Why do organizations make less progress than their leaders want? To borrow a term from Elon Musk, “The people are going in different vectors.” Different vectors is an interesting way of saying people are not aligned in what the organization needs to accomplish and how it needs to accomplish it.
If there is one thing I spend most of my time doing at Capture Higher Ed it’s trying to get us — and there are only about 80 of us — to all go in the same direction, for each of us to pull hard at the oars in perfect unison. No friction!
I have found the best way to address this is to answer six fundamental organizational health questions. I draw these from Patrick Lencioni’s excellent 2012 book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. The questions are: 1. Why do we exist? 2. What are our values? 3. What do we do? 4. How will we succeed? 5. What is important right now? 6. Who does what?
Every month at Capture’s all-hands meeting we answer these six questions. We ask everyone if they have any concerns, if they understand the questions, and even if they understand why talking about them is so important.
Answering the following six organizational health questions will help you reduce friction in your organization, which helps your organization be more successful. As a leader, the more you can communicate the answers to the questions as well as why everyone should know the answers, the less friction that will develop. Review the answers at least every 90 days if not monthly. And know that the answers to the questions change over time — even the mission question. The answers to the six questions are not static. When you embrace the need to change the answers, the more people will buy into them.
Question 1: Why do we exist?
Throughout my years working with colleges and universities, I often am surprised often by the confusion surrounding this first question. Nowhere is mission talked about more than at a university. I think the problem is that many professionals in higher education do not agree with their school’s mission. Perhaps they see it as outdated or worn out.
This is because people are slow to embrace the simple fact that the world is changing faster than at any point in human history, with the sum of all knowledge doubling every 13 months. At Capture we rethink our mission regularly. We ask questions like, Does the reason for our existence still make sense? Or, Is this purpose still relevant to us or our stakeholders?
Question 2: What are our values?
At Capture, we also reassess our core values regularly. Three times in our brief history we have changed them — the latest being to add “Constantly Improve” to them. What we actually do changes as well.
Question 3: What do we do?
You teach students. You educate. That question should be simple for everyone to understand. Right? No, this is a source of much friction — friction due to silos that people love to create. The administration blames the faculty. The faculty blames the administration. One group says, “If only they would listen.”
Here is the real warning sign that silos are going up — when people start referring to their individual groups as teams. The accounting office is not a team. The admissions office is not a team. The team should be comprised of every single person working at your institution. The question, “What do we do?” is a tool for pulling all those burgeoning silos back together as a team.
Question 4: How will we succeed?
This is the question everyone tries to make complicated. It is largely a strategy question. The challenge to us as leaders is to simplify the answer. The simpler we can make the answer the easier it is for everyone to understand. At Capture we fix broken, outdated enrollment practices with simple, powerful solutions that make colleges smarter and optimize their offices’ time and resources. If we do that, we will succeed. This question is sneaky because conflicts develop when you fail to answer it clearly. It is not only necessary to discuss how the whole of the organization will succeed but also to do it for each major group within the organization. We debate and reaffirm this for each group every 90 days.
Question 5: What is important right now?
This is the big goal question. What are the organization’s goals this week, month, semester or year? At Capture, we have found a solution to help with this question from Measure What Matters, a new book from John Dorr. It is the best book on leadership and management I have read in the past three years. It sets up a system — the “Objective and Key Result” system — that was pioneered by Andy Grove from Intel in the 1970s. Google still uses the system today and it has been revolutionary for us at Capture.
I conservatively believe that following the processes in the book increased our productivity by 15-20% in the first quarter alone. It allows everyone in our company to see what each other’s objectives are and what they will deliver for the good of the organization
Question 6: Who does what?
Group by group and department by department you must not only answer this question but also communicate it frequently. Total clarity on this question reduces a ton of friction in the organization. Answering who does what is half of the solution. The other 90% is holding the groups accountable for their respective roles. Accountability is easier when everyone knows what everyone else’s role is. Remember to guard against the quip, “It’s not my role to save that drowning man. It is the life guard’s role.”
As CEO of Capture, I spend most of my time working on these six questions — discussing them with colleagues, communicating them to the rest of the company. We have found that this helps us. And I hope they will help you and your institution.
By Steve Huey, Founder and CEO, Capture Higher Ed