Building a Successful Organization: The People Challenge

In these last days, motivated by my participation last month to an event promoted by 012Factory in the lovely region of Caserta (Campania, south of Italy), I decided to take the time to put some thoughts together on the topic of building a successful organization. I find Human Resource topics extremely intricate, so hopefully you will find my thoughts at least stimulating, if not helpful.

If you are an entrepreneur, or wish to become one, certainly you have already realized (or will do soon anyway, trust me) that “the people challenge” is one of the most complex to solve. There is nothing as difficult as building a team, and building it so that it remains robust and even further, it’ll adds significant value to the organization.

Differently from other challenges, which you can hope to resolve in more analytical ways (e.g., the cost of production, the performance of customer support, traffic acquisition costs, etc.), “the people challenge” is one that proves complex to get resolved also for seasoned and skilled entrepreneurs.

The reason is simple: you deal with people, individuals who are unique, complex, often unpredictable… and who never stop from changing and evolving. You might be convinced to bring on board the best individual at the time you hire him or her, and yet after 6 or 12 months this person will seem far from that profile you fell in love with. Perhaps even more often, you will not be fast enough, or convincing enough, or (just) not good enough, to onboard a great talent who will decide to join the competition.

In my years as a manager, I have gone through lots of hiring (and some firing) and, perhaps more importantly, an undetermined amount of organizational changes to adapt to business needs in my organization. While there is no real secret sauce to get this challenge easily under control, I’ll share some advise on what I believe could help an entrepreneur get things more under control.

But before I start…

Two general considerations: on science and culture

As mentioned above, first of all, please get this straight: the problem you are trying to solve is extremely complex, and not solvable in an analytical, hence systematic, way. You deal with people, and you know what that means: not only numbers to track performance and career progression history, but also feelings, mood swings, different periods of life, cultural shifts, envy, excitement, demotivation, and so on. In short, this topic will never fall under the scientific realm, and you need to deal with that: it is NOT science!

Adding to this, I would also say that being good at creating and managing a successful organization depends strongly on cultural elements. Specifically, it depends on [1] the culture you develop internally to the organization and which you share with your colleagues, and [2] the ever-changing external culture to which people adapt constantly. Strangely enough, this latter point is often disregarded, but I find it extremely important.

You should always pay close attention not only to the culture within your organization (e.g. Is it well rooted? Is it changing or fading out? Does it lead your team in the right direction? Etc.) , but also to what is happening to ‘cultureoutside of the company. I do not mean it in very broad terms (still interesting, of course, but less practical), but in specific things that might affect your team one way or another. In practical terms, this means paying attention to what people are looking for when they search for a new job (e.g., compensation vs. equity, private offices vs. co-working spaces, remote desks, management styles preferred, etc.) and at the same time look for what seems to be working for many companies with proven track records. Looking for cultural trends and indications outside of your office walls should not dictate what you want your company to be, but it will make you more conscious on how organizations change and how people in them get affected.

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But that’s enough about conceptual matters. Let’s get practical and break down in three points the potential areas of action to build up a potentially successful and ever-lasting organization:

  1. Building strong foundations: vision, mission and culture
  2. Applying the GET–KEEP–PUSH method
  3. Welcoming continuous change in the organization

1) Building strong foundations: vision, mission and [especially] culture

Perhaps the part where you have more control in the process of creating a successful organization is the one where you can clearly establish the foundations of your venture. These foundations, if well set (and clearly communicated), will attract the right people and especially, once engaged, keep them in the organization and push them do add more value.

This opportunity for you to build these foundations simply means that you surely have the chance to start things on the right foot! So, take your time to understand who you are and what you want your organization to be and represent.

As a start, figure out what culture you want your venture to embrace. Needless to say, you as the founder and leader of the venture will affect its culture deeply, so shy away from trying to create a cultural environment in the organization that is not really aligned with your own beliefs: you’d be fooling yourself and soon after your team will be totally confused about what is the real ‘soul’ of your venture.

Moving on, take the time to write down, in a simple sentence, what you’d like your venture to pursue in its existence. Imagine the future. To do this, ironically enough (and with no pun intended), close your eyes and put effort in developing a clear vision of your company for the long-term. Once this is done (and I know that it can take time), focus then on the mission, which will tell everyone how you are going to get to achieve your company vision and why today you are doing what you do.

I know this work can be overwhelming to reflect upon, but its innate value is that you will be building the ‘glue’ that will keep your team together, pushing with strong passion and motivation in the same direction. If you want to read more about how to work on your venture’s Vision and Mission, read this clear article by Business News Daily.

