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David White – Building a business culture that promotes productivity and sustainability

Every business Leader’s first responsibility is to create a work environment conducive to meeting organisational and stakeholder objectives.

These business leadership expectations are deeply etched in standard governance and ethics responsibilities. Effective leadership is essential in ensuring the organisation’s intention, its mission, its vision and objectives are planned and organised in such a way that success and sustainability are likely to be achieved.

Of course, this is easier said than done. Where does one begin? To be successful, the organisation’s intention needs to align closely with customer and stakeholder satisfaction. From this anticipated outcome the Leader works backwards, recognising that the business foundation, its quality assurance processes, staffing and culture, and measurements and milestones are the defining means to achieve the desired outcome.

The desired outcome needs to be clearly defined by the Leader, and staff employed into the organisation must understand and support this mission and vision. They must align their individual purpose to supporting these intentions. Without alignment of the Leader’s vision and of staff members’ purpose, there is little hope of creating the heightened energy an organisation needs to reach and exceed its goals and intentions.

Energy is the catalyst in ensuring momentum to overcome operational challenges, to engage proactively and caringly with customers, and to tap into inspirational ideas and solutions. The Leader too needs to be part of the organisation’s momentum, but also needs to be able to overcome inertia, drive new ideas, and involve staff and customers in the organisation’s journey towards meeting goals and objectives.

In our research and experience, we identified important perspectives Leaders should consider in their role of creating “highly engaged work environments”. Consider, that most companies in the world today are on average only 40% productive, and that only 20% to 25% of staff are excited to get up and go to work each day. These statistics are alarming, and impact considerably on organisational effectiveness.

We have worked in many different industries and in big and small organisations, and note that the principles of engagement are common in all organisations, and are somewhat straight forward and simple to implement. There of course needs to be a willingness on the part of the Leader, who must want to encourage staff and teams to have meaningful roles in the organisation, and for them to have a sense of purpose, contribution and belonging. There is no one specific formula that creates the perfect outcome, as there are many unique variables such as maturity of the organisation, its existing culture and leadership norms, and situational staff and customer expectations. However, all highly engaged organisations have many things in common, and if we apply similar engagement principles in our own organisations, we can certainly anticipate a positive outcome.

It is important upfront to mention, that creating a highly engaged organisation is a journey a Leader goes on with staff and stakeholders, and is not created by a single tap on the shoulder by a mystical magic wand… and voilà … overnight, a fully engaged organisation where staff take self-inspired action… for results, suddenly appears. The journey needs to be intentional and should contain aspects of the four areas that are highlighted in the points summarised below.

Knowing outcome intentions

A Leader must have a clearly defined vision which details the intended outcome and reason for the organisation’s existence. This vision (purpose) needs to meet governance, sustainability, and stakeholder expectations. In other words, it needs to meet ethical standards, complement or add value to globally defined sustainability measures, and provide value to customers, staff, and stakeholders.

A Leader needs to be confident in his or her pursuit in meeting these defined organisational outcome intentions. This confidence needs to come through a knowing of how anticipated organisational goals and desires can be reached. This often comes through experience, intuition, and recognising contribution requirements needed from staff and resources within the organisation. Very often the Leader is the source of inspiration for the creation of the organisation, and although this role may be transferred or shared as the organisation evolves, it is necessary for the Leader himself or herself (and staff members) to recognise the importance of a founder’s role in guiding innovation, building customer, supplier and funder loyalty, and ensuring an engaged and productive employment culture.

Creating a solid business foundation

The vision as defined by the Leader of the organisation, and the business foundation are quite different. Business foundations include the functional activities that support the organisation meeting its mission and vision, and are in most circumstances common to all organisations.

These include:

· Clearly defined operational and quality assurance processes

· Systems to map processes and provide structure and controls

· Licensing, accreditations and customer and supplier service agreements

· Financial models that ensure the organisation is able to manage margins, cashflow requirements and meet stakeholder reporting and earning requirements

· A holistic understanding of consumer behaviour and ensuring focused and effective communications with the organisation’s specific target market

· An HR foundation that meets cultural norms, administration and compliance standards – as well as providing role clarity, outcome expectation and promotion of equity and fairness in the workplace.

Without a solid business and functional area foundation, it is not possible to build a highly engaged and productive organisation culture. The functional area activities need to be designed specifically to meet outcome requirements of the organisation.

Clearly defined intentions and measurements

Stakeholder expectations help to define the measurements needed in the organisation. It is essential that the Leader and staff members recognise the importance of all stakeholders in the organisation, and that the success of the business is directly proportionate to it meeting all stakeholder expectations. Stakeholders include customers, shareholders, staff, affected communities, funders, the environment, receivers of revenue, department of labour, etc. Each stakeholder measure is critical in defining the organisation outcome objectives, and it is essential the Leader ensures that all staff members and the organisation’s culture directs activities and supports the intention of meeting these outcome measures. As the organisation evolves, there will be different stakeholder focus areas. Certainly a newly founded organisation may be more focused on generating income through sales, and meeting supplier and staffing commitments, but a Leader should never forget, the responsibility they have in meeting the expectations and measurements of all stakeholders. In defining stakeholder measures, the organisation must identify the impact their actions have on each stakeholder.

Staffing and Teams

Business success derives from the day-to-day activities that produce the desired organisational outcome, and these activities are managed by people. People, as such are the essential component to ensure the success and sustainability of every organisation. In an organisation, “people” are referred to as staff, and it is for good reason that we consider their contribution to the organisation’s success so highly.

Staff need to support the purpose and vision of the organisation as defined by the Leader, and these ideals must resonate comfortably with their own life’s goals and ideals. Staff also need to understand clearly how the organisation’s business processes unfold to ensure quality outcomes, and how they personally contribute towards meeting goals, objectives, and measurements. We often find that although staff may be highly trained and experienced in specific areas of the work they do, they lack understanding of that which makes the organisation attractive to customers, how it generates income and ensures its profitability and sustainable.

A Leader’s role in the organisation is to ensure the sustainability of the organisation, and that stakeholder measures are met. The Leader does this effectively through creating an engaging work environment, with people (staff) as the central core of the organisation who ensure administrative, quality assurance, and desired outcomes are reached. It is essential that Leaders consider seriously their responsibility in articulating clearly the organisation’s intention, and ensure staff employed into the organisation align their motivation and actions with this purpose. This includes focusing on stakeholder measurements and ensuring ongoing maintenance and improvements of the organisation’s quality assured functional area foundation.

For more information contact:

David White

T: +27 (0)31 767 0625


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