Let’s begin with an obvious understatement: “Organizations are dynamic, complex entities.”
Any approach for making them more effective has to cope with that complexity. In this article, we’ll share one straightforward way to jumpstart your organizational effectiveness journey that is frankly, not obvious, and oftentimes missed completely.
But first, some background to set the stage.
A fundamental aspect of organizational effectiveness is managing the risk required to achieve desired outcomes. The more an organization grows, the more complex the challenges it faces. This complexity comes from both inside and outside the organization.
External risk is related to those things that your organization does not control. Competition, technological advances, and regulatory changes all fall into this category. And these external risks are formidable challenges to long-term organizational effectiveness and in turn, organizational excellence.
However, having worked with many organizations in different industries, we’ve realized that the far greater barrier to organizational effectiveness is found from within. The reason is rooted in the difficulty required to get hundreds or even thousands of people working together to achieve common goals. This challenge is not because people don’t want to work together – it’s because they don’t know how to work together effectively.
The sheer size of this challenge forced us to study a wide range of topics and best practices including strategy formation, change management, performance management, artificial intelligence, leadership development, execution management, excellence models, software technology, socialization, gaming, and organizational development, including its psychological and behavioral underpinnings.
The truth is we need “bits and pieces” of all of these to build a complete organizational effectiveness program. As a result of the past 15+ years of research, and thousands of person-hours of testing, we’ve integrated those best practices into the Six Disciplines Methodology.
These six disciplines, however, are NOT the subject of this article.
Instead, our intent is to focus on what we’ve found to be the most effective first step toward reducing complexity. That step is to establish a standard ‘collaboration calendar’. This “uber-calendar” is used to build a common rhythm that includes annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and even daily cycles for improving communication and collaboration.
Why do this first?
The reason goes back to the basics of change management and complexity theory for controlling risks. All change is a function of managing three fundamental variables:
- Scope – what you want to achieve
- Schedule – when you want to achieve it
- Resources – who and what you have available to achieve it
Experienced project managers understand the necessity of getting agreement on the priority of these constraints in managing the project. In other words, the “project charter” make clear that if a choice has to be made between scope, schedule, and resources – which comes first. And, as we know from experience, it’s easier to manage two variables instead of three.
This illustrates one best practice for coping with complexity: reduce the number of variables that have to be managed.
We can use this principle to help organizations become more effective. Let’s look at an example, based on the experiences with a Six Disciplines customer.
One Midwestern university we work with had enrollment of about 5,000 students. They offered over 125 majors spread among four colleges. They employed 900 people including adjunct professors. Their governance structure includes a faculty senate which used about 40 committees to manage key processes and policies. On the administrative side, there was cabinet reporting to the president. That group was responsible for academic affairs, finance, technology, advancement, enrollment, and student services.
Consider the complexity required for working together effectively. There were about 75 functional teams (departments), 5 strategic initiative teams, 40 committees and over 900 people who have to somehow develop a clear strategy, goals, and align daily work to that strategy. This is the very definition of complexity, considering differing backgrounds, skills, personalities, etc.
It’s no wonder that research from Proudfoot shows that more than a third of all work time doesn’t align well with the strategy of an organization.
When we started working with this university, the administration had no formal planning process, the colleges each followed their own planning model, and each were on different schedules.
Step #1 in improving their ability to manage this complexity was to get campus-wide agreement on their “collaboration calendar’. That rhythm synchronized all plan and execution management around annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily cycles.
By freezing the Schedule variable in this complex problem, we made it easier to focus on the content of their plans, without having to react to the random timing of everyone else’s planning. With each successive year, the coordination of plans became easier, and the content and alignment of plans has improved significantly.
A common question is ‘why so many cycles ranging from annual to daily?’ Research proves that organizations which review and revise plans more frequently – perform better. They’re more agile and they process change faster.
It’s also important to understand that plans are never “right” for very long. Conditions change. The very act of pursuing a plan causes learning, which leads to refinement in the plan. The real value of planning is NOT in a written plan document. The real value of planning is the shared understanding that’s built among those doing the planning.
Although the university “collaboration calendar” example above uses a single planning rhythm, it includes five interrelated cycles. They interact with each other in a synergistic way. For example, setting a vital-few annual objectives for all planning units, projects and individuals helps create transparency that improves alignment. Quarterly vital-few objectives are set each quarter to drive results toward the annual objectives. A quarterly cycle allows for adjustment of priorities during the year and creates urgency for strategically important items. The weekly cycle is for individuals and teams to check-in and catch problems early while there’s still time to react and change. Finally, the daily cycle is about ‘winning the day’ which requires staying focused on what’s important instead of just reacting to what’s urgent.
In conclusion, How to Measure Organizational Effectiveness is about deciding where you want to go and how to get there. Doing so requires overcoming complexity. And it requires the use of many best practices from different fields such as strategy formation, execution management, performance management and leadership development. At Six Disciplines, we’ve found the place to start is in establishing a “collaboration calendar” for planning and organizational rhythm. With that foundation in place, it’s much easier to work on the rest of the disciplines that need to be developed.