What Makes for a Healthy Organization?

  • February 01, 2018
  • Caroline Nevin

Some tips for optimal outcomes

One of the joys – and challenges – of being the CEO of an organization like CBABC is that if you are in any way driven to excellence, your coffee-time reading consists of the Harvard Business Review and McKinsey Quarterly, and your before-sleep reading is a smattering of fabulous blogs devoted to creating a better work environment, a smarter, more strategic culture and/or more relevant organization. 

First lesson: there is NEVER a magic bullet. Every organization – from the smallest work team to the largest multinational – has its own dynamics, challenges and potential gifts that are impossible to reduce to simple formulae. It’s one of the fabulous things about humans: we are so indefinably more (or less) than the sum of our parts. And organizations are, at their heart, a collection of humans. If you care about creating the best chance for success, you have to invest in getting to know them and what drives them, and create an environment that inspires people to bring their best of themselves to work (both paid and volunteer). And invest in helping them work extremely well with others.

Second lesson: humans like to know the rules. Remember when you were a little kid? Or, perhaps more aptly, the parent of a little kid? As much as even the most troublesome child might rail against boundaries, each grew up knowing they were safe to grow within them. Clear healthy boundaries, rules and accountabilities – in the vernacular of organizations, good governance – is one of the essential keys to building mature, high-functioning people and organizations. Ignore this at your peril.

Third lesson: trust is everything. There’s been a lot written about this. The reality is that regardless of how many resources are thrown at a problem or challenge, exponentially more can be accomplished when people learn how to extend trust and be trustworthy. This requires not just an investment in individual personal development, but also in building an organization that values and exemplifies trust and a feedback-rich culture throughout. It’s worth every penny of employing experts to help you do it.

Fourth lesson: everyone has to be rowing in the same direction. No matter how simple or complex the organization, a shared understanding of purpose and goals from top to bottom is absolutely essential. Have you every seen or imagined being part of an eight-person row? That ever-so-fragile shell, with eight talented, powerful, highly-trained individuals balanced delicately within it, each microsecond of difference in stroke being amplified to make the difference between a painful loss and a seemingly-effortless win. 

Fifth lesson: being “right” is not always right. There is no replacement for listening to who you’re serving, whether it’s a client, employee or, in our case, member. Your brilliant idea may fall flat if it’s not solidly grounded in knowing what’s wanted and expected. Know first what’s needed, then deliver it.

Sixth lesson: be relentlessly driven to innovate and exceed expectations. This is an age where people expect more and more, and want clear demonstrations that you are completely committed to listening to them and to earning their business – or their employment loyalty – each and every day. 

Seventh and final lesson: identify, recruit and advance the best leaders and team members you can find. Learn to relish guaranteeing that you are not always the smartest person in the room... take pride in measuring your success in terms of organizational – not individual – outcomes. This takes some work, because many of us are driven by external measures we internalized early in our high-achieving careers, but the end result is ALWAYS a more successful and healthier organization.

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Caroline Nevin
cnevin@cbabc.org