How Organizations Get Fit to Win

Updated: Nov 20, 2020

One thing that has always fascinated me is that we call a company as if it were a thing and not treat it as a body of people. A corporation comes from the Latin word corpus, which means body. We can define our company as a singular body with integral parts or components.

FIGURE 1: The Four Integral and Interdependent Components of a Company

A company's lack of holistic thinking undermines performance

We all know a chain cannot be stronger than its weakest link. Companies undermine their performance when they take a cog view of employees (e.g., "you're lucky to have a job"). Sadly, if the employee cannot give the company what it needs or wants in a specific timeframe, they may be told to leave. With this edict, the company has released itself of any obligation to help the employee gain agency, alignment, and accountability.

This dismissal gives the illusion of positive action for the company, yet its long-term decision costs are not understood. Without a holistic understanding of the components, the decisions can be painful (and costly) to all stakeholders. Many of these separations are not justifiable if we used the model here and sought to understand. Instead, we let our emotional hunger for any action to cloud our good judgment about the foundation needed to win.

In figure 1, I was inspired by the author and American philosopher Ken Wilbur to explain the internal and external experiences. There is a framework here for a company. The left side is interpreted from a qualitative standpoint, and the right side is measured or quantitative.

I believe it is best if you perform this analysis on your own. Take the model and walk through the components. How do you feel about where you are, your team, and the company? Unless you have an outside and credible interpreter of the inner side, results-driven businesspeople will focus on the external metrics. Regrettably, this is only half the story and the failure of our modern society. All components are necessary for the holistic experience, but too often, we skip the interior life, which is enabling the external results.

Let us consider how figure 1 works:

Example: Sally invests in her well-being. She meditates and goes for 30- minute mindful walks where she sees the wonder of nature. She exercises 4-6 times per week, reads one nonfiction book every month, and takes an on-line class cooking class. Ever since Sally established these habits, her behavior at work has become more consistent. Her mind is not easily distracted; her answers are more measured; she laughs more and is willing to try things out of her comfort zone.

In other words, Sally is no longer threatened by change. Sally is a change agent with a solid foundation. When there are enough people in the company like Sally, the culture changes. The company that once focused on product features focuses on an organic and dynamic culture where products improve from a fountain of ideas. We are no longer hungry for ideas; we get to focus on the curation of ideas!

From these ideas and cultural alignment, we get improved performance indicators. We once struggled to set our products and services apart; those proprietary ideas have given us an unfair advantage in our markets. Our list of partners changes, and we have a wider distribution channel reaching new customers.

How did this happen? Because enough people invested in their well-being, and those people changed our culture. And just as important, the company gave them the freedom to change the game. If we understand why these improvements happen from a results standpoint, we can encourage similar behaviors across the company. We create a flywheel that powers greatness.

Component 1: Individual Well-being (Internal)

I cannot separate the physical body from the interior life of the mind and soul. The three are mysteriously and profoundly connected. Who can argue with the incredible intelligence of the body?

In each of the four components of figure 1, there is a ladder to be climbed. Starting with our well-being, we have an opportunity to elevate our awareness and capabilities. For a healthy climb, we must rise above and include the previous step to strengthen our well-being.

In this component, we are focused on the mind, body, and soul. We crave ascension in our life journey. I believe having a lack of focus for our rise is a powerful contributor to our anxiety or sadness. If we fail to rise from previous stages, we have missed the opportunity of a lifetime. It is remarkable how different your life can be when a more authentic and prosperous level was right there beside you all along.

In this component, we are focused on the mind, body, and soul. We crave ascension in our life journey. I believe having a lack of focus for our rise is a powerful contributor to our anxiety or sadness. If we fail to rise from previous stages, we have missed the opportunity of a lifetime. It is remarkable how different your life can be when a more authentic and prosperous level was right there beside you all along.

"There is another world, but it is in this one." William Butler Yeats

The individual predominantly holds the responsibility of the well-being component. The company or organization can contribute to well-being through benefits, time off, and compassion. However, all adults should care for their mind, body, and soul. If someone is not taking care of themselves, how will their behavior improve, and how can they care for the company? A corporation's failure to acknowledge employee well-being makes it more difficult for the organization to reach its goals.

Mental health is misunderstood, our sedentary lifestyles hurt our physical health, and our souls lack quality attention. Let us keep our minds, bodies, and souls in motion. All three need our care and feeding to give back to us. By ignoring any of these areas, we weaken the component and our foundation. Moreover, as we go deeper into these three areas, remember the ladders.

This COVID pandemic is a direct assault on our well-being. New anxieties fill our minds, our intelligent bodies brace themselves, and we search our souls to find courage. For those who have experiences and investments in mind, body, and soul; a mighty wind cannot uproot us. Well-being investments improve the probability of weathering the storm.

COVID will likely not be The Storm of your life, your first storm, or your last storm. Nurture your roots, so your strength runs deep.

I encourage you to make the investment daily. No matter what happens in your external experience, your interior life provides a shield and a straightforward way to your ascension.

Component 2: Individual Behavior (External)

We are considering the external world where our behavior can be monitored, measured, and evaluated. Will you be a lifelong learner, or are you relying on your 10-year old college degree or certificate to pass for being educated? To be a lifelong learner means you are actively learning something valuable. It means you know the world is in the middle of a knowledge transformation, and you are having fun keeping up!

