Work: are you thriving or just surviving?

If you are a senior leader, manager or executive, consider the following questions:


  • Are you too often caught up in dealing with operational issues, firefighting, holding peoples hands or keeping the operational plates spinning?
  • Do you need to spend more time giving direction and clarity so that the business thrives, rather than solving problems to make sure the business merely survives?
  • Is this what you envisaged doing when you reached the senior position that you now hold?

If your response to the above leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction with the way things are I have a few thoughts on possible ways of beginning to make changes for the better….

The world of work is made up of people, process, culture, behaviour, budgets, planning and a host of other factors. How you view yourself and your organization on the following may provide some insight into areas to explore further:

Purpose – is everyone clear about what the business exists to do and exactly how their effort at work contributes to this? Is it clearly and explicitly understood?

Behaviours – do people in the organization (from senior to shop floor) understand the difference between doing what matters to really make a difference and doing stuff to ‘look good’ or ‘meet the numbers’ or ‘keep the boss happy’? This can highlight dysfunctional behaviours that sometimes exist in teams and groups.

People – do managers understand how different people behave, what motivates them, what are their learning styles and what their preferred communication styles are?

Big Picture - do the senior team see the ‘big picture’ in terms of business trends, pressures, customer demands and expectations as well as internal and external pressures?

Measures – do you measure what matters to your customers in some meaningful way that lets you understand how well your service is performing in your customers’ eyes? Unless your customers don't have a choice of who they buy services from, this is critical.

Learning - how capable is your organization at learning from mistakes? Are they seen as opportunities to learn or reasons to blame? Creating a learning organization can fundamentally improve capability over time.

Values - what are the values that define the beliefs, which in turn inform the actions that underpin what people do? This is often assumed but rarely discussed and can offer great opportunities to leverage positive change.

I could go on but, if these are some key factors in determining how effective your business operation is, do you and your colleagues have the necessary skills in these areas to be truly effective and if not how are you going to go about getting them?

Every business has its own challenges but some of the things that can help address typical problems include:

Leadership development – this can consist of work to understand the values that underpin how leaders work together and shape the direction and focus of the organization as well as some core skills in working as a team so that you are all rowing in the same direction. It can include specific skill development or individual and team coaching.

People skills – some simple activities in modeling how people are wired to help understand behaviours can pay dividends, both with internal staff interactions and, just as importantly, with customer relations. Building skills in dialogue to create true understanding can dramatically improve interactions at all levels of work.

Measures – people tend to pay attention to what you measure. The core metrics of turnover, profit, PI’s and the like are important but often don't give insight into how the business is performing in the moment. Developing meaningful measures of how capable your business is at doing what matters to customers can provide clarity, direction and hope.

Process – making the work processes visible by simple mapping and reviewing often creates enormous opportunities to make positive changes that benefit staff, customers and the business. Even the act of exploring the processes together can yield benefits through shared understanding.

In the context of this article on doing what really matters I have a working assumption that you are reading it with a desire to transition from wherever you are now to somewhere that is better. On this basis I’ll finish with a definition of ‘slow suicide’ from Theodore Zeldin and a plea that we all refuse to accept it:

A long drawn out suicide occurs in all who earn their living in work which leaves them feeling less than alive. Some people give the impression of engaging voluntarily in self mutilation but it is very often the institutions they belong to that drive them to it.’

If you are a leader in an organization I would gently ask that you consider how you might work to help yourself, your colleagues and your organization to be alive.

Thanks for reading,