Great Organizations are Built Inside Out

Are you an organizational leader who can’t seem to move the needle on performance? Here’s a counter-intuitive suggestion: stop pushing.

The fact that you have to push should tell you something: either your people aren’t naturally willing to perform at the level you are asking (your culture is off), or they don’t have the natural capability to perform at that higher level (maturity is low).

Either way, pushing from the outside only steers your organization in a negative direction. And any performance increase that you achieve won’t last anyway. After a temporary uptick, the slight decrease in employee engagement (that resulted from your “push”) will probably result in decreased performance. The opposite of the result you were looking for!

I can’t think of a single experience in my career when pushing has created “true growth” or lasting performance. Sure, it improves things for a few weeks… a month maybe? And then the numbers go back down, probably even lower. What we really want is “true growth” and a permanent increase in productivity that endures as part of our organization’s “new normal”.

We need a better way to achieve this that actually works, because pushing from the outside-in is worse than futile, it’s counterproductive.

We can start by seeing our organizations differently.

Organizations are living things. In many ways, they are like children. And you, the CEO or leader, are like a parent.

Once we see organizations as living things, we can imagine them slowly growing in capability to move and perform, just like children. We would never ask a small child to build an additional wing on our house, as much as they would love to try. So why do we assume that our organizations can perform and achieve wondrous feats in the business world just because we ask them to?

Unlike children, organizations have a maturity that cannot be discerned just by looking at them. With no external indicators, we can easily imagine that they are more mature than they really are, or expect them to perform at levels that are not in sync with their actual capability. And then we wonder why our organizations aren’t “performing well”. We would never wonder this if we were dealing with a child that was obviously not mature enough for the task.

Luckily, organizations tend to grow up internally in fairly predictable ways, just like children. By learning and facilitating this natural maturity process as leaders, we create a safe place for our organizations to grow up without forcing or shaming our people. We stop trying to reinvent the wheel and mature our organizations the age-old way that has always worked–step by step, foundational layers first, from the inside out.

Then our performance improvement is real improvement, because we have created a “new normal”: our organizations have truly changed into teenagers and adults, which naturally perform much better (even on bad days) than children.

Inside-out change is your best friend:

  • It improves performance permanently, not just for a month or two after your big “push” to perform.
  • It lets you deploy improvement initiatives (LEAN/ITIL/PMO) without ironically killing performance.
  • It helps your organization grow up without sacrificing the innovation of your startup culture.
  • It puts your organization in a cycle of continuous growth and improvement – like an upgrade that never stops.
  • And perhaps best of all, it allows you to work less hard and get your time back as you enable other leaders to grow and succeed.

Suddenly you can break through that ceiling of several $MM/year that you have been stuck at, and your organization can grow to any size. All because you did it the unforced, natural way–from the inside out.

Have you ever thought of your organization as a child? What do you imagine the age of your organization might be right now, and what can you do today to improve it’s level of maturity over time?