The Main Thing: How to Keep Organizations Centered on What Matters Most
This is a guest post by George H. Labovitz and Victor Rosansky, authors of Rapid Realignment: How to Quickly Integrate People, Processes, and Strategy for Unbeatable Performance. They say that the first challenge of alignment is to get everyone on the same page by understanding the organization in the same way. That means getting to the unifying concept of the organization to which everyone can contribute.
"The main thing is to keep the Main Thing the main thing!"
We loved that expression when we first heard it from Jim Barksdale, then the COO of FedEx. That single sentence captures the greatest challenge that executives and managers face today: keeping their people and their organizations centered on what matters most.
Every organization needs a Main Thing—a single, powerful expression of what it hopes to accomplish. Without it, it's not possible to align the four elements that produce organizational efficiency and effectiveness: strategy, people, customers, and processes.
Does your organization have a Main Thing? Do your people understand it? Are they guided by it?
Fred Smith, the Founder and CEO of FedEx, once described to us his understanding of The Main Thing—which he refers to as the "theory of the business."
Every successful business has, at its heart, a theory of the business—an underlying set of supporting objectives and a corporate philosophy that gives people a foundation on which to operate. Working inside that framework, they've got an idea of what we want them to do—to prioritize. We [at FedEx] have a very clear business mission and a business theory which is understood certainly by every member of the management team, and probably by 90 percent of the work force."The Main Thing is critically important. It is the end that strategy and human effort serve. We cannot achieve and maintain alignment without consensus and conviction about The Main Thing. Yet we are always amazed by how few people can articulate their organization's main thing. When we ask participants in workshops, "What's your Main Thing?" we see people digging into their wallets for the latest mission statement. Others look questioningly to the person sitting next to them. We wonder how these people can formulate a strategy or know how well they are doing if they cannot even state—or agree on—the ultimate purpose of their work.
Some people, however, can articulate their Main Thing without hesitation. Here are a few examples:
What is The Main Thing for your organization? Can you articulate it clearly and concisely? Can your subordinates? In many organizations, people have no clear answer, or will offer a confusing list of lofty goals. Others will describe their strategy. But a strategy is not The Main Thing; it is merely its servant. In some cases senior management defines The Main Thing one way and the people in the trenches define it in another. In these cases people and policies work at cross-purpose; one person is pulling when the other guy is pushing.
As you formulate a Main Thing for your organization, keep these guidelines in mind:
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