Case Study of an Excellent Organization
This article is mainly about one specific organization which I consider to be excellent. I describe what I understand by that, what seems to be the pillars of their excellence and also a little about why I think so, what was the process of my audit by which I came to such conclusion.
My vision since I started a consulting business is to help leaders with creating excellent organizations. My definition of an excellent organization is that it achieves and sustains a state where the organization:
- Meets needs and exceeds expectations of all its stakeholders and
- Has the best and avoids the worst from 4 types of Competing Values Framework cultures.
At my public seminars, I asked the audiences whether they think an excellent organization (under the above definition) exists. Most of the people in the audience were skeptical. I knew that excellent organizations must exist, I probably read about some of them, and I had a vision of how to achieve that excellence. However, I did not think I would find one so quickly in my consulting career. After doing an organizational audit of Home Hunters (its Brno division to be more precise), I believe they are an excellent organization according to the above definition.
The process of the audit was quite simple.
- I agreed with the leader on the terms of the audit.
- I did some external online research about the company and its competition and prepared more for the third step; which was:
- 1-on-1s with the leaders and employees combined with some thinking and analysis after each 1-on-1, creating assumptions and thinking of how to get more insight into those assumptions in the next 1-on-1s.
- I combined all the information from all 1-on-1s also with some of my checklists, models, templates, creative thinking, and a little bit of extra external research and created a detailed report in the form of a SWOT analysis which I sent to the leader.
- I discussed the report and its findings with the organization’s leader.
Note: For this audit, I did not use other channels for information collection like attending meetings, offline external research, examining the product/service or checking internal documents, data or metrics. Even though I did not use those channels, information from various 1-on-1s and online content was so consistent, I am quite confident with the following result:
Employees are happy, enjoy work and they like the organization, customers are happy as they are given high-quality service, and owners are happy too because of good results and working organization.
As of the Competing Values Framework, I believe the organization has the best and avoids the worst from all 4 types of Competing Values Framework cultures:
- Clan: there’s an orientation on employees and relationships, personal growth and support. Typical flaws of Clan cultures like avoidance of conflicts, inattention to results or low productivity are not strongly present.
- Adhocracy: employees have a lot of freedom and their creativity and innovation are strongly encouraged and rewarded. Typical flaws of Adhocracy cultures like inefficiency, low quality or chaos are not strongly present.
- Hierarchy: there’s a strong focus on quality, there are good ways for quality control and the most important activities are reasonably automated or repeatable. As of typical flaws of Hierarchy cultures like lack of freedom, lack of innovation or boredom, they are basically not there at all.
- Market: there’s a strong focus on customers, efficiency, productivity and providing value. Being better than the competition is a strong motivator. Typical flaws of Market cultures like bad relationships, inattention to employee needs or burnout are not strongly present or a big threat.
How do they do it? I have observed many things in the organization that are probably the causes of their excellence. And there are surely many other things they do, consciously or unconsciously, and I wasn’t able to name them. However, I believe these are four of the key factors of their success:
- The culture is based on a system of values/principles. The classic advice of probably every second book on business, management or leadership. Home Hunters have a system of values/principles and it’s not just something written somewhere and forgotten. It’s actually used. Leadership and employees know the values/principles and they use them to guide their strategic decisions as well as their day-to-day decisions and actions. System of values/principles is also a good fit for their vision and market, and it helps to good relationships based on trust with customers and internally.
- Listening to employees. Leadership consciously listens to its employees. Another known advice from great leaders like Packard, Welch, Walton, Deming, Kelleher, and others. Leaders of Home Hunters put a lot of energy to proactively collect feedback and ideas from employees, and they make sure to never punish employees for any idea, not even verbally like claiming something like “this is a stupid idea”. Each idea is welcomed, rewarded and if not acted upon, then at least thought about. Employees appreciate that. This helps the leadership to be really well informed about what’s going on in the organization so that they are able to work on weaknesses, minimize threats or make use of opportunities. It helps employees to feel valued, to grow and to feel proud about their work. It helps the organization by building good internal relationships and maximizing continuous improvement by using as many ideas as possible.
- Employees and customers before money. Leadership believes that the company will succeed if employees have a good environment to do their work and if customers are given high-quality service above industry standards. And leadership seems to act in agreement with this belief. They value long-term relationships based on respect and trust. They prefer long-term objectives and “the proper way of doing things” over short-term objectives and “shortcuts”. Money is a consequence of treating employees and customers well and fairly.
- Combination of freedom and insisting on high standards. Many organizations struggle to implement this (actually, there are too many organizations with low freedom AND low standards), but Home Hunters (its Brno division) have it implemented nicely. While brokers have lots of freedom in their work, they are trained to act in an agreement with the organizational values and principles and they know violating that system of values/principles will be probably detected and have consequences. And since the system of values/principles is designed really nicely for the organization’s needs, this allows the leadership to control their employees and their work relatively freely without a need to worry a lot about quality. Another thing which enables the combination of freedom together with high standards is the win-win philosophy of the leadership: they work hard on creating a great work environment for their employees which creates trust between the leadership and employees. Employees seem to reward that with win-win thinking from their side, which enables high freedom with relatively low control and high standards.
When reading the above lines, it almost seems like Home Hunters (its Brno division) are perfect. They are not perfect (my audit points out several weaknesses, opportunities, and threats), no one is perfect, but they are really good. I wish you guys to continue great work that you do and also to work on your weaknesses, threats, and opportunities – either those I have identified in the audit or others. Mostly, I am interested if you will try to move from stage 4 of Tribal Leadership (“We’re great”) to stage 5 (“Life is great”) as we have discussed.
Others, I hope the above 4 factors will be inspiring and useful for you. They are quite universal and suitable for most organizations and I believe they can help many of you.