Company health check

Dec 20 2012 07:48
*Dave Hendrie

Dave Hendrie

AFTER 42 years in business (and 24 years as a main board director), I reckon I’ve pretty much seen it all. I have seen the best and the worst behaviours of employees – and that includes senior management.

Allow me to share with you some of my insights relating to “company health”.

Clearly, no leader should ever assume that all is as good as it gets and that the results cannot be improved any further.

Even the company’s best divisions, functions and teams can do better. No leader should automatically assume that everyone on the team feels empowered and appreciated.

Great results often hide a multitude of issues that are never uncovered as long as the numbers keep coming in. It was Peter Drucker who said: “Those whom the gods wish to curse, they first give a decade of great results.”

When the cycle of good results suddenly turns pear-shaped (as inevitably happens), it’s too late to ask: “What the hell happened? Everything was running so well.”

So how do you accurately determine the real health of your company or team?

You look for the early signs of what I call “organisational sickness”. There is  “innocent” banter around the company such as TGIF – thank God it’s Friday.

That tells me that those people are putting in a maximum of 4.5 days per week, if you’re lucky. That is a loss of two full working days per month (4 X 0.5 days) - and that can run into millions of rands.

Or have you departments, teams and divisions competing harder against each other than against your competitors. It is so common that I can almost guarantee that this is going on to varying degrees in your well-run company.

This destructive “internal competition” behaviour usually goes hand in hand with the building up and defending of company departmental silos which, in my experience, are sanctioned or even led by senior managers.

I’ve also personally witnessed departments using information that they have chosen not to share with their colleagues in other departments used as a “competitive weapon” against those other departments (and of course I’ve seen individuals using the same tactics).

Have you ever seen two senior managers attacking each other in a meeting in front of their deputies? I have, often.

How about “deep resentment” by one department over what they perceive as reckless spending or bloated staffing in another department? These are all signs of “sickness” in the company as a whole or in one or two departments.

Most companies these days have a set of “values” prominently displayed in their head office reception areas, yet the employees either don’t have any idea of what these really mean or how to live these values in the work place - or even care.

Senior management often compounds the problem by their personal behaviour, which is  inconsistent with the values that the company “claims” to follow and believe in (and expect all employees to comply with).

How do you give your company or department a health check? One suggestion is to do what one of my clients, the South African operation of a very successful US multinational, did recently.

The local CEO’s gut feel was that the US parent’s corporate values were not properly understood and practised in the South African company. This multinational operates in over 120 countries around the world and expects their local CEOs to  drive the corporate values throughout the local operations that they are responsible for – no debate.

I was called in by the CEO and asked if I could verify/confirm this gut feel about non-compliance of company values. I have been exposed to online surveys, etc and am only too aware of the limitations these presented.

I was convinced that there had to be another way to capture the subtle nuances and deep feelings employees have about what was happening in their work lives.

The result was that I developed what I refer to as an “interpersonal methodology” that allows people to really express their true feelings, without fear of exposure or sanction by their manager or superviser.

I met with hundreds of their employees in single groups of 10 to 12 people from every department and function in the company, from the lowest to the highest job grades, for an average two-and-a-half hours per session.

I started each session by taking as much time as was necessary to get their trust and confidence using my seniority, credibility and experience. I then got them to open up and talk about their personal experiences with the practising of company values as they personally experienced it in their department.

I captured every one of their responses in front of them on my laptop using a great piece of software, and projected their comments onto a screen for everyone in the group to see and to verify that they were happy to share the points that they had made.

I summarised the results by department, by function and for the company as a whole.

I did a one-on-one presentation to each director for their specific function and then presented the summarised results for the company as a whole to the board of directors.

In effect, I held up a mirror to them of how their employees felt about how the values were followed or, as it happened, not followed throughout the company. The messages from the employees were crystal clear.

I then presented the survey findings to the directors. I used my experience of 24 years as a director to give them a list of suggestions as to what they could do to improve the culture of compliance to the values that they could personally action immediately.

The total project was judged a great success in terms of accurately capturing what employees truly felt and where the major challenges lay.

This is what I call a thorough “health check diagnosis”.

I was called back a year later to repeat the whole exercise, using exactly the same methodology (with even more employees participating).

These findings were then compared to the first study (we had a stake in the ground, a reference point). Progress was tracked by function and corrective action plans developed by the functional heads, where necessary.

I adapted this “research technique” to measure other key metrics in companies – levels of communication, execution of strategy effectiveness, performance appraisal and career development processes, etc throughout the organisation.

Do you really know the true health of your team or company? It’s a no-debate if you are serious about being a successful, professional leader.

Are you alert to the signs I described? Do you know the real cost to your shareholders of a “sick” company? It’s not difficult to fix if you have done a detailed diagnosis and have the will and energy to nurse the patient back to full health.

As a direct result of the remedial action you take, your personal stress levels as a leader have to go down and your effectiveness will go up.

Your patient is outside in the waiting room doctor, do your job and good luck.

 - Fin24

*Dave Hendrie from Gateways Business Consultants is a guest columnist. Views expressed are his own.

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