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What if Work... Worked? Four Secrets to Help Make it Happen

What if Work... Worked?  Four Secrets to Help Make it Happen

As a practitioner of “Organization Effectiveness” I recognize it’s a phrase whose sizzle is about on par with “economic headwinds.” In conversations with friends, eyes glaze over, and snoring occasionally ensues.

My salvation lies in the follow up comment I offer, which is this: I think of Organization Effectiveness as a set of practical means to make work work better. Sure — my auto-correct despises that repeating word. But it’s the clearest way to explain why organization effectiveness matters, and why every business should have it on the brain.

Sadly, this comment sparks energy in nearly every crowd because most of us have personally experienced work that doesn’t work. Apathy, disengagement, disconnection… we’ve felt these things. And frankly, companies disregarding these experiences are losing out every day. Their teams aren’t putting ideas forward, contributing fully, collaborating internally, and so much more. And the result is lost opportunity, efficiency, creativity, and impact.

[Related: Why CEOs Need to Prioritize Their Employer Brand]

So what then are the true secrets to making work work better? What do leaders and organizations most need to understand? The list is long. But I offer up the following gems as a starting place.

Secret 1: Turn your cogs into contributors.

We go to work every day, and our calendars confirm we are indeed busy. But are we actually being productive, adding value? Have you ever made it to the end of a busy day and realized you have no idea what you’ve actually accomplished?

The key is alignment. We offer up our greatest contributions when we see a direct link between our day-to-day work, and the mission of our organization. There is a huge distance between someone mindlessly editing version 27 of a deck (cog), and someone tweaking and perfecting a pitch deck to a client whose business could bring the company into a new industry (contributor).

The secret is to ensure that every task someone performs links to a stated business outcome; and that each employee clearly sees that link.

Secret 2: Arm your warriors with information.

Want your teams to make great choices? Then give them the information they need – all of the information they need – in order to do so.

Often in leadership, we operate with our teams on a “need to know” basis. We curate the information, and share what we’ve deemed critical. But the truth is… to make great decisions, we need to understand the full picture. We need context. And we need it in the form of information.

Leaders often feel compelled to shield their teams from too many facts. But reality is, we’re all grown-ups at work, and we deserve to be treated that way. Whether via town halls, conference calls, memos, team meetings… put it all on the table.

The secret is to operate on a “need-to-NOT-know” basis – pull out only the information that puts you at risk. As for the rest – bring your team into the fold. Give them the information they need to engage their own decision-making chops.

[Related: Say What You Mean: Why You Need to Communicate with Intention]

Secret 3: Align mouth to money.

Some organizations espouse collaboration as a value, but then reward individual achievers… and wonder why teams are so unwilling to collaborate.

Others may incentivize sales people on number of transactions, and then struggle to understand a series of low-dollar (i.e., money-losing) sales… and wonder why their sales people aren’t trained effectively.

Ultimately, what gets rewarded gets repeated. It is not uncommon for a disconnect to exist between desired behaviors and reward systems in place. And when these disconnects exist, 10 times out of 10, whatever behavior is being rewarded will prevail.

The secret is this: When a behavior seems misaligned or a skill absent… before turning to training or discipline – a strong leader will thoroughly assess the metrics the team is striving to achieve. The devil is often in the details.

Secret 4: Give their ideas a ticket to ride.

Few experiences are as frustrating as having a groundbreaking (or even just incrementally value-adding) idea, with no invitation to bring it anywhere.

Many companies are great at encouraging ideation… but fall down in the harnessing of the outcomes. Often there is a default assumption that the greatest ideas come from the top of an organization chart. And those at the bottom feel intimidated; unwelcome to contribute to the conversation.

The secret is this: If you’re wondering what the more junior folks at work are imagining… you have to ask them. Invite them to share their ideas, to poke holes in your own ideas. And even if the idea isn’t a great one, be sure to positively reinforce the courage they demonstrated so they continue to offer their thoughts up. One never knows when a winner will hit.

So there you have it. Four secrets to making work work better. Will they jointly result in world peace? Likely not. They will, however, have a significant and positive impact on the experience we have at work. And don’t we all deserve that?


Rachel Cooke is the founder of Lead Above Noise - a consultancy dedicated to making work work better. Rachel believes that that great organizations are grounded in great leadership. And her passion is to partner with leaders who believe the same, and are seeking simple (but not easy!!) strategies for evolving their work, and in turn, their ability to deliver delight. For more, please visit where you can connect with Rachel and sign up for her email newsletter.

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