Dec 19, 2018
In an ongoing quest to understand what leads to High Performing organizations, I recently interviewed Gil Judson, a Global Client Manager here at JMJ, widely known at this company as one of our foremost experts on our High Performance approach.
In this interview, Gil discusses the structures needed to boost organizational performance, how to engage effective organizational communication and what an organization looks like when it has optimal communication tools in place.
JWF: When JMJ says we’re doing High Performance™ work inside of organizations, what do we mean?
GJ: When we go in to do High Performance work, we’re generally working with a project team, an organization or a particular group of business people. They have an initiative in front of them to achieve or accomplish specific business objectives, and recognize that to do this will require significant engagement of a number of individuals or groups.
Inside of organizations, we have two very deliberate outcomes:
The first is getting the business results the organization is out to achieve. If it’s for a project, that’s usually cost, schedule, quality, production and targets they have. But if it’s for an organization, many times it might be something in terms of revenue or certain performance levels or specific organizational goals they have.
The second is that the experience of the people in those organizations is one of fulfillment, satisfaction and excitement. They experience that they have made a significant contribution, they are appreciated for this work and their career has really been enhanced by working in the organization.
Those are the two things we are always after in High Performance work.
JWF: What would you say if someone asked, “I would like those results, but how do you get them?”
We set criteria that we say needs to be present to have an organization operate as a High Performance organization. It starts with:
Do they have the structures, processes, systems and the tools they need to produce the outcomes, sustain their results and actually build on them?
Do they have a clear, concise, exciting vision or mission for the organization or the group or the team that makes it worthwhile?
Do they have the desired culture established and existing in the organization? This is as important of the structure and processes.
Do they have the external support for the other groups or people that are highly influential in terms of success but aren’t under the organization’s direct control? These could be sponsors or executives or functional groups or outside stakeholders.
Those are a few of the key characteristics. We have nine characteristics that we would say are essential for both achieving business success and having the organization be a really great place for people to work.
Obviously, a key for many of those characteristics is effective communication, truly effective communication. To achieve extraordinary results, you need extraordinary communication between individuals and between groups.
We need to bring up opportunities and issues immediately as they surface, we need to be able to address these quickly and have the decisions stick, we need to listen a lot better to other’s input, we need to communicate to each other in the difficult times as well as in the easy times. There is a way to communicate that allows for effective action rather than simply discussing things and not resolving issues quickly and effectively.
JWF: And what do you do to engage that effective communication?
GJ: To start with, to ensure the change they want to make is sustainable, the members of the group, project or organization will have to be the authors and leaders of this kind of effort.
Unlike the very, very large consulting firms that come in, do extensive analysis, and then prescribe the changes that need to be made, JMJ partners with the core leadership team who is accountable to achieve these business successes and make the organization great. We work with the existing senior management to support them in determining what they want, what it will take, how to put in place a “project” structure to manage the change, and how to follow up though implementation.
We work with them to identify:
1. The kind of culture they want to create,
2. the individual and personal attitudes, commitments and values that need to be present for people,
3. the behaviors they want,
4. and the systems and processes they need to have present for it to be a successful organization.
We look at those four different areas, all of which are related and all of which are equally important, to see where they are strong and can be built upon and where they are weak and need to be improved.
We’ll usually start there and then go about making sure those other characteristics that I talked about are present. If they, for example, don’t have a clear mission for what they are really out to accomplish, we’ll work with them so that they establish one that is meaningful, exciting and useful to them.
JWF: I know that in the project world, we talk a lot about alignment as an important part of High Performance work. Is that something that is relevant in the organizational setting, as well?
GJ: Yes. The outcome of alignment is ownership and accountability, which everybody’s really interested in. Having people self-generate accountability for producing the results that they promised, following through on the decisions that are made, and ensuring that they provide real leadership though out their areas are essential for success.
We’re looking to make sure that, starting at the very top—the top managers—are all aligned on the direction for the organization, how they’re going to achieve it, and what kind of culture they want. We start with them and then work to make sure you get the alignment as far down in the organization as you need.
It’s not that you have to have every single person buy into everything; you don’t, you’re not after that. But, you are identifying where you need really powerful alignment and then going after it and achieving it.
JWF: Once you see this sort of alignment and when you see the sort of effective communication that you’re talking about, what happens?
GJ: There are a number of things. One is that we get very clear about the specific results they want to get accomplished while JMJ is working with them. Whether it’s designing the new organization, rolling it out, getting alignment on it, or creating a mission, we get clear on the specific results the work with JMJ is intended to produce. Typically, this means working to ensure that people understand what the mission is, whether it’s a re-organization or a team, and then getting the alignment we need after that. Then we get a program or a structure in place so that those things that get accomplished can continue to build momentum through the organization.
Also, a lot of the times, part of JMJ’s charter is to develop leaders to be better leaders so that they are able to do a lot of the same things on their own.
JWF: And when that’s all put into place, how does an organization that’s operating at High Performance look different from one that hasn’t gone through this process?
GJ: The first place you see it is in communication. You see a different kind of communication going on. You see people being very, very straight, honest, and open with each other. They put issues on the table, then make sure those issues are being worked effectively. Many times, the outcome is that a decision is made; sometimes it’s getting alignment on something; sometimes it’s setting a new direction.
Second, you see that people understand the importance of communication and go out to establish who they interface with, what do they interface about and how are they going to interface on an ongoing basis.
The third improved area in communication is that they determine what the people they are interacting with are up to. What’s the team up to, what is the organization up to and then, given that, what do we need from each other? Whether it’s between individuals or groups, what do we need from each other to achieve the business results and the culture we want? Not just assuming we’re going to get that from each other, but explicitly declaring what we need from each other.
Then it’s about working and negotiating with the other people to have a firm understanding and commitment to deliver on what we need from each other.
What that looks like when you’re done is people really knowing what they can count on from each other. They’re working together to produce bigger business outcomes, or they’re working together to create a particular culture for the organization. They know what they can count on from each other to achieve that.
Ultimately, there is a mutual appreciation. That’s what really drives people’s actions. You have created a culture where people are eager to contribute their discretionary effort and there is a commitment to success—not just doing okay.
There is recognition that, to achieve High Performance and sustain High Performance, you have to approach the organization from what we would call an Integral Approach. They’re looking to see the strengths and gaps in the systems, the culture, the behaviors and the personal values and attitudes and commitments. The organization comes out with a new tool box to look at and assess how they are doing and on what they should be working.