We’ve all seen them. Companies that achieved the extraordinary and become the symbolic image of success. While many may be good stories to share, others may be tales in which the rhetoric doesn’t quite match the reality. Underneath their veneer of success is a trail of dissatisfied customers, frustrated vendors or employees, and a prevailing sense of caution in dealing with them. That doesn’t necessarily mean any ethical boundaries were crossed but only that the outcome doesn’t paint a complete picture.
That’s why success shouldn’t be the objective. Too often, success is about the end result only. Effectiveness is about the process that leads to the result. And effective processes are what make things replicable and sustainable. For example, many people want to lose weight. Merely accomplishing the goal isn’t enough though. The flu often “helps” people lose weight – success – but it’s not a preferred or sustainable process so it’s not effective.
“Too often, success is about the end result only. Effectiveness is about the process that leads to the result. And effective processes are what make things replicable and sustainable.”
In my work as founder of Bottle Rocket Advisors, co-founder and president of a sport products company, and as a global strategy officer, VP marketing, public company CFO, and on boards of directors, I’ve faced a wide array of business challenges. Many of those hinged on two things: what to do (strategy) and how to do it (process). Process without strategy is pointless. Strategy with process is what bridges the gap between just a good idea and something truly meaningful. And effectiveness is the gauge of the process.
I believe that effectiveness for any organization sits at the confluence of capabilities, capacity, culture, and commitment and how all of those are oriented toward a market opportunity. It’s useful for any company owner or leader to view things through these dimensions:
- Capabilities are the collective and current set of unique skills, expertise, and tools to address issues and opportunities in the business. Aspirations are certainly healthy but it’s best to evaluate current, realistic capabilities.
- Capacity is the sum total of work that the team can deal with. People can stretch for a period of time but not long term without trade-offs. As with capabilities, the key consideration is to be realistic.
- Culture is the system of assumptions, values, beliefs, which govern how people behave in any organization. Some cultures can be adaptable to change, others assimilate, and others are rigid. Consider what impact the culture has on dealing with opportunities and change.
- Commitment isn’t a measure of the number of hours the team is willing to work but instead the degree to which the business is aligned with the strategy. Achieving goals is about making choices. In my view, a company isn’t truly committed to a direction unless it has also committed the resources necessary to reach the goal.
“Effectiveness for any organization sits at the confluence of capabilities, capacity, culture, and commitment and how all of those are oriented toward a market opportunity.”
If you’re satisfied with the performance and direction of your company, you can probably stop here. If you’re not, then sharpening each of the 4 C’s is the route to ramping up in effectiveness. Here are a few quick ways to do that.
I suggest following a process of Assess, Adapt, & Amplify. Bear in mind that all of this is predicated on strategy. If you’re staying the course, evaluate things with the current direction in mind. If considering a new direction, look at these dimensions in light of requirements after the pivot.
- Assess: Ask staff, suppliers, and customers to name the 3 things your business does best and 3 things it doesn’t do well. If they could change one thing, what would it be and why? Distill the feedback into a top five for each category. Then audit performance data. Does the feedback show up in the numbers? Does anything else stand out?
- Adapt: From the list, prioritize the top 5 strengths and top 5 needs based upon how they enable your goals. Does anything need to change? If so, specify changes that have the most impact and could be done quickly…and then move.
- Amplify: Play to strengths. Which market opportunities match what your company already does well?
- Assess: Where is the organization falling short? What are the key drivers of work for each team? What is current output? What gets in the way of producing more? Where are the blocks or bottlenecks in the work?
- Adapt: What can be taken away? What processes can be improved? What areas could benefit the most from help? How can the work be phased to manage capacity?
- Amplify: Stop and say no. For capacity, a regular look at what shouldn’t be done anymore is healthy…along with a willingness to say no up front. How can you say no sooner and more often? Saying no more often opens up capacity to say yes to the most important priorities.
- Assess: Have you defined your culture? How would you describe your culture? How would others describe it? Are those the same? How does your culture contribute to effectiveness? How does it take away? How are the words backed up by actions?
- Adapt: What gaps exist across the company between the aspirational culture and the reality? How can you demonstrate culture through your actions?
- Amplify: Culture is rarely neutral. In most places, culture fundamentally enhances effectiveness or fundamentally detracts from it. Be explicit about culture, communicate it regularly, and live it.
- Assess: What are the top 3 organizational priorities? How would your teams answer the question? How are those priorities assigned throughout the teams in the company? Can you specifically identify resources aligned behind each initiative? What milestones indicate progress? What obstacles are in the way?
- Adapt: Clarify priorities, assignments, owners, and resources. Decide the fate of tasks outside the priorities.
- Amplify: Communicate, confirm understanding, check progress, remove obstacles, and share milestones.
Effectiveness is about sustainable impact. Paying attention to the 4 C’s is a way build and maintain effectiveness to get the results now and in the future.
Mike Irwin is an advisor, blogger, mentor, operator, and strategist. Drawing from his past as a startup co-founder/President, executive officer of a $1+ billion market cap company (WD-40), public company CFO, VP Marketing, global chief strategy officer, head of sales, and board member, Mike uses his diverse background to help companies grow sales, improve profitability, and scale up. He serves as an advisor, consultant, fractional or interim CEO/GM/MD, and on boards of directors. Follow him at BottleRocketAdvisors.com, get in touch at email@example.com or connect on LinkedIn.