Necessary and painful evil or laying the foundation for your future?
The present economic consequences of the severe health crisis are leading to many social negotiations between the social partners in organizations. Leadership and employee representatives should aim to get most out of these social negotiations in order to do what is best for their customers, their employees and their shareholders.
Since decades this process is difficult and considered painful by both sides, a ‘necessary evil’. Clever companies and employee representatives are getting much more out of this versus those that are stuck in the old rhetoric of us and them. After two decades of multiple negotiations I have seen organizations who come out of this stronger and those who are merely solving an immediate problem and very often end up in the same situation sooner than later.
Abandoning the old roads of conflict in social negotiations
There is a best way of approaching negotiations and leaving decades of conflictual relationships behind us. More and more participants in such negotiations are courageous enough to abandon the old roads of conflict: putting each other under pressure, getting upset with each other and then eventually reaching an agreement because they have no other choice. That is what I call the lose/lose scenario. In such a set up employee representatives say they never get involved correctly and management sees the process as something painful and difficult delaying the necessary changes that need to take place.
Presently many negotiations about organizational changes and restructurings are on the drawing tables so it is timely to look into this. Company and employee representatives who do this well have the capacity to look at the bigger picture. They do not just focus on the issue at hand and try to understand why they are where they are and what needs to be done to get back on track building the longer term future for their customers, employees and shareholders. They find out how to engage in a new social contract after the present negotiation, they look at work to be done as an investment into the future, even in case of layoffs or heavy restructuring. The realize this is not just an administrative process to go through, on the contrary they know it is putting in place the foundation for their future.
You don’t necessarily need to agree on everything
Effective negotiation processes are done with parties at the table who get each other involved, who get input from all around the table, who realize that those involved do not necessarily need to agree on everything, they just need to make sure they move forward together for the benefit of all stakeholders in the process. Individuals who can put their ego’s aside and focus on the essence are key to success. They inform each other correctly and communicate openly about their issues. They also make sure they do not put the other side with the back against the wall and do not have white rabbits jumping out of hats.
Surprising each other in such negotiation exercises is really not advisable. Parties need to keep their cool and need to realize that getting out of this process together, not leaving the other one behind is the only way forward in the long term. If one stakeholder gets it all and the other one does not get anything it is merely a matter of time before you are back at the negotiation table.
Employee representatives most often defend the status quo, no change and no big departure from how things are happening so far. That is obviously not very realistic with the economic damage a lot of organizations are experiencing today. Leaders very often put plans on the table they have worked for months at and do not realize that for employee representatives it is just undoable to understand and agree with them in some meetings.
It always takes two to tango
A well negotiated and balanced deal always gets the better long term consequences. Trying to understand each other’s position and frame of reference is crucial. At the negotiation table there is no place for people who are dogmatic, not able to listen and not able to depart from existing views on the situation.
It always takes two to tango. The most ideal profile for a social negotiator is just a decent human being who is able to listen, learn, share, respect differences of opinion and looking for a solution where all parties can find themselves in. It is also a person who has a sense of urgency as most of the time the topics on the table require rather fast action. Interestingly enough this is the description for both employee and management representatives at the table, there is no distinction between parties with regard to the personal characteristics they should have.
When preparing for such a negotiation, think about what you would do if you were in the shoes of the other party, it will help you get well prepared. However difficult things get never lose your calm, stay focused and always keep the door open. Decisions will come faster and agreements will be reached earlier working like this. This is not about putting the other party as much as possible under pressure through getting the press involved for instance, or to drop service to the customers of the business, tactics unions often use, this is also not about forcing predefined actions down the negotiation tube and explaining there is no other alternative.
In my article ‘to people or not to people’ you can find some more input that can help you thrive in difficult social negotiations, whether you are a manager or union representative. People are people and if you are able to people well you are ahead of the pack and serving those you represent best, whatever side of the table you are on.
The beneficial effect of professional communication in any organizational restructuring, and especially when there are mass redundancies involved, is now widely recognized, backed up by facts and figures. The effect operates at a number of levels.
1. Being in control of the project right from the beginning and keeping control throughout the process
There is a saying: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Preparing for a corporate restructuring must avoid all amateurishness and ensure the inclusion of all the target groups on which the firm depends. Specific preparation must be made to back up the internal announcement, handle the press and other mass media, and manage external communication.
