboration and teamwork therefore are not just encouraged in HPOs, they are built into the day-to-day management of the organisation and are mandatory. Silos are broken down or bridged, processes are owned and managed to ensure that managers and employees can work effectively and efficiently together towards common goals. Managers are not simply good departmental and functional managers, but they are good organisational managers who are as much concerned about the horizonal performance of the organisation and its value streams as they are about the individual performance of their department or function.
· Flexible and Agile: Flexibility is an operational capability to make changes within the current organisational system when a predicted event occurs. Agility is a strategic capability to change the overall system completely in response to an unpredictable external force. Flexibility therefore is an agility capability, among other capabilities such as responsiveness or speed. HPOs are quick to respond to changes in the market or business environment. They are adaptable and can pivot their strategies as needed.
· Performance Metrics: Key performance indicators (KPIs) are set up to measure success and progress. KPIs are balanced to avoid bias and manipulability and are positively biased towards predictive (lead indicators) rather than retrospective (lag indicators).
· Accountability: HPOs hold individuals and teams accountable for their performance, particularly for practicing the organisations desired values and behaviours. Constructive debate is encouraged and supported by a psychologically safe environment that is fostered and protected.
· Innovation and Creativity: High-performance organisations foster a culture of innovation. They encourage employees to think creatively and support initiatives that drive innovation.
· Resilience: HPOs can navigate through challenges and setbacks with resilience. They learn from failures and use them as opportunities for growth.
· High Levels of Trust and Psychological Safety: Trust is a fundamental element of HPOs. There is trust between leaders and employees, among team members, and between the organisation and its customers and partners. Psychological safety refers to the shared belief within a group or team that they can express themselves, take risks, and be vulnerable without fear of negative consequences. It is a critical aspect of a healthy and productive work or social environment.
· Adherence to Core Values Principles and Behaviours: Core values, principals and behaviours are essential components of any successful organisation. They serve as guiding principles that define the company's identity, culture, and purpose. HPOs have a set of core values that are ethical, environmentally and socially responsible and that promote equality, diversity, and inclusion. They develop behaviours that promote quality and excellence in the creation, production, promotion, delivery, return/recycle and support of their products and services with the satisfaction of customers and employees being key principles that guide their actions and decision-making. The organisations core values, principals and behaviours form the foundation of the organisation's culture.
· External Sensitivity and Orientation: HPOs are outward-looking and continuously check external trends and developments. They can monitor weak signals from the environment that are not easily detected but can develop into major problems down the road. This helps them stay ahead of the competition and expect changes in their industry.
These attributes collectively contribute to the sustained success and high performance of organisations. It's important to note that achieving and maintaining these attributes requires a long-term commitment, persistence and effort from all levels of the organisation.
A Collaborative Culture is a Process Focused Culture
Structured collaboration and teamwork are key attributes of being a High-Performance Organisation and being process-focused will significantly help structuring that collaboration. Well developed roles of process ownership and process management provide a structured framework that streamlines communication, enhances efficiency, and promotes a sense of clarity and accountability among team members. Here are some of those ways that being process-focused benefits improved collaboration and higher performance:
· Clarity and Consistency: A well-defined process sets up clear guidelines and expectations for how collaboration should occur. This clarity ensures that all team members understand their roles, responsibilities, and the steps involved in achieving the collaborative goals. Consistency in the process helps to avoid confusion and ensures that everyone is on the same page.
· Efficient Workflow: A structured process optimises the flow of work and information and provides the platform for structured collaboration. By defining the sequence of tasks and their dependencies, team members can better prioritise their activities and coordinate their efforts. This efficiency reduces delays and bottlenecks, improving overall productivity.
· Improved Communication: A process-focused approach often includes predefined channels and protocols for communication, particularly horizontal, cross departmental communication. Regular meetings, progress updates, and feedback loops ensure that information is shared promptly and transparently among team members. Effective communication fosters collaboration and keeps everyone informed and engaged.
· Alignment with Goals: A process-oriented collaboration is aligned with the overall goals and aims of the project or organisation. It ensures that the efforts of the team are directed towards achieving the desired outcomes, rather than getting lost in uncoordinated activities.
· Accountability and Ownership: A structured process assigns clear responsibilities to team members helping the, understand their role in the collaborative effort. It helps them understand why they need to be accountable for their contributions. When everyone knows their role and how it fits into the broader collaboration, they are more likely to take ownership of their tasks and deliver results.
· Conflict Resolution: A well-designed process may include mechanisms for conflict resolution and decision-making. This ensures that when disagreements arise, there is a defined way to address and resolve them constructively.
