Thoughts on Excellence Free E-Newsletter Series
Volume 20, Issue No. 13a
June 1, 2022
By Dan Coughlin
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Not only can individuals go on the inner journey to achieve excellence, but so can organizations. All the same steps can be used:
- Establish the Importance of Your Organization’s Inner Journey
- Define Your Terms
- Surrender Selfishness
- Embrace Virtue
- Live Up to Your Morals
- Have Deep Discussions
- Clarify a Higher Purpose
- Achieve Excellence
This journey is not to immediately produce greater revenue and profits or to strengthen your organization’s brand or strategy.
This journey is to strengthen your organization for the long term from the inside out.
Since you likely spend as much or more time in your work as you do anywhere else, the health of your organization is a very important aspect of your life. Doing the work of organizational renewal is just as vital as going on your own inner journey. Let’s walk through the steps as they apply to your organization.
Establish the Importance of Your Organization’s Inner Journey
This is an odd topic. Instead of rallying employees around a sales goal or gaining new customers, you’re talking about a quest for excellence. People have a hard time putting their arms around that one. It only becomes important to the degree that you make it important.
Write down why it’s important for your organization to surrender selfishness, embrace virtue, and contribute toward a higher purpose. If you don’t clearly see the value in doing this, then you won’t be able to communicate this value to your employees with any real conviction.
Define Your Terms
Since words mean different things to different people, I suggest you define what you mean when you use words like integrity, conscience, character, selfishness, virtues, morals, higher purpose, and so on. For many organizations, this type of conversation will be uncharted territory. It may very well become uncomfortable for people. The more you reduce the vagueness of these topics, the more you will be able to make these practical conversations that help toward improving the organization.
In my opinion, the most important step to make any real progress on this inner journey is to see and surrender selfishness. Selfishness is what ruins relationships. It keeps a person and an organization from becoming what they are capable of. Selfishness is primarily about immediate gratification.
Growing revenues and increasing profit are not acts of selfishness. This is how organizations become capable of paying salaries and investing in improvements that can add more value to customers. If organizations attempt to charge customers more than is reasonable, then the market has a way of punishing those companies through competition.
Selfishness can rear its ugly head in many ways inside an organization:
- Managers berate employees for their own immediate gratification and get away with it, at least for a while, because of their authority over other people.
- People gossip inside the organization about fellow employees and damage reputations because it feels good in the short term.
- Employees pad expense reports or steal from the company for their own immediate gratification.
By taking time on an individual basis and as an organization to reflect on and discern the ways in which selfishness occurs in your organization, you can begin to surrender those behaviors. Again, people will only change their behaviors if they really believe that the value of changing is greater than the value of staying the same.
Virtues are the way you want to live your life.
I encourage you to have regular conversations with employees about the virtues they want to see in the organization. Don’t hide away from the word virtue. Put it out in the open. Virtues are behaviors to aspire for. They get to the very character of your organization. They are noble. They are important. What virtues do you want displayed in your organization? Talk a lot about this. Listen to other people. Get them talking to each other about virtues. The more you make this an important topic, the more it will be discussed and discerned.
Live Up to Your Morals
Values and morals are not the same thing.
Values are what a person believes to be so important that it drives his or her behaviors on a consistent basis. A culture is what people across an organization believe is so important that it drives their behaviors on a consistent basis.
Values are very important, but they are not necessarily morals.
Morals are what a person believes is the right thing and the wrong thing to do. It’s possible for an organization’s culture to produce behaviors that are consistently the wrong thing to do, and over time people may not even realize that what they are doing is wrong because it has become so engrained in the culture.
I certainly can’t and won’t tell you what are the right behaviors and the wrong behaviors for your organization. These are decisions you will have to make as an organization. What I can tell you is that living up to your morals is crucially important to strengthening the character of your organization. This is a huge step on the road to excellence as an organization.
Have Deep Discussions
Obviously these are serious topics. They are not the kind of thing people can cover while Zooming, pun intended, through their many activities. These topics require reflection, discernment, and deep discussions with other people. The only way that will happen is if you take them with a high degree of seriousness. I encourage you to set aside a few hours at a time with small groups of people to really dig into the importance of each of these steps.
Clarify a Higher Purpose
Surrendering selfishness, embracing virtues, and living up to your morals are the building blocks of a healthy organization. Clarifying a higher purpose is what moves you deeper as an organization toward excellence.
What is the higher purpose for your organization? This is about more than just surviving and thriving as an organization. What is the higher purpose that your organization is striving to fulfill? This is not a topic for day one on your inner journey. You need to work your way up to this question. It’s a very, very important topic. Individuals can clarify a higher purpose for themselves, and so can organizations.
Once an organization has clarified its higher purpose, then I encourage managers to meet with employees to discuss how they can contribute toward fulfilling this higher purpose for the organization. This sounds easy, but in reality can be quite hard to do. Contributing to a higher purpose doesn’t mean the employee will get a bigger title or income. It might mean the employee will invest a lot of hours without a lot of recognition. It can be a hard idea to sell to another person.
However, in contributing to a higher purpose, people can feel more meaningful in their work. This is an extraordinarily important non-financial aspect of work. If a person works 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year for forty years, that’s 80,000 hours. If the person feels that all he or she did was earn a lot of paychecks, then the person might experience burnout and a lack of purposefulness.
People can work in an organization not for days, but for decades. This inner journey to excellence as an organization is not a one-time deal, but rather an on-going journey to be repeated over and over again.
Just as I recommended in Step #9 for individuals, I encourage you to use the Daily Examen and The Process for Continually Raising Your Bar as an organization.
The Daily Examen is a one-page document for every employee to fill in on their own. It would simply have a few questions on it:
- What selfishness do I want to surrender?
- What virtues do I want to embrace?
- What morals do I want to live up to?
- What higher purpose am I trying to fulfill?
- How will I contribute?
The Process for Continually Raising Your Bar is another one-page document for every employee to fill in on their own once every two weeks. It could simply say:
In terms of surrendering selfishness, embracing virtues, living up to my morals, clarifying a higher purpose, and making a contribution:
- What did I do that worked well and why did it work well, and what did I do that did not work well and why did it not work well?
- What lessons did I learn or relearn in each of those areas?
- What will I do the same and what will I do differently over the next two weeks, and why will I do that?
You could also discuss those same three questions in small groups throughout your organization and work together to raise the bar of the company.
The ideas in this article on organizational renewal are not an intended formula, but rather a set of suggestions. I do believe these topics are very, very important to strengthen an organization for long-term success. The way in which you make these ideas into a working reality is up to you. Even though these topics are intangible and non-financial, I think they get to the very heart and soul of a healthy organization.