Crisis scenarios will have to be studied in advance and borne in mind when formulating a crisis plan. There must be provision to train people in handling the media and uncertainty. All of this will have to be included in specific arrangements for organization and planning. A professional approach to communication will give the firm a significantly greater chance of succeeding in its plan.
2. Ensuring the senior managers’ credibility and protecting the firm’s reputation when dealing with the media in difficult circumstances, while also retaining trust among customers, banks, strategic suppliers, governmental authorities, etc.
At times of corporate restructuring, the press and other media primarily focus on the attitude the firm adopts towards the staff, rather than looking at the basic problem. A journalist knows that a firm’s announcement of an “intention” actually means that it is determined, and that nothing will prevent it from carrying out the plan! On the other hand, all eyes will be on the firm’s attitude towards industrial-relations problems. Specific training in handling the media will make it possible to frame messages that correspond with the media’s values while meeting the firm’s aims. The same is true in relation to customers, banks, important suppliers and the authorities. A proactive and personalized approach will make all the difference in terms of trust in the firm and the firm’s reputation.
3. In case of a collective dismissal, avoiding trade unions or staff members resorting to legal proceedings for failure to comply with Belgium’s Loi Renault, with the risk of financial and other penalties being imposed
Every word is important when there is an intention to close or restructure a firm, as it may be used against the organization. A professional approach to communication will ensure that the messages communicated both internally and externally comply scrupulously with the law. This must apply not only to documents but also in orally communicated messages from managers. Those in charge of communication must, for this purpose, have a good knowledge of what is implied by the Loi Renault and also have wide experience enabling them to brief senior and other managers. Bringing a professional approach to bear in communication should avoid legal appeals being made, based on shortcomings or communication errors at any stage.
4. Avoiding the dissemination of incorrect information that can produce conflicts
A basic rule for success in communication is being proactive. Being the first to disseminate a message is definitely an advantage over the trade unions. It is not enough, however. The announcement of a corporate restructuring must be framed according to certain communication principles if it is to be persuasive throughout the firm. Expressing the “business case” for a restructuring in terms that are clear and comprehensible to everyone is a job in itself.
It has been shown that clear and proactive communication avoids giving trade unions an opportunity to sow doubt, and makes it possible to avoid “emotional” types of industrial action.
5. Ensuring the plan’s credibility and that its effect is beneficial for the future, with no loss of the employees who hold the key to the firm’s successful relaunch
In any restructuring, two types of message have to be communicated: messages for those who may leave the firm and, even more importantly, messages for those who will remain and on whom the firm will depend for making the relaunch or plans for change a success.
This is a delicate exercise. Achieving the right balance depends on numerous factors. Control over these is important, so as to avoid losing key employees and prepare for a successful relaunch.
6. Avoiding or limiting industrial-relations conflicts, and managing crises, while keeping the firm as fully operational as possible
Avoiding and managing industrial-relations crises are a job in its own right within the communication field. Keeping the firm operational in particularly volatile or emotional circumstances is not something where you can ad lib. In either case, expertise in managing human behavior and change is essential, as is solid experience of managing industrial-relations crises. This experience has to be communicated to the managers (through general training and specific briefing) to assist in controlling difficult situations that can arise in everyday dealings with the staff.
7. Managing the situation when negotiations have reached a stalemate
Often, a stalemate can be overcome by a thoroughly convincing communication initiative to the staff, sometimes backed up by the media. Examples have occurred where staff representatives have refused to participate in the works-council meeting where an announcement was to be made. Other cases have been where there was a ballot to accept an industrial-relations plan, etc. There is no shortage of instruments, but what really matters is to develop a winning strategy, based on extensive experience of the field.
8. Training and supporting the supervisory staff in their communication activities aimed at changing opinions, accepting that the information and consultation phase is over, and ensuring the business continues
Middle management is a fundamental link in communication with the grass roots. People now stress that 80% of the messages communicated by a firm have to go through the supervisory staff, with only 20% being amenable to management from the center. This is especially true for middle managers, who often find themselves very much alone when dealing with a restructuring plan and staff reactions and questions. It has been noted that appropriate training in change-related communication and frequent back-up in the form of arguments or questions & answers are really helpful for these managers. The positive influence on grass roots’ opinions and on continuing business is widely recognized.
