By Scott O’Hehir
The transition between financial years is always a busy few months at Checkside.
For clients running on a July-June planning and financial year, this is the time when we work with them to review the year that was and plan for the year ahead.
The COVID-19 pandemic has served up an operating environment that is more volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous than most in recent memory.
It is clear from the annual strategic planning sessions I have facilitated this year that companies with high accountability cultures are navigating these challenging times best.
Here are a few highlights from the 10+ sessions I’ve facilitated this period:
- An 18-years-established manufacturing business which delivered record Revenue and Net Profit numbers (50%+ increase on their previous “record year”)
- A medical services business which successfully pivoted to telehealth as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic whilst maintaining high levels of patient satisfaction
- A transport company that successfully redeployed its entire fleet from the tourism sector into servicing a large resources project over the course of a weekend
- A software company which achieved world-class employee engagement scores (71% of its 50 employees are Fully Engaged)
- A for-purpose organisation which successfully expanded into a new geographic region whilst delivering on its (pre-COVID-19) budget
- A professional services firm which identified COVID-19 as a potential issue in a strategy check-in on 14 February – and which had convened a working group and developed response plans and systems weeks ahead of most other Australian companies
This got me thinking – what did these high accountability companies do that set them apart from the rest of the pack?
Reflecting on this question in recent days, the following four factors stood out…
1. They have leaders who are self-aware and dedicate time to strategic thinking and personal/professional development
- The best companies… have self-aware leaders (including key executives) who are actively engaged in regular strategic thinking, often via executive coaching, executive groups or coursework. They thrive on challenges and see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow – operating with what Jim Collin’s called productive paranoia.
- The rest… can’t see the forest for the trees because they don’t dedicate enough time (or depth) critically examining their business model and strategy.
2. They have an appropriate operating system for their company size, stage of growth and culture
- The best companies… have an operating cycle, agendas, tracking and meeting facilitation which is well understood and drives accountability. They made a conscious effort to ensure that they kept their form through the twists and turns of the COVID-19 pandemic – including maintaining regular communication with all team members (or evolving this to suit their situation).
- The rest… either don’t have an operating system (the urgent trumps the important and every day is SNAFU), or they’ve tried to implement an operating system straight out of a textbook blueprint, which leads to many growth companies spending more time writing reports and attending time-wasting meetings than actually getting stuff done.
3. They have a clear, simple strategy and measurable KPIs and objectives
- The best companies… keep everyone aligned with a simple and memorable strategic plan which is regularly discussed as part of their operating rhythm. They then keep everyone focused on the small number of strategic ‘rocks’ that really matter – and ensure people are held accountable through regular meetings to review progress towards well-defined KPIs and objectives.
- The rest… either don’t have a well-defined and/or communicated strategy, are spreading themselves to thin across too many KPIs and objectives, or have no idea how they are tracking towards the achievement of their KPIs and objectives. They’re either “flying blind” or “driving the car looking in the rear-vision mirror”.
4. They operate with a high-performance mindset
- The best companies… operate like a pro sports team. They hire, develop and cut smartly so that they have stars in every position. Sustained B-level performance, despite an “A for effort”, results in a respectful severance discussion. Sustained A-level performance is rewarded with more responsibility and generous remuneration.
- The rest… tolerate or accept mediocrity… or worse, brilliant d*ckheads, which inevitably acts as an anchor, dragging performance and culture down into a death-spiral (hat tip to Patty McCord at Netflix for putting this one so succinctly).
The good news is that all of the above are within reach of business owners and executives who are willing to put in the work. That means investing the time and resources to diagnose the particular type of chaos that your company is looking to manage now and/or avoid in future as it grows. The key is then to ensure that initiatives aimed at increasing accountability (and in turn high performance) are appropriately planned, executed, embedded or maintained.
To find out more about how Checkside helps companies implement High Performance Operating Systems please click here, here or here.