While the potential of this exercise is so impactful, unfortunately the day-to-day activities will easily lead you astray as early as Day-1 of operations. That is a risk you need to avoid making: find the time, before hiring your first employee, to think about who you want to be and where you are headed, and write these things down, for all your colleagues to read. Don’t say later I did not tell you! 😉

As I will mention later, do not worry about the heaviness of this commitment. While these foundations mean a lot and shall be taken seriously by anyone in the organization, this does not mean that they are set in stone forever. Even such fundamental beliefs can evolve and adapt to changing conditions and the to the changes your organization faces (e.g., just for fun, see how Facebook changed its mission statement through its first years: http://observer.com/2009/07/the-evolution-of-facebooks-mission-statement/).

So, take a deep breath, firm up these foundations, write them down, and share them with all. Good!

Once this is done, things get more practical, difficult, and sometimes messy, but some methodology might still help.

2) Applying the ‘GET–KEEP–PUSH’ Method

While there is plenty of literature on “Organizational Behavior” (OB) out there, and also my MBA year gave me some great inputs, in the last years I decided to develop a ‘method’ based on my personal experience, and which has been working well so far (with the expected and unavoidable ups and downs). Perhaps, more than a ‘method’, it is a quick framework to verify and ensure that I am doing all in my power to have talented team members join our team (GET), keep them in the organization through time (KEEP), and motivate them to always do more and better (PUSH).

The framework helps in reminding me that all three aspects are fundamental to get a successful organization running the business. Furthermore, all three actions help the other two get stronger. I am sure it can be intuitive for you to understand why, but just a couple of examples:

  • Having new talent join an organization motivates current employees to do add more value to the team and gives them confidence that this is indeed the ‘place to be’.
  • Being exposed to a motivated team of colleagues will send a clear message to others outside of the group: this is a job that you can get excited about… and everyone is looking for that type of job!

So, each day you think about your organization, always make the GET-KEEP-PUSH check. Am I looking for the right people to join the team? Am I constantly checking internal churn rates and making sure all the talented employees are happy in the company and plan to stay long term? Am I giving them challenging tasks and more significant responsibilities as time passes, so to motivate their desire to learn and grow?

If you are doing this check, every day, I believe you have one more chance to build a very robust and effective organization.

3) Welcoming continuous change in the organization

If you paid enough attention during the read so far, you realize that I’ve continuously stressed the evident difficulties in doing well at building a successful organization due to a continuously changing environment. This environment is one to which you must adapt quickly in order not to get negatively affected by it: be it the culture within the organization, the culture outside the 4-walls, the team members leaving or new comers creating disequilibria, etc.

No doubt that if the term “resilience” has recently gained popularity and obtained the well-deserved spot light (see below this interesting graph by Google Trends on the popularity of the term for the years 2004-2016), the reason is probably also to be found in how this person’s characteristic helps is in keeping a team together and making it perform better through time.

Resilience on Google Trends (2004-2016)
Resilience on Google Trends (2004-2016)

Furthermore, resilience of a manager naturally implies resilience of a managed organization. Keeping away from the fear of changing something that “has worked well in the past” will empower you to be ready when this change is needed. There will be times when Agile methods will work better for your organization, and when in some specific cases Waterfalls methods might be the way to go forward (perhaps just for specific processes within a complex organization).

Be ready for change… in yourself, in others, and in the organization you run. If you are ready for such changes, you’ll give a chance to ‘evolution’ to do its job even in the real of Organizational Behavior.

Conclusions – an ever-lasting learning process in an ever-changing environment

We use often the expression “ever-lasting learning process” for many things we experience in life. Surely, managing a team is one of those experiences. Nonetheless, there is a difference worth highlighting here. While other such ever-lasting learning processes have no realistic end since the amount of information to absorb by a single human brain is simply too broad (think of any science, for this matter), this field of OB is ever-lasting for one more reason: it changes under your nose. When you think you have a grasp of it, there it fools you again and demands you start learning about people and their dynamics through new “lenses”.

Best thing you can do is to stay humble (best way to succeed in many things, actually), go back to the fundamental rules that work for you, and always be flexible to adapt to changing cultures, new work dynamics and, most importantly, people you will work with.

Time to go… and enjoy your team.

 

* P.S.: as always, thanks for sharing with others and commenting here below; I hope this kicks off more motivating conversations about the topic.

2 thoughts on “Building a Successful Organization: The People Challenge

  • August 29, 2016 at 5:40 am
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    Very well written piece Giuseppe. Felt enriched on reading it.

    Reply
    • August 29, 2016 at 7:10 am
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      Thanks a lot Shyam: just thought to put down in writing some thoughts on the topic. It is also a great mind exercise to do order in my head. 😉

      Reply

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