9. Managing the post-restructuring relaunch in order to achieve the plan’s aims
During a restructuring, a lot of energy is expended and resources deployed in the communication of the project and the management of the different steps of the process. This often creates a specific dynamic in terms of communication channels that should be kept open and alive after the restructuring. This contributes a lot to remobilizing the employees around the company project in order to provide the impetus needed to remotivate the staff and achieve the firm’s plan.
Looking back at a couple of decades of global and local Belgian human resources and business life I realize that there is a compelling need for a new verb to describe how to most effectively interact with each other, to team up, to move forward together, to negotiate with others and get a constructive outcome. This verb could add so much to help us understand what is going wrong in case our discussion, our collective effort, our negotiation, our energy spent trying to get somewhere do not lead us to the desired outcome. It would also develop more successful individuals, teams and organizations.
Being extremely fascinated to get results through and for people in organizations it was time to reinvent this verb that describes it all, that is ‘to people’. So from now on if you think ‘this is not working out’, ‘we are not moving in the right direction’ ask yourself, ask your team : ‘Am I, are we able to people well’?
Skill, competency, natural talent, organizational capability.
To people is all of that. It is the art to move forward together without necessarily agreeing with the party you are moving with, it is about creating a common goal and being courageous enough to be interdependent. It is about motion and moving to avoid standstill or going backwards. It is about understanding the frame of reference of who is sitting on the other side and not being afraid of trying.
Today’s world is more dividing than uniting.
There is a large need to people better in today’s world. I could give multiple examples globally, regionally and locally, at organization, department and team level where the individuals involved are not able to move forward, not able to make things happen or progress. As my expertise is basically in a business setting I will focus on business examples although this phenomenon is visible in all parts of society and at all levels.
Strategy and implementation
The classical example I have seen many times in my human resources career is the bright human resources professional developing great strategic plans, fantastic power points and, unfortunately, none of them are used by the business leader the person supports. This is not exclusive to human resources, it also exists in other functions such as communications, marketing, or engineering developing a great product that sales can’t, or is not willing to sell, or production is not able to produce at the right cost.
Sometimes an individual, team or even entire function in an organization forget the reason why they exist. Instead of meeting a specific business need with a concrete approach, intellectual rhetoric and 30000 feet high plans are developed, thoughts, ideas and actions that are never applied and end up at the cemetery of brilliant though unused ideas and all of this because they do not people well with their business.
Management and Social Partners
Another example frequently observed is the unproductive way management and social partners interact with each other. Business leaders and union or works council representatives depart from the position that the other one has to be wrong or does not get it. Not exactly a good point of departure and a waste of energy, resources and lots of frustration on both sides.
When parties to the table start doing things to just fit their own agenda, they won’t be able to move, they will do the opposite and dig themselves in. Short term solutions are found to unblock the immediate crisis and long term issues continue to exist.
These two examples illustrate that creating intellectual rhetoric without meaning is useless and expensive and dysfunctional social relations are a drain on company resources. All of this because those involved do not people enough, they forgot how important it is to move forward together with respect of different opinions and styles.
How to move forward together without necessarily agreeing on everything.
The success criteria to respect to people well can be described as follows :
1) Have a strong desire to make things happen.
2) Be courageous enough to put everything on the table and avoid ‘a prioris’.
3) Avoid being dogmatic and exclusive.
4) Make a conscious effort to understand the frame of reference of the other party.
5) Focus on the opportunity and not on what can go wrong or what is dangerous.
6) Have a firm belief that information is not power. What you do with the information is key.
7) Don’t think you need to like everything that is going on, just be willing to try, to experiment, to forget your anxiety for a moment and engage.
If you want to people well you also need to understand the role of ego in the discussion. There is nothing wrong having a strong ego as long as you can manage it and as long as it does not run away with you. I have seen so many people in my career, more as they move up the ranks, who forget the basic reason why they exist in the organization. They forget that the business and the customer ares at the center and start to operate in a vacuum. Leaders or individuals who do succeed in managing their ego well understand what others really need. By not controlling their ego leaders fail to respond to operational needs and miss the opportunity to make a difference. They are not able to people correctly, they are not nourishing their organization, they are just nourishing their ego and actually end up managing the consequences of ineffective decisions versus shaping the future.
