Organisational health - some might view this as a technical term bandied around alongside values and initiatives. Too vague to tackle or wide-ranging to implement. Yet, when broken down into its parts, it’s full of common sense that benefit any organisation of any size or sector.
So, what is organisational health and how do you make it happen?
What it definitely is not, is yoga classes, communal pool tables and Zoom drinks. No one has room for a pool table in the average home office, especially if you’re sharing it with your homeschooling children.
A healthy organisation has strong leadership, is resilient, future focused, mature and motivated. In simple terms, it’s a good, fair place to work where challenges are faced not ignored, people are valued for who they are and what they bring, and where trust, loyalty and commitment go both ways.
Hopefully this doesn’t sound like some sort of impossible workplace nirvana. It may be ambitious, but there’s no harm in striving to be an employer of choice – a destination workplace, if you like.
Think over your career. Many of us will recall horror stories of the antithesis of the healthy workplace – the toxic work environment. Backbiting and backstabbing, where ‘favourites’ appear over-promoted, where leadership is tyrannical and unpredictable and the employee turnover rate is inevitably sky high, but never recognised. We could go on and fervently hope that it doesn’t apply to you now.
These workplaces are not just unhappy, they are unhealthy. Productivity is poor. Morale is low with relationships bonded by little more than misery. Creativity is non-existent, because ‘who cares what I think?’ The sad fact is that these organisations don’t always fail, so their leaders think it’s all okay – ‘it’s just how things are in this business’. They blame their people rather than addressing the root causes of the unhappiness. These organisations may survive for years, lurching and stumbling on, with the perception that survival equals success. But this is such a low bar and they will never achieve their full potential with this mindset.
While some of the tech giants have a bad reputation for toxicity, they can afford to lose a few good people. Hordes of fresh-faced graduates line up to fill the gaps every year. However, the average SME and start up doesn’t have this luxury. These organisations need to attract, keep and develop the very best people they can afford. After all, home-grown produce has the potential to be the healthiest of all. You know exactly what has gone into the making of that individual, with emotional intelligence, resilience and motivation at the core of your development strategy. Development done well can yield a very good return on your investment.
A Strategy For Future Health
We tend to think of career progression as an upward journey. But sideways movement is hugely valuable both for the individual and the organisation. As the number of top jobs decreases further up the ladder, you may find that you lose the very people you have invested in to other organisations who then reap the rewards of your hard work! Think about how you can mitigate this. Perhaps offer the ability to move around your organisation, with enhanced development opportunities. An individual who has practical first hand experience of multiple functions could make an exceptional leader with the communication skills to generate trust across the whole organisation, because they have ‘been there’.
Take the example of Professor Chris Whitty. The Chief Medical Officer was seen over the Christmas period putting in a couple of hospital shifts. Knowing that your senior leader understands through their own experience how things are on the ground, is a huge boost to morale and motivation.
Resilience, Motivation and Maturity
Never has resilience been quite so valued as it has over the last year! Resilience of course involves perseverance, getting on and pushing through. But it’s also about being creative, optimistic and upbeat, excited about the possibilities rather than seeking to recreate a past that has moved on.
We only have to look at the high street for examples. The writing had been long on the wall for the retail giants, Debenhams, House of Fraser and TopShop. They failed to sufficiently focus on the future, instead sticking with a model decades old as their newer, smaller, more agile rivals forged ahead with creativity and innovation. Eventually their resilience ran out and many formerly-loved high street doors closed for good. Covid may have been the catalyst, but it was certainly not the cause of demise on the UK high street.
A healthy organisation is collaborative, empowering and values the wellbeing and work/life balance of its people. This feeds motivation and ultimately loyalty, morale and productivity. It’s where there is a sense of trust, shared purpose and pride. Where people want to make a difference and feel good about it.
Maturity does not refer to age! We’re talking about emotional maturity – behaving and responding in a mature, deliberate and most of all, appropriate manner with empathy. People who respond in this way tend to be reliable, trustworthy and careful. While dynamism and enthusiasm are terrific, they must be tempered with emotional consistency if anyone is going to invest their trust and faith. Acting like a ball in a pinball machine, apt to erupt at a moment’s notice does not augur well for a stable and productive workplace
We should also add financial health as a key factor of organisational health. We’ve talked before about the responsibility a leader has to look after the financial wellbeing of their workplace. Even if it’s boring, even if it’s difficult to understand. It’s unwise to leave finance solely in the hands of the FD or accountant. In every size or organisation, leaders need to understand the financial implications of what they do, how that links to the financial goals of the organisation and have the confidence to ask questions if something doesn’t make sense. There’s no such thing as a stupid question when it comes to business finance – your request for clarity could be the very thing that uncovers a serious mistake, so ask!
After all, if teams are slogging away for the organisation, the very least its leaders can do is deliver the financial stability they need.
Organisational health is an achievable initiative
Is there an organisation which can deliver all this, all of the time? Perhaps not, we are only human and errors of judgement are inevitable. But it is an ambition worth pursuing. With light at the end of the Covid tunnel in sight, now is the time to take a fresh look at your organisation and say we can and we will do better. Talk to us about developing your organisational health to create a more effective, future focused workplace.
We’re a team who practice what we preach. 2020 was tough, but we made it through with perseverance, motivation and above all by supporting each other. Contact us to find out how we can help you to do the same.
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