Stack: Ten Steps to Build a Thriving Organization
Before a skyscraper can be erected, a very deep and strong foundation must be set. Then layer-by-layer, each floor is built upon the one before it. Likewise, powerful organizations are built on solid foundations. The bottom layers are the weight-bearing levels. They must be able to support each level that is stacked upon them.
Have you wondered why your organization won’t seem to rise above a certain level? Could it be that the foundational layers aren’t strong enough to withstand additional growth?
Think of One World Trade Center (aka Freedom Tower), New York’s newest skyscraper and a symbol of freedom. The very first layer contains 81,893 gallons of concrete. That’s the equivalent of 2,340 bathtubs filled with concrete! Strong columns of steel beams are set in place to withstand the weight of every floor that is stacked above it. Each level that the engineers have laid is stacked on top of the first, creating this phenomenal and beautiful building—the tallest in the Western hemisphere and the fourth tallest in the world.
If you desire to see your organization (or your team, or your family) reach such impressive heights, then you must build from the foundation, upward—stacking layer upon layer.
These are the components of the structure that, as the leader, you must keep strong and healthy.
Three Foundational Levels
1. The leader. The entire structure rests upon this person. You know the concrete that was used for the Freedom Tower? That is you, friend. If you are the leader, the height your organization will reach is mostly dependent upon you. So what are the qualities that enable a leader to build and lead enduring teams and organizations? There are many, but I want to share the three core traits of successful leaders:
- Leaders who live in the “I don’t know” zone. When I talk to a leader who is only speaking, but not asking; who is mostly teaching, but not learning; and who is always sure about the answers, I can guarantee you this is not a successful leader. Friend, keep growing all the time. Adopt the disciplines and practices of personal growth and development. Don’t live in the “I know” zone. Acknowledge that you do not always have all the answers, and position yourself as a student in life, for life.
- Leaders who have impeccable character. People do not like to come along with others who have low integrity, or who don’t really care about them. When a leader fails in this area, there is no hope for the organization to thrive and succeed.
- Leaders who are intentional to connect and build relationships. Leaders who build their organizations on healthy relationships succeed. Those who don’t, fail. It’s that simple.
- If the leader is not solid, great people will not help. Again, this is a stacking process, and the bottom layers of the stack determine whether there will be success in the top layers. When the leader is strong, then his people will be supported and flourish. Skyscraper status is determined from the bottom, up. This begins with the leader at the foundational level, his leadership team on the next level, and then layers and layers of teams, all the way up to the entry level person.
- Growing people is key. Having great people starts with a robust hiring process, a great orientation and introduction program, and a continuing education and training program. All of this will happen easily when you make growth the culture.
- Take care of your people first. So many times as leaders, we worry about the product or service we provide, or our marketing strategy, while our people need our help. You cannot have success that way. Ask yourself every day how your people are empowered, engaged, motivated, and productive.
3. The destination. Building upon the second layer, is the destination. If you don’t understand, or cannot clearly communicate your vision, the organization will become stagnate. It will no longer be moving, growing, and living. I have seen organizations with amazing leaders and high quality people, but the destination is unclear. No one knew the business strategy, or the vision of where they were going. Here are three questions we must answer at this level.
- Where are we going? What is your mission and ultimate purpose for existence?
- What is our culture? How do we treat one another? How do we treat our customers?
- What is the soul of our organization? Who are we? What values do we espouse? How do people feel about working here? Are people passionate about the vision and purpose?
Four Supporting Columns
On top of the first three layers, come four supporting columns. Every thriving organization must have these four columns set in place for stability and growth. Without them, your organization cannot grow beyond a small “mom and pop” shop.
1. Metrics. At every level of the organization, there must be a simple way to measure and track things like:
- Key goals
- Customer satisfaction
- Employee satisfaction
- Daily sales
- Accuracy in meeting budgets
- Define the areas in which your people need training.
- Create a delivery method (an in-person trainer, manuals, online training, etc.).
- Budget time and money for training.
- Insist that training is executed on your team.
3. Systems. These may not be fun to create, but without defined systems, your organization will falter due to inconsistency. Make sure your systems are:
- Clearly defined
- Easy to implement
- Simple to measure
- Frequently updated and relevant
4. Finances. It may seem obvious that finances would be a pillar to uphold the organization and promise its future. Yet too often, poor financial choices are made, or the bottom line is left completely ignored. In order to see your business succeed, the finances must be:
- Consistently measured, monitored, forecasted, and reported
- Routinely reviewed for improvement
1. Products and Services. Your business is built upon the products and services you offer. Constantly seek to improve them by:
- Refining, to be ever more excellent
- Listening to what your customers and employees are saying about them
- Giving your customers the products and services they are seeking
- Observing the competition
2. Marketing. What are you doing to let potential customers know about you, your products, and your services? Give thought to:
- Defining your brand
- Letting people know about what you offer
- Serving your community
Within the floors of your building are your customers. They are the last component of your organization and the ultimate object of your existence. How you listen to them, and treat them will define your success. But if you have built the previous nine levels successfully, chances are, you have an amazing leadership team and staff that will exceed your customers’ expectations.
Remember this: the entire stack rests upon one person: you, the leader. The stronger your leadership is, the higher your organization will go. May you build skyscrapers, my friend.
Actionable step: Write these steps out and post them near your desk. Think on them daily, and focus on the step that is holding you back now.
About me…My first dog was an Alaskan Husky with one blue and one brown eye. She was a very smart dog, but always ran away. Many days, I had to run after her.
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