It’s time to get back to core beliefs – or to belatedly list them
Written by Michael Lewis on January 14, 2015
Organizations need periodic wakeup calls to tend to their own core principles, the ones that underpin the game they’re playing and the results they expect.
Whether in business, a nonprofit or government, we sometimes bog down in daily details of process to the neglect of those core principles. We wander off the path we’d set for ourselves or even in the wrong direction.
Even worse off are organizations without a vision or mission. Whatever they do is OK and wherever they land is OK, because if you have nowhere you’re trying to get, any old road will do. What happens, happens.
If you’re among the hundreds who listened to Jeffrey Immelt, CEO and chairman of General Electric, at lunch last week you got the message loud and clear: unity of purpose is vital. With shared culture and beliefs far more can be accomplished far more profitably. (The message should spread more broadly than business. A nonprofit or a government might rank achievements by gains for those being served or in strengthening the organization itself.)
Don’t get this wrong: Mr. Immelt wasn’t playing professor, lecturing executives on how to do business or run an organization. He was speaking in a Baptist Health South Florida thought leaders series joined with a monthly Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce lunch with a focus on his global corporation and on health care trends.
But in the midst of that, Mr. Immelt laid out five beliefs that GE for about a year has used to guide itself globally but that can be locally interpreted and adapted to individual facets of the business or geographic areas.
In a nutshell, those beliefs are:
•Customers determine our success. A company that tends to its customers and keeps them strong thrives.
•Stay lean to go fast. A scarcity of funds drives teamwork and causes executives to focus on what is it that team members really do. Mr. Immelt says most executives rarely know what those in their organizations do each day.
•Learn and adapt to win. Under the old GE, the emphasis was on no errors. But, Mr. Immelt says, nothing works perfectly. The key, he said, is to manage mistakes because you cannot eliminate them.
•Inspire and empower the team. For the boss that means giving subordinates room to roam. For team members, it means empowering each other to work together.
•Deliver results in an uncertain world. Things change, so companies must find ways to hit their goals as the earth under them is quaking.
These beliefs inspire. But it’s just one such set. Every organization should craft its own to meet its own needs and aims.
Most enterprises have an aim, a motto. Miami-Dade County’s is “Delivering excellence every day.” While the motto might be more specific on what kind of excellence or to whom it’s being delivered, at least it’s a starting point for more than 25,000 workers – plus the many thousands in the county’s Jackson Health System.
Miami Today’s mission has long been to profitably deliver exclusive forward-looking news that a premier audience of executives needs in time to influence outcomes and benefit themselves, their enterprises and the community. Our playbook lists many steps to achieve that – everything from fairness and accuracy in news to treating all advertisers equally well on a level playing field – but all stem from a shared vision statement.
If your organization has no similar mission statement backed up by beliefs to achieve it, Mr. Immelt’s model is a great starting point. Again, without the some such path, whatever you do is OK but it’s no roadmap to get you anyplace in particular.
Think of it as a refrigerator slogan: If your organization’s aim can’t fit on a magnet on a refrigerator door, it might be too unwieldy. And if you don’t have one at all, how will you post the school lunch menu – or find your way in business?
The recession kept a lot of us from tending to our visions. It’s hard to think of ideals when you’re scrambling to stay solvent. But, as one of our columns noted last week, this year bears promise of actually feeling like our economy is getting better. It’s time to get back to a focus on what game all of us are trying to play.
Government should have a far better aim than just reelections or balancing the budget or providing good basic services every day, though all of those are OK. Wouldn’t it be great if, for example, the county could focus on five points as Mr. Immelt did, putting full public transportation and preparations for environmental change and several more really big-ticket items on the list.
I can’t think of a business or arts organization or charity that couldn’t and shouldn’t do the same.
Some day, with strong leadership, we’ll even create a community vision and unite to carry it out.
Meanwhile, those who heard Mr. Immelt should thank him for the wakeup call. We all aim for profits, but without a roadmap that a whole organization shares those gains will be less than they could – and should – be.