Keeping in touch with all stakeholders including your social partners.
In these turbulent Covid days many companies will have significant economic challenges ahead and will need to adjust to the new reality. To people correctly when you need to restructure means:
- Creating an environment where both sides commit to people well
- Determining what is in the interest of all the stakeholders
- Avoiding to inject non-negotiables
- Not hiding behind laws or mediators
- Not being shy of sharing information
- Determining what you are interdependent on and which common goal you have
While entering negotiations one side often surprises the other one with financial data the other side does not buy in to. To people well makes parties exchange their numbers ahead of the negotiation so that they are understood so when negotiation starts they know each other’s point of view and can start looking for common ground to find solutions without spending hours just challenging the data.
To people well.
This goes both ways. If you really want to people well you will find the opportunity, if not you will create a drain on energy and deliberately decide to stand still or go backwards whether you like it or not, whether you realize it or not.
To people or not to people, a basic art, skill, capability that some seem to have forgotten to practice although it is free of charge, gets fantastic results fast, builds value for your business and team members and once you get the hang of it the sky is the limit.
Unleash your company’s hidden performance
Stimulate recovery today.
After months of difficult containment and despite alarming and often alarmist forecasts, most Belgian companies are not ‘at the end of their rope’. But let’s be clear: the critical phase is coming now. In most cases it will be necessary to reorganize structures in order to control costs. But that will not be enough.
Tomorrow’s ‘winning’ companies must also look to the medium and long term. Transforming a company is of little use if it continues to be managed with pre-crisis concepts. One example: the freedom gained by employees through ‘forced’ teleworking will not disappear when the situation returns to normal. The classic hierarchy concept will be overturned.
It is therefore time to thoroughly rethink not only your structures and ways of working, but also your ways of functioning and internal cooperation, in parallel with everything you are currently doing to return to normal.
And to help you achieve this transformation, did you know that your company has a hidden source of economic and human resources? A real reservoir of performance that can be perfectly mobilized right now to activate the economic recovery and get out of the crisis?
Mobilizing hidden performance: within the reach of any company
Let’s start with an obvious fact…often forgotten in recent years. The level of performance of your organization is strongly linked to its ability to maintain sustainable cooperation between employees, teams, hierarchical levels, operational and functional units.
By interacting correctly, the ‘human’ organization develops and sells the products and services that keep it alive. But as nothing is perfect in this changing world, some of the interactions cause problems that need to be ‘regulated’. This regulation generates waste of time, energy, financial and human resources that it would be smarter to use to help your organization to (re)develop.
These losses of energy, human and financial resources are manifold. We will give a few examples, but check at the end of the article how your company fits into a more exhaustive list:
– Destruction of added value resulting from poor synchronization of activities
– Financial overloads caused by problematic operational implementation
– Overtime pay caused by shifts in functions due to a lack of delegation
– Time and resources consumed in the regulation of repetitive or predictable problems
– Over-consumption of resources due to a lack of steering of activities
– Losses in production and quality caused by a low level of responsibility of operators
– Implementation of change projects that are top slow, over budget or not meeting objectives because the strategy has not been cascaded throughout the company
More than 4,000 ‘dysfunctions’ of this type have been identified over 45 years of management research in companies and public organizations. They are also called hidden costs because they do not appear in balance sheets or management tools. However, they do have an impact on the final result.
These dysfunctions create losses of energy and means, but also create frustration and human disengagement. They undermine a company’s energy and strike force. Their economic impact has been calculated in several thousand companies. This real ‘source of additional performance’ fluctuates between €25,000 and €60,000 per worker per year, on a recurring basis.
Let’s take an example: a company with 100 employees has an additional source of economic performance at its fingertips, which is between €2.5 and €6 million per year. Amounts that could be used to finance digitalization, strengthen structures, improve competitiveness, invest in innovation, training, increase the investments necessary for successful transformation, support profitability.
So what are we waiting for to exploit it?
An approach exists. It places people at the centre of economic performance.
