What is the difference between a high-performing organization and one that’s barely afloat? Is the metric of high performance always profitability or market share growth? As much as these measures are important, they are not holistic enough to highlight an organization’s sustainable success.

Financial growth may be achieved through short- to medium-term tactics or driven by inorganic growth, however, sustainable success is usually driven by a highly energized workforce that has a shared vision and operates in an organization designed to enable the strategy. In these companies, employees know how their work is contributing to the overall strategy, and they also know how their work impacts others, both inside and outside the organization. The question is, how do such high – performing organizations come into being?

In this rapidly changing work environment, effective leadership thinks strategically, promotes engagement, focuses on accountability and delivers results. Most of which are unfortunately not taught in business school, and so the gap must be bridged through niche management training. However, in recent times most L&D functions are fixated on catering to soft skills for leadership and management styles. As important as these are, it is crucial to not forget technical transformational skills – namely, designing a winning strategy; redesigning your organization to become agile and withstand turbulent work environments and, of course, cultivating the right culture and people to maximize productivity and performance. We have observed that executives well versed in these three areas (strategy, organization design and culture) outperform their peers by 20 to 30%.

Dwelling further into strategy, Harvard Business Review research estimates that 90% of businesses fail to meet their strategic targets … why is that? Well, the problem may be because 50% of executives spend no time at all thinking about business strategy and 90% of employees don’t deeply know or understand the company’s strategy. Imagine this: Your senior manager is in the driving seat carrying passengers (the employees). A rash driver, not knowing when to hit breaks or which turn to take is sure to crash the car along with the passengers in it. An organization is likely to suffer the same fate without its leaders knowing which direction to go in and when to pause and take crucial decisions.

This is because, often, managers become preoccupied with operational tasks, whereby achieving short-term goals but neglecting the longer-term strategy for sustainable development. To help leaders think long term, consider training them on the following:

  • Strategy: Developing a shared vision and strategy, where the goals surrounding customer segmentation, product optimization and supply-chain management are shared objectives and problems of business heads.
  • Organization Design: Creating strategically focused cross-functional integrated teams who do not view management issues from their individual perspectives, but rather see it as a collective problem that needs to be tackled. Train leaders to develop organization structures that are agile and drive high performance.
  • Culture: Leadership’s role in creating a sense of urgency, shaking people out of their comfort zones to accept that there is a need for change, while driving behavioral change that supports organizational health and growth.

An effective strategy relies on the choices taken to achieve the overarching vision and end goal the organization is trying to pursue … but implementing your strategy is the challenging part.  Senior managers can come up with the strategy but also must design an architecture for their organization that is aligned to it and delivers on the organization’s purpose and goals. The most critical question boils down to this: Is your leadership equipped to handle this change?

Organization design requires a deep commitment and concentrated participation from leadership not only because they have the decision-making power, but also because they are the ones with the emotional intelligence (EQ) –  which is key when undergoing large-scale workforce transformation efforts.

At Caliber Academy, we center organization design training on these core elements:

  • Flexibility: Creating an agile organization that can respond quickly to change and make it future-proof (especially after the COVID-19 pandemic). Leaders need to rely more on automated, data-driven approaches to decision-making and hybrid operating models for ultimate performance.
  • Designing the right job design, with the proper amount of interdependencies to minimize the cost of management and making sure it aligns with the company strategy.
  • Giving autonomy to employees over their product/service to create stronger links with customers, creating teams of interdependent people and ensuring that meaningful feedback is provided.
  • Working toward eliminating bureaucratic barriers to ensure fast delivery of projects and targets.

An organization’s design directly influences the culture that evolves. An organization’s culture is like its GPS: It doesn’t just set them apart from other firms but acts as a guide to achieve strategic goals through shared beliefs, values and group norms. The best leaders realize that culture change it is not alone a training or human resources (HR) leader’s job to deliver — or a key performance indicator (KPI) to hit. In reality, a company’s culture dynamics are so strong that, if left unmanaged, they can throw the company’s strategic plans off the rails.

So, how can leadership manage cultural transformation? Managing culture is complex, as it’s influenced by many factors, including, stories, rituals and routines, the hiring and recruitment process, incentives, structure and more. However, the most powerful force to shaping a culture is leadership behavior and how they role model themselves to the rest of the organization. It is easier to create strategic plans and designs, but leaders must change certain beliefs and behaviors within themselves to set an example for their employees along with initiating a genuinely open dialogue about what change employees want to see and why. This is a co-creating approach for teams to flesh out details and follow what they have created rather than a ready-made plan dropped from above, giving employees more autonomy and mastery over their jobs. Leaders need to be cognizant of their role in giving autonomy and striking a balance to keep everyone on track toward achieving a shared purpose.

Strategy, organization design and culture are the organs of an organization. And if one isn’t effective, then the others are sure to fail and the organization — much like the human body — will surely suffer. With the onset of the pandemic, and entering a new age of technology, political conflicts and increased global competition, senior executives must be trained to create agile organizations with the help of their employees who take the ownership of adapting quickly to change when the need arises.