It’s not under control
“No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy,” Helmuth von Moltke.
Much of organizational management is based on a command-and-control model. A leader sits top a hierarchical org chart and directs activities, like a chess grand master moving pieces about the board. This is especially true of smaller enterprises, where in practice, a child playing checkers is a more realistic portrayal.
A mentor of mine, who was a CEO of several large retail organizations in his heyday before cashing out to become a mentor to small business owners, once told me “if you can’t step away from your business without it grinding to a halt, you have failed as an executive and leader. You’ve got a job, with a glorified title.”
Empowering the workforce has become a trendy management subject in recent years, especially in larger organizations (a Google search serves up 123 million results in 1/2 second.)
In smaller businesses and non-profits, especially where the owner or founder is still involved, empowerment is still not widely accepted or implemented. But it should be. For a small company/organization, the loss of the leader for any period can be an incapacitating or fatal event. Organizational continuity must be among the very top priorities of any organization that has a Board or shareholders. Sadly, it often is not.
The necessity of empowerment and continuity has proved itself again in recent weeks, in my own organization. Our team (Board, staff, and volunteers) were able to continue on important projects, meet critical grant deadlines, and achieve record sales in our retail operations even while “the boss” was out of commission. While my absence was the result of an accident, the team’s ability to carry on was not.
Our leadership team is committed to an open and collaborative operation. We each have our roles and responsibilities to execute, and a shared responsibility: to an open flow of communication and information sharing. We were fortunate to have a solid core team, which we have supported with new team members selected for cultural fit as much as skills and experience. It wasn’t always this way. We have consciously changed in order to better fulfill our mission.
A small organization’s ability to thrive is enhanced by a commitment to collaborate. Some things to consider:
Put fostering a collaborative culture at the top of the organization’s priorities. It must be one of the CEOs primary objectives.
Provide regular updates, formal and informal, to all levels. Allow feedback to flow up as well as down. Listen actively.
Make knowledge sharing an imperative and a SOP.
Expect and allow for things to not go as planned and for not all goals to be achieved.
Allow people to make mistakes and learn from them.
Do not micromanage. Hire people for fit and attitude than you and let them do their thing.
Things break. Plans fail to work. Life is messy and non-linear. How to deal with it? Some advice from a Buddhist monk:
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”- Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart.
For many organizations, this may necessitate a rethink of how things are done, as it did for us. It’s worth a