Friday, May 11, 2007

Organizational / Facilitation Nirvana

Perhaps that’s a bit strong, but let me relate a recent experience and you can tag it however you’d like.

In the corporate world, whether public or private sector, there is always much talk about the need for good corporate values, their relationship to achieving mission and vision, and the need for all staff to "live the values". Many organizations spend a lot of time developing the values (sometimes staff is even involved in their development, but not always), and communicating them throughout the organization through presentations, "fireside chats", printed material, posters in hallways and elevators, and other similar mechanisms.

From what I’ve experienced and read, the outcome more often than not falls short of expectation. "Stovepipes" remain, true collaboration is an exception and not the norm, highly competent people compete and pull the organization in different directions, and the majority of staff are disengaged from their work experience.

I recently had an opportunity to spend a bit of time with an organization I think may just have it right. I’m a member (and on the Advisory Council) of the Conference Board of Canada’s Knowledge Strategy Exchange Network (KSEN), a great group of people who are involved in knowledge management initiatives at a fairly senor level in their respective organizations. Our most recent face-to-face event was in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, hosted by our KSEN members from Farm Credit Canada (FCC). Farm Credit’s hospitality was without a doubt "second to none" and already has KSEN members scheduled to host upcoming event worried about responding in kind.

The key topic of the event was building and sustaining communities of practice, and FCC is clearly a leading practitioner. But what was even more compelling was the organization’s story of transformation into a high performance organization (which I’m sure positively affects their success with CoPs).

Louise Yates (V.P Strategy and Customer Experience) Rob Moss, and Katharine Patterson, supported by a wonderful group of Farm Credit employees, exposed KSEN members to the transformation that began around 2000 – and what a story it is!

I won’t go into details here, but imagine leading or working in an organization where over the last 5 years:

  • portfolio size has grown from $7.7 billion to $13 billion, and generally, business outcomes exceed expectations consistently year over year, with record profitability in 2006
  • employee engagement has increased from 68% to 82%
  • percentage of staff who think senior management is open, honest and accessible increased from less than 60% to over 80%
  • market share, customer loyalty and reputation indices have all increased

As well, recent surveys indicate that 82% of staff believe that senior management treat employees as the most valued asset, and 86% believe decisions made are consistent with organizational values.

Sounds a bit like nirvana, doesn’t it? (And for you facilitators out there, imagine helping an organization achieve this tremendous accomplishment. Sounds a bit like nirvana from that perspective as well, doesn’t it? According to FCC staff, Malandro Communications has been a very valued partner in the transformation process.)

Well, Farm Credit appears to have done it. How, you might ask?

  • corporate values that are anchored in fundamental beliefs about the critical importance of people, and the need for creating an enabling work environment
  • development and communication of simple, powerful cultural practices (otherwise known as a code of conduct) to guide behaviours and alignment with corporate values
  • cultural practices that clearly dissuade "business results at all costs", and focus on joint accountability for overall business results through open, honest, transparent communication, productive feedback, partnership and mutual support - business reults AND positive impact on people are valued equally as linked outcomes
  • sustained leadership by example by the CEO and senior management team, and strong socialization of the practices as behavioural norms
  • building capability throughout the organization to act in line with defined cultural practices (extensive communications and marketing, 8-segment workshops for all 1200 FCC employees)
  • facilitation and coaching developed as a core competency (110 FCC staff trained as facilitators, including Senior Management)
  • cultural practices reinforced through formal recognition program, a new employee performance management program, and ongoing delivery of employee workshops

FCC is a top Canadian employer, ranking 12th on the most recent 50 Best Employers in Canada list, released in The Globe and Mail's Report on Business magazine.

Bravo Farm Credit Canada!

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