While models such as Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Kaizen have been able to contribute to the optimisation of certain processes, they no longer meet the new needs generated by the impact of the pandemic on mentalities, behaviours, working methods and the new challenges taken up in a very large number of markets.
The future belongs to companies that have truly integrated human and economic factors into their DNA. Such an approach exists: it is called ‘socio-economic’.
This managerial approach applies itself to supporting growth by also continuously developing all the hidden sources of performance. The additional resources released by this approach are used to strengthen competitiveness, turnover, the quality of products and services, innovation, growth, the attractiveness of work… according to the strategic priorities of each company.
Why deprive ourselves of additional sources of performance that are just waiting to be exploited to get out of the crisis?
Experience shows that up to 55% of the hidden sources of performance that all companies, whatever their size or activity, can recover annually. Provided that the elements that give rise to them are clearly identified, precisely calculated, analysed for their root cause and ‘recycled’ into performance by means of a structured management method that mobilises all the company’s stakeholders.
A socio-economic approach gives management, supervisors and employees the means and tools to effectively manage the company’s resources in their own area of responsibility. Man is no longer considered as a cog in a big machine that needs to be ‘oiled’ periodically, but as a co-producer of added value and a self-controller of his own management by dealing with malfunctions in a way that is shared by all and in close consultation with his colleagues and superiors.
This approach is neither a democracy nor a concept of self-management. On the contrary, it brings management back to its essential mission: to look after the employees so that they can look after the machines, the internal and external customers. In other words, it puts into practice the fact that in a company we are all ‘salesmen’ or ‘producers’.
A self-financed approach,
It is therefore in your company’s best interest to mobilise its hidden performance potential to reconnect with customers and markets, improve its competitiveness, its attractiveness to employees, its commercial strike force, its ability to innovate and to face the competition in full possession of its resources.
The socio-economic approach is entirely self-financed. The economic gains obtained in the very short term largely finance the relatively light investments in the training of management and the piloting of the method. Experience shows that self-financing is achieved on average over a period of 6 to 8 months, and very often over a much shorter period.
With this self-financed approach, a successful exit from the crisis on a budgetary level is within the reach of every company. Take the step! Join the thousands of companies that have already integrated this approach into their growth and development strategy. Hidden human and economic resources are at your fingertips.
Implementation of socio-economic management.
The approach can be started as a pilot project in one or more departments or as a strategic project for a site, a factory, a company as a whole. It offers great flexibility in its implementation.
The first step in its implementation is therefore to define the scope of its application. This step allows management to concretise precise expectations, expected progress and to define the scope of intervention, which can be sequenced over time.
Second stage: start of training/concertation of management and supervisory staff on the socio-economic management method and tools.
At the same time, conducting a horizontal diagnosis and vertical diagnostics to highlight the sources generating hidden costs, monitoring groups of projects and the implementation of actions to transform them into economic and social performance.
Six areas are covered: working conditions, work organization, time management, communication-coordination-concertation, integrated training and strategic implementation.
A specific and unique software program allows to classify the sources of hidden costs by domain and reveals the convergences or divergences of opinion between management and management.
An expert’s opinion is issued together with a proposal for dealing with malfunctions by ‘baskets’.
The dysfunctions are then dealt with through project groups and priority action plans over 6 months, mobilising workers at all levels of the company.
The method allows each employee to continuously assess the progress achieved and ensures that socio-economic know-how is passed on throughout the organization, in order to achieve sustainable results.
The first concrete results can be expected within the first 2 to 3 months, sometimes even earlier.
Most of the companies that have adopted socio-economic management have gradually integrated it into all their structures, creating a real continuous dynamic of human and economic progress.
Does your company also encounter this type of problem? They form a hidden source of performance ready to be mobilised!
A non-exhaustive list, to date, over 45 years of research, approximately 4000 dysfunctions have been identified.
- Poor consultation and coordination between people, teams and departments: maintenance of ‘silos’, loss of flexibility, cumbersome decision-making processes, additional costs of strategic implementation.
- Unsuitable working conditions: impact on concentration, motivation, productivity and the quality of the work performed, additional cost of operational implementation.
- Deficient communication: partial information and lack of feedback to steer change, insufficient valorisation of the skills potential present in the company, fixed corporate culture, strong resistance to change.
