The secret to success? It’s always people (Guest Commentary)

Follow 5 golden rules for business success
By Daphne Woolf
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/05/2012

If your organization is achieving its business goals, chances are it’s because you have great leaders and engaged employees working together in a motivating culture that brings the corporate vision and goals to life.

On the other hand, if goals aren’t being met, it’s likely you’re lacking in at least one of these three key elements — great leaders, engaged employees or a motivating culture.

An employer may have engaged employees but its culture may not support the right behaviours to produce business results. Or the culture could look great on paper but leaders haven’t been successful in bringing it to life. Or perhaps the organization has great leaders and wonderful team collaboration, but the corporate vision isn’t clear, and results and time frames haven’t been incorporated into performance expectations.

So, how do you get all three key elements working together? Keep your eye on all of them simultaneously — they depend on each other. To start, ask a few key questions:

• Is the culture providing a foundation for business success?

• Is the culture clearly articulated, well-understood and being activated at all levels across the organization?

• Are leaders consistently managing employees, teams and business operations to foster workforce effectiveness?

• Are employees engaged and, therefore, focused on helping achieve business objectives?

• And, for all of the above: How do you know? What needs to change?

Define what you mean

To answer these questions, you need to have the definitions straight. How do you define business success? What does it look like to have a well-understood and enthusiastically activated culture? What behaviours constitute workforce effectiveness? What does having employees focused and engaged mean in terms of day-to-day operations?

The next step is to brainstorm with employees, candidly and frankly, to find out where you have strengths and opportunities. Allow ideas to flow without constraint or preconceived parameters — you can do a “sanity check” later.

5 golden rules

In terms of process, follow these five golden rules:

Make sure all senior leaders are on board: They all need to agree to move ahead with the initiative, agree with the definitions of success and stay in close communication with each other as changes unfold.

Make no assumptions: Ask the “stupid” questions. Get information from the people who know — workers “in the trenches” who interact directly with customers and suppliers, who move boxes in the warehouse or who operate the line.

Involve everyone in the company: Everyone has a job in the company because they add value in some way. Validate this fact by including everyone in fact-finding and brainstorming. To exclude some people is alienating, invalidating and disengaging.

Communicate: Don’t assume people know what you know, and don’t think communicating once is enough. Keep asking yourself the question: “Does my staff know this?” If they don’t, tell them.

Do what you say you are going to do. Your credibility for this initiative, and those in the future, is on the line. If you can’t do it, own up to it as soon as possible and explain why.

Making it happen

As you create the action plan, don’t bite off more than you can chew. Don’t try to do too much at once. Base your priorities on the impact, cost and effort of each change. At the top of the list should be the action items with the greatest impact and the least cost and effort. At the bottom are those items with the least impact and the highest cost and effort. Start at the top and implement those items first.

There is a technique for prioritization. Your whole initiative can be derailed if you don’t spend enough time to complete the analysis, map the process and detail the related actions. As you do all this, make sure to include accountability metrics.

How many times have you seen a company embark on an initiative and then, partway through, the momentum dies or something interferes and the initiative derails? Later, employees remark, “What happened to that?” The result is a huge loss in credibility.

Meeting business objectives is predicated on having great leaders and engaged employees doing the right things in the right way within a motivating culture that has been specifically established to support your vision and objectives.

To understand what to change and when to change it, you have to ask the right people the hard questions. Then formulate answers in a brainstorming format.

You also have to make sure leaders are fully aligned to the process and the outcomes, both in words and actions.

Finally, take the time to prioritize and map out the details of what will change, who’s going to do what and by when, and be sure to build in accountability metrics. And communicate throughout the process.

Remember, you can have the most brilliant operational processes but you need your people onside. If the people side of your business is in sync, the rest will fall into place.

Daphne Woolf is managing partner at the Collin Baer Group Ltd. in Toronto. She can be reached at (647) 969-0561 or

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