Get Ready For Anything: The First Step to Rapid Retooling Your Organization

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Technology is changing at breakneck speed, there is social instability globally, and the cost of entry into business keeps dropping. This creates extreme pressure on business leaders to keep up. New products, new strategies, reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions, and leadership changes are typically the answer. The end result? Pressure to rapidly refocus and retool employees to keep up with all the change.

We have found through our research and experience that the organizations that succeed in this environment build their success on solid footing: business acumen. Your employees will not easily pivot from one direction to another unless they thoroughly understand the business reasons for what is happening within and outside their organization.

Here are three rapid retooling recommendations for how to get your employees’ minds focused on business so they can create rapid results.

Learn your business, from the ground up

“We are not in the training and development business. We are in the business of business,” said Bob Bennett, CLO of FedEx Express, when we discussed his approach to training. Bennett is an engineer, and when he started at FedEx, he chose to move to Memphis to load and unload the planes. He did this for a year. Why? He wanted to understand the business before he tried to improve it.

To this day, people think of him as an operations guy. This not only builds instant respect from the operations people, but more importantly, when he is asked to help on a training project, he understands the business. As head of training, he has the same philosophy: “I don’t want award winning training programs. I want programs that are going to help the business get results.”

Rapid retooling recommendation:  Because you don’t have a year to reassign employees to other areas of the business, use short business huddles. Mike Michalowicz, serial entrepreneur and author of Toilet Paper Entrepreneur and The Pumpkin Plan, suggests employing a five-minute huddle with your team. Once a week, one person is assigned to share his latest business knowledge. It could be something he learned doing his job or while collaborating with a colleague or supplier.

Prioritize your priorities

Focusing on a few things differentiates high-performing companies from average performers. Jason Jennings, in his book The Reinventors, reveals research conducted by the Hackett Group, which found that lower performing organizations focus on an average of 372 priorities a year. Higher-performing companies, on average, focus on 21.


According to Sue Gannon, vice president of talent, culture, and organization at Beam, one of the world’s leading premium spirits companies, Beam CEO Matthew Shattock takes this research to heart. When Shattock wanted all 3,300 employees working toward the same direction, he did something simple. He created a one-page “Vision into Action” sheet that includes:

  • vision statement
  • mission statement
  • financial objectives for the year
  • cultural values
  • top 10 priorities.

“Everyone started hanging it on their office walls. This way, it is always there to keep you focused on the business priorities,” says Gannon.
Rapid retooling recommendation: Take the priority idea to the next level with this quick activity. We were always amazed at how even high-level teams are out of sync, so we invented this activity to get priorities quickly aligned.

First, ask team members to privately write down what they each consider as the team’s top five priorities. Next, have team members share their lists. Don’t be surprised when the lists are very different. Just listen and notice commonalities and ones out of alignment. Then, have the leader share his list. This is the most important step. Discuss the lists. Listen to why people have different priorities. Maybe the leader is sending mixed signals. Maybe team members are misinterpreting events. Whatever the case, be sure to leave the meeting with agreement on the team’s top five priorities.

Communicate core values

Staples is a start-up success story. Experiencing extremely rapid growth for 20 years, its retail stores spread around the globe. But eventually, they outgrew the core values that had made them a success. With 90,000 employees in 27 countries, it was time to rapidly retool. Through strategic planning and an engagement survey in 2011, Staples realized that it needed to position the company as more innovative and flexible.

As a result, Staples instituted a global initiative to change the organization’s culture through a voluntary, employee-driven values redefinition. It was called a “Values Jam,” and asked informal leaders and social networks to define their five new core values. Some 15,000 people participated.

The end result was the development of several behavioral-based values: “Say it like it is,” “Own it,” “Be caring,” “Keep it simple,” and “Work together.” And it is working, says Kate Hyatt, director of talent management and OD. “The value ‘Say it like it is’ is a great example,” says Hyatt.

“People now use this value to preface their comments when they bring up issues and questions with higher-level people. They now say, ‘I am uncomfortable with this approach,’ or “I have this idea.’ That wouldn’t have happened before,” adds Hyatt.

Rapid retooling recommendation: Don’t have the resources of Staples or the organizational urgency to do a company-wide values initiative? Do it with a department or team using these simple steps:

  1. Identify a diverse group of people (7-10) in the organization. They can be from different functions, units, or geographies.
  2. Explain the business challenges that are triggering the need to re-evaluate core values.
  3. Ask the team to find 10 people each to ask the question, “How do we need to behave in order to create a high-performing organization in the face of these challenges?”
  4. Have the team collect all of the responses and take a few hours to identify trends and similarities.

Bottom line: Know your business, set priorities, and build on your values. Take these three steps and your employees will be have the mindset to create rapid results in a changing world.

About the Author
Mr. Polsky spent 20 years in OD & Learning, teaching more than 10,000 professionals worldwide before co-founding Teams of Distinction. With a Masters in Organization Development and a lifelong education in human behavior (beginning at the age of 9 at the kitchen table) Mr. Polsky has been a life-long student of human behavior in and out of the workplace and prides himself on bringing his kitchen table wisdom to boardroom roundtables.
About the Author
Before co-founding Teams of Distinction, Mr. Gerschel was the COO of a $17 million multi-media learning company in Europe and the Director of global leadership development and e-learning for Sanofi-Aventis Pharmacuetical. Mr. Gerschel speaks globally on a regular basis and is fluent in five languages. Fusing his diverse corporate career and international knowledge, Mr. Gerschel offers clients a unique expert’s take on raising the bar on their productivity. Since 2008 he has educated and inspired more than 30,000 leaders on five continents through his speeches, coaching, training, and books;
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