- Weak management of working time: recurrent loss of time leading to overtime, multiple and unmanaged meetings, loss of quality in decisions, loss of time and efficiency in strategic implementation.
- Fragmentation of working time: frequent interruptions due to inefficient work organization, chronic emergency work with impact on the quality of work, services, products, loss of productivity, cost of overtime.
- Deficient or uncoordinated programming of activities: additional cost due to loss of time and energy, over-consumption of financial and human resources.
- High staff turnover: loss of efficiency, additional recruitment costs, negative impact on the implementation of change and strategy.
- High absenteeism: additional cost of temporary staff.
- Lack of versatility in teams: failure to adapt teams to new and future needs, cumbersome and over-costing strategic implementation.
- Insufficient, poorly adapted or poorly used programming and monitoring tools: lack of ‘steering’ of teams due to the lack of suitable indicators.
- Non-integrated training: difficulties in developing skills, additional cost of training that is not adapted to the needs of the company.
- Poor implementation of the strategy: failure to disseminate the strategy at all levels, failure to achieve the required transformations and the company’s objectives, chronic underperformance of management and staff in implementing the strategy and making changes.
These dysfunctions have two types of impact:
Economic impact: lower productivity, quality problems, loss of competitiveness, higher financing costs, reduced capacity for innovation, poor strategic implementation, increased costs, failure to achieve economic and financial objectives.
Social impact: Insufficient mobilisation of human potential to achieve change and goals, corporate culture frozen by strong resistance to change, lack of staff flexibility, under-utilisation of talents and skills, increased absenteeism and staff turnover, increased costs of strategic implementation.
Inadequate communication is still in the top 3 of frustrations and problems arising from employee surveys, engagement studies and communication audits. This is not surprising when we see that in many companies internal communication is still regarded as the task and responsibility of the communications department, if it exists, or of HR, and is managed centrally.
However, in a rapidly evolving world where flexible organisational structures and continuous change projects are becoming a constant, a centralised internal communication model is not sufficient to drive evolutions and build corporate culture.
The level of performance of an organisation depends on the management’s ability to establish sustainable cooperation with its employees through productive, effective and efficient relationships. These relationships inevitably fall apart and need to be rebuilt over and over again. It is therefore the core task of management to understand the interactions within its team and to manage them on a daily basis to ensure that each employee can get the best out of themselves.
Internal communication therefore becomes a skill that cannot be separated from leadership and management.
Communication skills are not innate.
Apart from a few innate talents, we find that managers are unable or poorly able to use their communication effectively. Not because they don’t want to, but rather because they act from their gut feeling, which is rarely sustainable. Although it sounds easy, communication is the biggest challenge for most managers.
Examples of gut feeling management:
- Assume that employees like the strategy if few questions are asked during its slide presentation.
- assume that everyone at least understands the message(s), if no questions are asked
- 1-on-1 conversations with employees, outside the (semi-) annual performance appraisals, experienced as a waste of time due to a lack of expertise in conducting valuable bilateral conversations.
- Selling a change project as an assignment from the management that cannot be escaped in the hope that the employees will accept and carry it out as a matter of course
- Consider absenteeism and high staff turnover in their own department as a problem to be solved by HR.
- think that slide shows can replace interpersonal communication
- waver difficult questions asked by employees to senior management levels instead of taking responsibility for providing the answers themselves.
Dealing with interactions, the main task of each manager.
Internal communication stands and falls with the intensity at which interactions between people, people and structures such as new technology, people and ideas such as a new vision or culture, are steered.
Examples of dealing effectively with interactions:
- Regular one-on-one meetings are scheduled with each employee in which 80% of the time is spent on how the employee perceives his/her work.
- Discussions with employees are recorded and followed up in detail. In this way, a manager knows perfectly well what someone said months ago.
- The manager knows his people well and speaks to them when he suspects that there is a problem.
- The introduction of new technology is planned on a tailor-made basis for each employee with the possibility that some may need more coaching and training than others.
- New projects are finalised with the team before they are implemented, taking into account the input of the team.
- Management assignments are seen as an opportunity to prove what their own team can do.
This cannot be achieved at all with traditional internal communication methods, channels and tools.
“Take care of your people”.
