Three Key Elements for Addressing Organizational Challenges Effectively

Three Key Elements for Addressing Organizational Challenges Effectively

Organizational challenges come in all different forms and levels of difficulty. Regardless of what form they take, one critical success factor stands out above others as a determinant of leaders’ effectiveness in addressing them: having a clearly articulated “big picture.” More specifically, an optimal “big picture” focuses on outcomes or impact, and it is stated in the affirmative. All three of these elements are key: the absence of any one easily can sabotage leaders’ efforts to achieve effective solutions. Let’s look at each element briefly.

The first element is the presence of a clearly articulated “big picture” – i.e., a mission or vision statement that describes the outcome the organization is seeking to achieve. Having such a picture – and communicating it widely - is key: unless leaders and stakeholders share a common view of the value the organization provides, they cannot align their efforts effectively, nor can they allocate resources properly or measure their progress and achievements. The “big picture” is the touchstone against which all decisions are tested. Every person, program, system, and process must support that picture if there is to be alignment throughout the organization.

The second element of successfully addressing organizational challenges is ensuring that the “big picture” focuses on outcomes or impact. Too often organizations articulate their methodology instead of their value – i.e., the “how” instead of the “what.” For example, a company that specializes in training accountants may tout itself as the best provider of accounting workshops, when what it really needs to do is identify the impact of those workshops on its clients. By focusing on its methodology, the company (a) ensures that its workshops are viewed as commodities, which are a dime a dozen, and (b) severely limits the effectiveness of its decision-making. Consider the difference between focusing on the quality or quantity of workshops provided (the “how”), versus concentrating on increasing clients’ peace of mind (the “what”) because they can be confident that the company’s financial statements are being prepared correctly. Would you rather be selling workshops or peace of mind? Focusing on the value provided would result in greater opportunity, creativity, and innovation throughout the organization.

The third element of successfully addressing organizational challenges is stating the “big picture” in the affirmative. Too often we see well intentioned leaders proclaim their mission or vision in the negative, such as when the organization dreams of eradicating a problem altogether. The problem with this approach is that it fails to provide a substitute picture – i.e., there is no information about what will be different when it achieves its goals. For example, an organization may declare that it intends to “stamp out world hunger” or to “end domestic violence.” While these certainly are worthy goals, the fact that they are stated in the negative does not provide stakeholders with a clear picture of what things will look like when those goals are achieved. What they really need to know is what will be different after the mission or vision has been achieved – e.g., what the world will “look like” when there is no more hunger anywhere on the planet, and how families will interact differently when there is no more domestic violence. For example, The Hunger Project is a global, non-profit, strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger. Its vision statement paints a clear picture of what the world will look like when it has achieved that goal – e.g., every day, every person has enough of the right food to be healthy and productive; babies are born healthy and strong, and girl babies are prized as much as boy babies.

Organizational challenges range from the relatively simple to the very complicated. Regardless of their level of complexity, having a clearly articulated “big picture” that focuses on outcomes and is stated or described in the positive will make addressing them much easier than if leaders had no such touchstone.

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.


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