· Organisational Agility
Traditional management structures were designed for stability and are particularly good at that. Like pylons in a building driven into the ground, they provide the anchoring that brings stability to the organisation. These vertical management structures, often disparaged as organisational silos, are a vital component of a strong organisation. However, like all strengths that are overused, they can become a major weakness. In earthquake zones, engineers no longer build buildings that are rigid and anchored to the ground. They build buildings that are anchored but also have shock absorbers that can allow the building to move up, down and sideways when exposed to a shock.
The modern economy, now the digital economy, is more like an earthquake zone and organisations need the same agility and flexibility or shock absorbers, as do modern buildings. The management equivalent of shock absorbers is the ability to manage horizontally, up and down, not just down.
Process ownership and process management, collectively called process governance, provides the structured horizonal collaboration that compliments the vertical management structures that already do their job well but sometimes to well. For horizontal management structures to be allowed develop, the vertical management structures must let go of their iron grip. Similarly, to allow for up and down agility, distributed management practices are necessary.
· Scalability and Replicability: A process-focused collaboration can be easily scaled up or down, making it adaptable to different project sizes or complexities. It also allows for replicability, enabling similar collaborations to follow a successful blueprint.
· Learning and Improvement: A process-oriented approach encourages learning from past experiences. After each collaboration, teams can review the process, identify areas for improvement, and adjust for future endeavours, leading to continuous enhancement of collaboration effectiveness.
· Facilitates Onboarding of New Members: A structured process helps onboard new team members more efficiently. By providing a clear roadmap and documented procedures, new members can quickly understand the collaboration's dynamics and contribute effectively.
· Reduces Confusion and Overlaps: In the absence of a defined process, there may be confusion about responsibilities, leading to overlaps or gaps in work. A process-focused approach minimises such issues by establishing a systematic workflow.
Being process-focused enhances collaboration by providing structure, clarity, and accountability. It streamlines communication and workflow, reduces misunderstandings, and fosters a collaborative environment where team members can work together efficiently to achieve common goals.
Justifying Becoming a Process Focused Organisation
Being or becoming a process-driven or process-focused organisation often needs justification particularly when confronted by those who believe in the superficial attractions that a results-driven culture seems to offer. Process-driven organisations will bring many benefits but be prepared to face many potential challenges or criticisms like those below:
1. Flexibility Concerns: Some critics argue that a process-driven approach can stifle creativity and innovation by imposing rigid procedures. Justifying the organisation's focus on processes might involve explaining how the processes are designed to provide a framework for efficiency while still allowing room for adaptability and innovation.
2. Cost-Benefit Analysis: Implementing and maintaining well-defined processes can require investments in time, resources, and technology. Justifying the process-driven approach will involve demonstrating how the benefits, such as increased productivity and reduced errors, outweigh the costs associated with implementing and managing the processes.
3. Resistance to Change: Introducing or emphasising processes can face resistance from employees who prefer a more flexible or informal work environment. Justification might involve explaining how processes can lead to less stress, better teamwork, ease of getting things done, reduced ambiguity, and improved overall performance.
4. Potential Bureaucracy: Processes should be the embodiment of an organisation’s best methods and practices for how to get things done effectively and efficiently. An emphasis on processes that have simply “emerged” or have been poorly designed and implemented, will lead to a perception of excessive bureaucracy, slowing down decision-making and hindering agility. Justifying the process-driven approach will involve detailing how the organisation will actively design, implement manage and improve processes to allow better execution and avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.
5. Alignment with Organisational Goals: Critics might question whether a process-driven approach aligns with the organisation's strategic goals and vision. Justification could involve demonstrating how well-defined processes contribute to achieving those goals by optimising operations and enhancing customer satisfaction.
6. Industry and Context Specificity: Not all industries or business contexts benefit equally from a process-driven approach. Justifying this organisational focus might involve providing evidence of successful implementations of similar approaches in comparable industries or explaining how it aligns with industry best practices.
7. Employee Empowerment and Engagement: Some argue that a process-driven approach might disempower employees by overly prescriptive guidelines. Justification could involve highlighting how well-designed processes can empower employees by providing clear expectations and guidelines for their work.
8. Customer-Centricity: Critics might question whether a process-driven approach puts too much emphasis on internal operations, potentially neglecting customer needs. Justification might involve explaining how customer-centricity is embedded within the processes, ensuring that customer requirements are at the core of the organisation's activities.
While being a process-driven organisation can bring significant benefits, potential challenges and criticisms could require justification to demonstrate that the chosen approach is well-considered, aligned with the organisation's objectives, and capable of addressing concerns raised by stakeholders. Effective justification can help gain support and confidence in the organisation's chosen operational model.