Our experience shows that managers can fulfil their communication role perfectly if they are given tailor-made training in management and communication skills. After all, we are not only talking about communication techniques here, but especially about the way a manager understands and directs the interactions in his team. Our motto is clear: take care of your people, they will take care of the machines, the products, the services and the customers.
Does internal communication still have a role to play?
In the future, internal communication will have to assist management even more in creating and managing interactions. In doing so, 20% of the communication will be managed centrally, in order to create coherence in the organisation. The remaining 80% of internal communication will be integrated into line management, at the level of interactions, where the results will ultimately be achieved.
Scoring strategies versus boring strategies
Will your organisation’s vision save your business or sink it?
A butcher that sells vegetarian products. An insurer that wishes only the best for you. A public transport company that works for Amazon. Open prisons that protect society… Behind winning strategies, there’s always a strong vision. But what can we do to get there?
What is needed to establish a strong vision?
Knowing that winning strategies are always off the beaten path, what can you come up with to anticipate and control developments in your field of activity?
An example: if, in your company, artificial intelligence (AI) is regarded as a way of ‘digitising’ internal processes that your IT department will need to gradually learn to master, you have already lost the battles to come. Because artificial intelligence has an ability that all of your engineers, financial, commercial and logistical experts combined can never equal, even if they were to work for 100 years: deep learning. It enables the continuous learning from the initial intelligence, by integrating millions of interactions from gigantic databases. For example: it was recently confirmed that AI can currently detect signs of breast cancer much better than doctors by reading mammograms. Doctors will have to keep on their toes. In the coming years, AI will be extended to all diagnoses and will radically change the way we think about medicine and our health as a whole.
Can you imagine today what AI could do for your business?
Have you ever analysed how technological developments, shifts in consumption habits, climate change, demographics and its societal impact, the evolution of knowledge and education, environmental protection and mobility will influence your customers’ demand and therefore the vision that you will need to develop for the products and services you offer?
Unfortunately, due to a lack of vision, many companies are still implementing ‘replication’ strategies. With the electrification of the car fleet, major automotive brands worldwide are offering last century’s models, adapted to run on electricity, while we ought to be completely rethinking the concept of the car.
How to escape these all too pervasive limitations? How to step away from the ordinary? How can you develop a strong business vision, even if your name doesn’t happen to be Steve Jobs, Larry Page or Sergey Brin? If Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and so many other innovators have always gone against the way their contemporaries were thinking, it’s because they were convinced that staying on the beaten path wouldn’t get them anywhere!
A brilliant idea is of little value
Let’s start with the first obvious fact: an idea of genius has little value. All of its value depends on its implementation. And to put this idea into practice in a business context, there may be competent people on all floors of the company. What is needed is a well-functioning elevator.
Second obvious fact: when something is standing still, it deteriorates. It is in making things move that we keep them intact. Elon Musk has recently acknowledged this. The over-automation of his factories almost ruined his business. Fortunately for him, he was able to count on a responsive organisation – and a strong one – to deal with the problem and rectify the situation.
In other words: defining a strong vision that will lead to winning strategies requires not only being able to move outside of your comfort zone, but also the innovation process to be integrated within the entire company.
A vegetarian butcher, an insurer who only hopes for the best for you
An industrial group that is specialised in meats has every interest in positioning itself on the vegetarian hamburger market, considering that climate change, the protection of water resources and agricultural land have become societal issues that are turning more and more meat-eating consumers into ‘flexitarians’.
A public transport company such as STIB, De Lijn or TEC could contribute to the transport of packages resulting from e-commerce, considering that hundreds of buses, trams and metro trains regularly travel tens of thousands of kilometres every day, both in cities and in the countryside.This would greatly reduce the carbon impact of e-commerce while generating new resources to invest in improving the vehicle fleet, extending the network in the countryside, and increased comfort that would attract new customers.
An insurance company could absolutely stand out from its competitors in terms of its customers’ needs for protection, by focusing its activities chiefly on prevention rather than claims management, thanks to online applications that are already widely used. This Google of prevention-insurance who hopes for the best for you will be able to better manage its customers’ risks by reducing the number of claims while improving its financial results and its ability to attract new customers.
All this can be achieved thanks to three crucial elements: the core purpose (mission), vision and values of the company.
