What causes a senior leader to decide to embark on a journey to performance excellence? Perhaps even more interesting is understanding why some persist while others abandon the effort. Many of the senior leaders we’ve worked with had the perseverance to stay the course despite tough times, challenging competition, and increasing customer demands and expectations. They led their organizations to become recognized with awards for excellence. Others lost interest when “good enough” was good enough to survive but not achieve the recognition they were craving.
What differentiates these two types of leaders? One is intolerance for “good enough” coupled with an obsession for excellence. However, there’s another factor that we’ve observed that plays an equally important role – organizational discipline. It begins with an unwavering commitment to the mission, vision, and values. Hiring and promotion decisions are based on congruence with them. Other important decisions that affect customers and stakeholders are made taking them into account.
Organizational discipline is reflected by a culture of accountability. Commitments are made, and the expectation is that they will be met. Leaders serve as role models by holding themselves and each other accountable to the commitments the organization makes to its customers, employees, and other stakeholders.
Customer service standards are an element of organizational discipline. They are shared during the hiring process, reinforced during the onboarding (new employee orientation) process, referenced throughout the year. Recognition is given to employees demonstrating or exceeding these standards.
Another attribute of organizational discipline is management by fact. Senior leaders use data and information to steer the course rather than gut-feel, intuition, or the loudest voice in the meeting. They also hold a mirror up to their organizations with high-quality benchmarks and comparisons to identify opportunities for improvement. They seek objective feedback to identify blind spots. They promote organizational learning across and up and down the organization, recognizing that each person can contribute.
There’s often a cadence that reinforces organizational discipline. This is reflected by the “drum beat” of communication forums and structured reviews. These are supported by templates that reduce variability and make the sharing of information more efficient and effective. The senior leaders ensure that key processes are systematic and deployed with the necessary training, tools, and other resources. Firefighting is replaced with proactive evaluation and improvement.
Do you aspire to excellence?
Do you lead with organizational discipline? Answer these ten questions with a “yes” or a “no.”
1. We never accept good results at the expense of our mission, vision, and values.
2. Senior leaders hold each other accountable to commitments made.
3. Customer service standards are deployed and used by the entire workforce.
4. We seldom miss deadlines.
5. We seldom have to reschedule meetings to deal with a “crisis.”
6. People come to meetings prepared.
7. Data and information are used to make decisions.
8. We seek high-performing benchmarks and high-level comparisons.
9. We regularly evaluate key processes for opportunities for improvement.
10. We seek objective feedback to accelerate our improvement.