Mark L. Johnson / November 2022
Successful business organizations today must be responsive. No ifs, ands or buts about it.
In the mid 1980s, when I first started studying management and the characteristics that make for a successful organization, a highly structured, top-down management approach was common. But the world has changed, driven largely by the arrival of the internet, the availability of new and vast troves of data and the growing use of technologies to collaborate on projects.
So, I must ask: How well is your organization keeping pace with change? Are you succeeding? What today specifically drives business success?
Three Keys to Success
Since the days of Henry Ford and assembly line mass production, business organizations have been set up as hierarchies to exert operational control. As companies grew, they built large supply chain networks and rounded out their core competencies to sustain a competitive advantage in the marketplace. When a market was pursued, the company’s production capacities and core competencies would lock in market share and reap returns, presumably for a long time to come. Management was tasked with building rigid, consistent processes to keep costs under control.
Today, markets are no longer sure things. Companies need to have fluidity built into their processes and their governance. Their core competencies must be constantly broadening to fulfill a growing list of customer demands. Management must care for more than control of processes and people. A modern business organization must be built for change.
What specific elements are needed? Three things.
1. Dynamic core competencies. We live in an age of discontinuity, says the Harvard Business Review article, “What Defines a Successful Organization?” A company’s core competencies are constantly in flux. What may have been important in the past—mastery of certain scopes, specific construction skills and project management experience—may not be as important as finding and hiring people who have strong interpersonal skills, are creative, possess analytical ability, have emotional intelligence and love using new collaboration technologies.
Where will you find these team members? No easy answer to that question, but you might start by cultivating such well-rounded folks from within. Make sure people in one part of your company have exposure to other parts. Understand your supply chain—map it out—so your team can optimize material ordering and logistics. And start building a culture of innovation and culture of caring in your company. They will go a long way.
2. Team-based management. You need to eliminate hierarchical layers in your organization, as many as you can. To do this, set up teams that include executives and craftspeople. “When teams include people who are on the front lines,” HBR says, “the information flow is both faster and more accurate; with this increased speed comes greater flexibility to respond to customer and market changes.”
Team-based management allows companies to be agile. Team structures also foster genuine trust among members. They can create a family-like atmosphere and root out an “us and them” corporate mentality, which hinders organizational unity.
3. Leaders who look outside in. The world has become a small place. More than ever, company leaders need to know what’s happening beyond the industry and the immediate marketplace. By looking outside of the company with a wide-angle lens, leaders can pick up insights that may signal change on the horizon.
Many business and societal issues will affect your company, such as sustainability, racial unrest and industrialized construction, to name a few. Train your leaders to be clued into these outlier signals. When they meet with their teams, make sure they spend 10 minutes asking key questions such as, What are people talking about? How will it affect us? What should we do about it?
There are lots of ways to define success. But I think wall and ceiling contractors fundamentally need to set up dynamic, team-focused and socially aware organizational structures. Set up systems that encourage your people to never fall into the trap of doing things the way they have always been done; reward them for embracing change. After all, more change is surely on its way.
Mark L. Johnson writes for the walls and ceilings industry. He can be reached via linkedin.com/in/markjohnsoncommunications.
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