Mission, vision, values… a cocktail that can be difficult to handle
What would drive the industrial group specialised in meat, the transport company and the insurer to implement winning strategies, is the need to anticipate the market trends, to ensure the growth and profitability necessary to secure the future.
Any winning strategy absolutely depends on a strong vision that is based on the organisation’s core purpose (its ‘mission’).
Plus, the implementation of a strategy is necessarily supported by human values that mobilise employees and let them all work together towards the same goal: to give value to brilliant ideas!
Let’s leave the ‘missions’ to the military and James Bond
When it comes to developing new strategies, the first step is always to check whether your company’s ‘mission’ is still intact and… up to date.
But first of all, a word of advice: replace the term ‘mission’ by ‘core purpose’.
The core purpose of an organisation is much more explicit than the word mission, which has an outdated connotation. Ask your receptionist what the core purpose of her job is and she can answer it with words that reflect her concrete experience. Talk to her about her mission and she will look at you in bewilderment. Ask your workers about their mission and they will look at you like you’re an alien. Talk to them about the core purpose of their work and you will find out all the details of their machines, of their fantastic job and how proud they are of what they do. This applies to all functions at all levels of the company. So replace the word mission once and for all with core purpose!
Why look for the core purpose? Because this is the reason why your activity was created and that your organisation exists. This is what will give meaning to the work of employees. Without roots, we don’t know where we’ve come from and even less, where we can go. A core purpose should inspire your employees. Creating shareholder value is of course very important for the growth of any business, but it has never motivated any employee to go above and beyond in their work day to day.
A core purpose does not have to be unique. Feeding people is the core purpose of many food companies. But if your core purpose is to feed people healthily and sustainably, your ‘business model’ has to be completely different! And what will make you unique is the way in which you will develop this core purpose by working on your vision.
The core purpose is therefore crucial for defining what kind of company you want to become! Without core purpose, there can be no vision.
To illustrate this point, let’s go to prison.
Open prisons to better protect citizens
The state is building new prisons to deal with chronic prison overcrowding. It is doing so based on the core purpose of a prison: to protect society from individuals who could be a threat to citizens. Only, there is a problem. These prisons are all the same, a ‘single’ model: a modern version of the prisons of yesteryear, a version that is nevertheless universally considered ‘criminogenic’ by specialists. Should we question the core purpose? Absolutely not. But we should add a fundamental nuance here. For over a century, we have been progressing in our knowledge of the psychological and social mechanisms that lead to delinquency. We also have electronic bracelets for confining an individual at home. Integrating into the core purpose the notion that the protection of society will be much better served if we pay attention to the psychological profile of each prisoner opens up new possibilities for the state to review its vision of the prison sector.
In this case, a first way of implementing the core purpose is to ensure surveillance to such a degree that no ‘irredeemable’ prisoner can escape, in order to protect society from those individuals who constitute a threat to it, for the duration of their sentence. In this case, we could build high-tech prisons to ensure zero escape.
A second formula would rather aim to allow many prisoners to be sustainably reintegrated into society socially, thus protecting it in the long term. In this case, prisons could be more open and could become places of work, learning, psychological support and detoxification while confining individuals in a semi-open environment for the duration of their sentence.
Of course, a state needs both types of prisons and it should stop building the single type we know today. A core purpose therefore significantly shapes the subsequent formulation of a vision.
Trust the team to develop the mission
A good way to define your organisation’s core purpose is to put together a team of 4 to 6 employees chosen in a broad and non-hierarchical way. Working from the existing activities, they will question how these activities meet a specific need. In the course of several sessions they will go back over the history of the company, and talk with customers, suppliers and other stakeholders, each time asking: why? They will formulate a core purpose that they will share and discuss with other colleagues but also with customers to arrive at a final validation by the senior management of the company.
You will see that well-orchestrated group work will help you to (re)discover the authenticity of your core purpose… which may be undergoing changes unbeknownst to you! Each time this exercise has been done, we have seen companies considerably enrich their initial core purpose. It offers a particularly stimulating basis for developing a strong vision and values that are truly capable of mobilising an entire organisation.
In a second article we will see how to develop this type of strong and mobilising vision. We will also start from the reality of today’s businesses to see how to formulate the shared values that will allow your organisation to implement its own winning strategies.