Have you ever heard, "We can't do that! We're already bursting at the seams!" If so, you're not alone. I hear it all the time as I work with growth companies to achieve their dream of building an incredible, smoothly operating, mean, lean machine. I'd love to just tell executive teams that it's all about “balance.” But does work balance (or life balance, for that matter) really exist?
In reality, balance is a frequently misunderstood term. It's not that it can't be achieved. But what’s needed first is to define what “balance” is.
In reality, balance isn't equalization. Even the best of the best don't walk a tight-rope without swaying to one side or the other. The acrobat will frequently be just slightly slanted to one side or the other.
You can do multiple things...but you can't do them all at once. If you try to do too much, then you'll be “over-eating from the buffet of opportunity," as Jim Collins likes to say, which will cause congestion, misery, lack of focus, and more. In short, you’ll be way off-balance.
The key, then, to achieving “balance” within your organization is to create a flow, or a rhythm, for strategically executing on your annual goals. (We will see ways to accomplish this as this series on strategic “balance” continues in future blogs.)
To create a stronger sense of balance, consider the following:
(1) Creating flow is a process; it's a journey. The first step is to gather your executive team together to create a common understanding. We can get easily buried with our daily jobs...and the plans we're trying to execute drift away--like branches in a free-flowing river. In time, the many free-floating branches begin to cause a logjam. Then “gunk” starts to collect around the logjam, which causes more jams. Before long, the river is flowing but not nearly as smoothly as it could. The times of increased workload and stress are the times when you need to maintain and status your progress the most. Otherwise, you can inadvertently give the illusion of balance when in reality not much has been done.
(2) As you search for strategic balance, check for alignment in thinking. We use words like "alignment" all the time and we really do think we know what such words mean. All of us might have a general notion of what words mean, but what's most important is what it means to your executive team. Alignment in thinking has to be crafted and then tested.
Next time you gather with your executive team, check for alignment in thinking.
• What are we here to accomplish today? (Is that clear to the team?)
• As a discussion on a specific challenge ensues, do we all have a common understanding of what the real problem is? Have we specifically defined it? (Write it on a marker board; seeing it is more powerful than simply hearing it.)
• Relative to what we want to accomplish this Quarter, what key question can we ask our people each and every day? Or what key words can we use over and over so that people hear the same message?
• At your Quarterly Meetings, ask your leadership team to report their updates in the same format (which creates alignment in thinking) vs. everyone reporting differently. Individual differences in discussion and delivery are fine, but give them each a specific framework to use for jump-starting their portions of the discussion.
• What are our Core Values and how are they serving us? How do they help us create a sense of alignment at a corporate level?
• Ultimately, what are we trying to accomplish? What's our long-term Vision? What's our short-term Vision? Do we all have the same general understanding here?
• Do we need to discuss any confusion relative to roles and responsibilities? Nothing creates a lack of alignment quicker than this type of confusion.
• How is what we're each doing blending together to take us to the next level?
• Are we celebrating silo mentality? (If so, talk solutions! To help: How does Operations support Sales? How does Sales support Operations? How do we all need to better accommodate Human Resources and why? How does Marketing support us and what does this division need from us?)
Creating organizational balance is a tough act, but it can be done. It will never be perfect, but it needs to be as close as possible. The tightrope walker can sway, but obviously not too much. You'll have moments when you lean to one side, but taking corrective action to gain back your balance is consistently required for perfection. It's about strategically putting one foot in front of the other and focusing very hard on forward movement. Do this well and you'll have a much stronger understanding of alignment and its relevance to your overall corporate performance.