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Coherent strategy needed for organizational health

Posted online

by Peta G. Penson

for the Business Journal

After all the work on employee empowerment initiatives, many workers remain pretty confused about their roles, uncertain which of their behaviors support corporate objectives, and some aren't even at all sure their corporate objectives came from a coherent strategy.

We don't need Dilbert to tell us that some of them can only tell what the company vision is by walking over to the wall of their cubby and reading it.

Information about how the work gets done and what work gets done must flow continuously to bring decision making down the lowest levels, make employees feel like owners, and encourage accountability.

By asking employees directly about their perceptions, you can obtain a stunning clarity about the health of your organization. But you must do this in a careful and systematic way.

A good organizational culture survey includes questions about vision and mission strategy. It surveys leadership and management at the top and the supervisory levels. It asks about accountability, relationships within and between departments, reward and recognition, communications, training and career growth opportunities and job satisfaction.

Deceptively simple, they can be a prime data collection tool for business awareness, a valuable guide for future development, and, over time, a highly accurate method of evaluating progress on specific fronts.

Here are some critical success factors when planning an organizational survey:

1. Be prepared for good news. Be prepared for bad news.

To avoid creating a survey-jaded employee population, don't even start to survey employees on this (or anything) until the leadership has publicly committed to doing something as a result of the findings.

2. Start backwards.

First ask what it is that you want to discover, and what you will do with that knowledge.

If you are seeking information on one aspect, consider whether the expense can justify expanding the content of the survey to cover all other organizational matters.

Very often the cost of designing, administering, collecting and reporting the information makes it more cost-efficient for wider surveys.

3. Establish a few governing rules of policy about the process and the results:

?Everyone in the company, or a statistically representative cross-section of everyone, will be surveyed.

?Anonymity will be assured. You get many times better feedback than if employees are asked to identify themselves.

?Results will be made public in some fashion.

4. Results will include both quantitative data and open-ended comments.

Employees want to tell you their strongest areas of concern, and how they feel about the work they do: whether they think anyone notices their performance, whether they experience any linkage between job performance and compensation, whether they have sufficient feedback to know how they are doing and how to improve.

5. As the receiver of anonymous comments, be prepared to engage both your head and your heart.

Employees can be quite eloquent. Their written responses can convey all the passion and drama of a mini-series, and they can quote precisely where things are going wrong, what opportunities are being missed, what is and isn't working.

Here's a sample:

?"We are losing the wrong people, and it's not about money. If you do extra work on a project team, you just fall farther behind on your other work. And the fact that no one says a heartfelt thank you means you learn early not to volunteer for them."

?"Although her office is less than 500 yards away, in the past four years we have never had a visit from the CEO in my building."

?"I personally made six suggestions to improve work flow last year and all were ignored. My teammates all report similar experiences. Is anybody listening?"

6. Lose your paradigms.

Those underlying rules and assumptions that govern the way you view information and solve problems can hobble your efforts to ask the right questions.

First cousin to the sacred cow, paradigms like "our parent company won't let us" or "suppliers can't be trusted," or "the purpose of our work is to improve next quarter's financials" preclude breakthrough performance.

Rules and assumptions change, processes develop arteriosclerosis and clog work flow.

Ask questions about all aspects of organizational life and create a place for employees to talk about what they think without being limited.

It takes courage to ask, a characteristic, we are told, of true leadership. But it may take more courage to hear. Here's a true story about the CEO who commissioned an organizational study to discover what was contributing to the higher-than-normal attrition rate.

When the results were presented showing that as you went down in the pecking order, you went up the dissatisfaction scale, and moreover, the volume of commentary paralleled this phenomenon he thought a moment and said, "Well, it's easy to see what's wrong here ... we've got the wrong employees." (!)

(Peta G. Penson is a senior consultant with Teams International Inc.)


An organizational survey can be a prime data collection

tool for business awareness, a valuable guide for future

development, and a highly accurate method of evaluating progress.[[In-content Ad]]


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