7 Essentials for Organizational Success

One of the greatest challenges any manager can face is “keeping up.” But, staying abreast of the latest wisdom, information, techniques and opinions of various experts can consume tremendous amounts of time that the modern manager simply doesn’t have.

Sometimes…well, most of the time actually, it isn’t about discovering new wisdom. It’s more about knowing what prevails, what is fundamental. The following seven items are quick essential lessons, time tested and true, that your organization must master to succeed.

1)      Focus on what is really important.

This one sounds like a no-brainer, but how many of us actually walk the talk here? In the end, every organization must do everything fairly well, but we can’t excel at everything all at once. We know, intuitively, some things are more important than others. Logically, as well, we are aware we’ve only got so much time and money.

Nevertheless, how many times do we demand our staff members to simultaneously provide outstanding customer service, breathtaking cost efficiency, and lightening creativity all while managing the day-to-day with that same excellence? With so many blinking buttons on the console, there’s not enough time to press them all.

Conquering this one, however, is pretty straight forward: make a list! Then prioritize them and tackle them, with focused determination, one at a time. It’s especially important to finish the first before going to the second. Some short term losses may occur as one priority temporarily takes precedent over another, however this is the only way to eventually get the whole job done.

2)      Don’t get distracted.

This is sort of a variation and follow-up on the first lesson, but it still requires separate treatment.  There will always be some new thing that comes along that we can grab and hold as an excuse for abandoning the original plan. Indeed, the urgent always tries to muscle out the important. RESIST!

Yes, things change. But, it is never a good idea to respond to new information with a knee-jerk reaction.

Often, these distractions happen when (a) unexpected losses hit the organization, (b) elusive yet artificial financial goals are not being realized, and/or (c) senior managers have prematurely convinced themselves they face seemingly insurmountable problems. Before you know it, cries of “diversification!” and “acquisition!” begin to echo through the halls like ghosts of battle cries.

The best way to work through this? Return to lesson #1.




3)      Blame yourself.

Managers and staff always seem able to provide a litany of reasons as to why something isn’t happening as planned or anticipated. In fact, often the problems encountered are someone else’s doing. Managers blame subordinates. Subordinates grouse about their bosses. Everyone blames competition, government, “the market,” and anything else that is nameless, faceless, and not around.  How many times, however, do we blame ourselves for the problems?

As companies look to the future, my advice is to take an unusal perspective. For every problem encountered, each staff member must think: “Somehow, this is (partly/completely) my fault, so what can I do about it?” Blaming others is unacceptable. The starting point for this new perspective is to take each of the organization’s problems and ask staff members what they think they can do personally – or with the help of others – to correct them.

4)      Know why you exist.

I’m not talking about “to make profit.” While it’s true that continuous losses signal the end of any organization, focusing only on profit can be a narrow, dysfunctional activity.

The key to knowing why you exist lies in the notion of stakeholders. Many people contribute to the existence of an organization. The big three, though: customers, employees, society.

Jack Welch, former CEO of GE and one of the most admired business executive in the world, said that the secret of corporate survival is “to make products of the highest quality and offer them to customers at the lowest price while acting in an environmentally responsible and sensitive manner.” He’s right. So in the immortal words of Nike: Just do it! BTW, those who respond first to the demands of their stakeholders may create such an advantage for themselves that will make it impossible for their competitors to catch up.

5)      Constantly communicate strategy to the troops.

So you’ve got down setting priorities, staying on track, and satisfying your stakeholders. That’s going well for you, but you’ve still got engagement problems. It should come as no surprise that the individuals who often have problems connecting their employees to the organization, are usually the ones who are reluctant when it comes to opening up about the company’s  goals, strategies, and expectations!

Some managers seem to believe their lower-level staff can’t be trusted with such important information or worse that they are mind readers and so there is really no need to explain the firm’s strategy. And still others actually seem to believe that communicating it once, and only once, is enough.

The best selling business book A Tale of Two Employees by Dr. Chris Bart can really help those struggling in this area. Its straight forward, easy-to-implement approach can take your employee communication efforts to the highest levels.

6)      Avoid competing on price.

In high growth environments, most firms find it relatively easy to satisfy their market share, volume, and profit objectives. In mature markets, however, capturing and holding on to new customers can be especially problematic.

There are really only two ways of actively competing in such markets: product differentiation and price. In almost all circumstances, differentiation is the preferred route.

When an organization attacks on price, it doesn’t tend to produce a sustainable competitive advantage. Most victim firms will respond quickly. Price wars almost never work, and the only time they do is when one competitor has already been significantly weakened.

A differentiation strategy, however, avoids almost all problems associated with competing on price, and does so by changing the rules of the game. It’s what Canon did when it decided to sell copiers using methods completely opposite to Xerox’s. And what CNN did when it decided to market itself as a global strictly-cable entity. It’s during this period of “no direct competition through extreme differentiation” that businesses can make enormous profit, reshape customer relationships, and stake themselves strong competitive positions.

7)      Lead by example

There is no question about it: managers who want the best performance from their teams must perform well themselves.

It is discouraging to realize that there are still leaders of major corporations who don’t understand how negative behavior affects their organizations. For instance, in an annual survey of America’s toughest bosses, Fortune reports of one company in which the president makes his direct reports bark before handing them their pay checks.

If they wield them skillfully and wisely, managers can use their personal actions to condition and internalize appropriate behaviors in their lower-level staff and managers. Leading by example can become the means with which to pass along organizational wisdom to a firm’s younger, aspiring members.


Organizations need to know many things as they march into the future. However, the position this article takes is that before learning any new lessons, it is important to first master the old ones. So beware of the consultant or guru bearing the latest flavor of the month management wisdom. Good luck!

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