Learning new skill sets or mastering a valuable one puts a smile on your face, as it should because you are feeding your mind and soul. You see new strategies, tactics, and tools. Perspectives are offered to you that you may have never considered. The books you read are from experts who took the time (6-18 months typically) to give you the best they had for under $20.

These are the good old days for learning!

Do you have a bias toward answers that worked ten years ago? Are you still applying things you once did to a new situation? I believe 20-30% of everything you do should be an experiment or a test. Think of yourself as a startup company. What is a startup, if not a grand experiment, to define better approaches and habits? Why can't you pursue and create proprietary answers? Your soul needs this, and your career requires new stories for the insight! People that innovate own the most valuable type of confidence. If a company is not allowing you to innovate, you are denied agency.

"Double your rate of failure. You are thinking of failure as the enemy of success. But it isn't at all. You can be discouraged by failure, or you can learn from it, so go ahead and make mistakes. Make all you can. Because remember that's where you will find success." - T. Edison

How you show up at work matters. Does Eeyore think we will not notice his behavior over time? Where does pessimism originate? Go back to the Well-being component for the answer. Our happiness behavior improves when our Well-being component is ascending. A happiness tip about your work environment; the odds of being happy improve when those around you are happy.

Your most important company relationship will be with the person(s), who is your direct manager. Are they giving you recognition and appreciation? Do they take an active interest in your career? Your happiness depends on these answers and the freedom you have.

It would be best if you were not justifying poor leadership. For example, "I know Jane talks down to me in front of everyone, but I received a good bonus from her last quarter." That is good for your bank account, but not for your soul. Jane needs to go to work on her well-being!

Combine learning, skills, habits, and happiness, and you will achieve the capacity to act. Said differently, you will have agency.

Component 3: Collective Culture (Internal)

Be warned; average leadership cannot create a great company. We often forget this, or we compromise for the paycheck. A company requires outstanding leadership to create a great culture.

There have been many books and articles focused on company purposes. The organization's goal should inspire your mind, body, and soul. If it does not inspire you, please do not quit tomorrow unless you have a rich and remarkably understanding uncle. Your proper response to the exit is to create a plan, transition out, and find a better purpose (so you belong).

"You don't need to be coy, Roy, just get yourself free" - Paul Simon, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Alongside the corporate purpose is a strong sense of belonging or community. You should see a bonding around the team's greater good. Encouragement is apparent to those around us to improve themselves and, therefore, our company. When someone wins, we all win. When someone suffers, we all feel the pain. Remember, one corporation (body).

Suffering hates it when good people come together. Community lessens the blow, relieves the pain, and allows us to move on faster. The other benefit of the community is it is just more fun to belong! Knowing that people believe in you, accept your imperfections, and stand up for you is a great culture. It is a bonus if your culture is joyful, compassionate, and asks you to do your best (you should!).

Rules of conduct and values are necessary for the Collective Culture component. I prefer to call them corporate mores. These values are usually implicitly or explicitly known over time. Problems can occur when there is a lack of consistency. I would say rules are discussed the most from a mediocre leadership team since they cannot offer much around community or purpose. It is just not in them.

A terrific culture's path is to reinforce purpose, community, and corporate mores to get everyone in healthy alignment.

Component 4: Collective Results (External)

Our companies remind us every day of the importance of results. And results do matter since this is how a body of people that want to win keeps score, informs adjustments, and prioritizes investments. The critical point here is that results are one of the four components that need focus and nurturing, not the only element.

Caring for the other three components enables our collective results. On the other hand, our pooled results influence our culture, behavior, and well-being. Each part is influenced by the other three. To ignore any of them puts the others at risk. A flat tire slows the whole car down.

"Successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Don't wish it were easier; wish you were better." - Jim Rohn

We compete in a capitalist system that regularly grades us (in context) for our performance. Companies optimize their investments to serve all stakeholders, including customers, through a specific business model. For example, Netflix has a different business model than Walmart, which is different from Accenture. If you are an employee, ask your company leadership to explain your business model so an 8-year old would understand. It is an opportunity wasted when a company does not take the time to do this. Why not let a thousand flowers (ideas) bloom from this knowledge?

Once the business model is understood, what does the scoreboard say? Companies miss another opportunity when they lack financial transparency. With an edited explanation of the financial metrics and a refusal to discuss its underlying financing, leadership is sending a lack-of-trust message affecting the culture. The company is communicating to its employees, "you can't handle the truth!"

Speaking of a lack of transparency, it is not uncommon for the Collective Results to stress test company values in the Collective Culture component. There are plenty of cautionary tales out there from public companies (who can forget the Enron story?), and you might have a few reports of your own in private companies. Small lapses in integrity can add up to a damaged culture that will fail during a big test.

Due to our ability to instrument and measure our company's results, The Collective Results component is where leadership is held accountable for its performance. Great companies hold the board of directors accountable too. The board of directors needs to use their relationships, experiences, and ideas to help the leadership team.

Being Fit-to-Win

This interdependence model is meant to help us think through how a company can climb the ladder to greatness. Consider the story of Sally and how a company can transform. The holistic model is not about departments or budgets. It is about parsing and optimizing the foundational components that allow departments, divisions, business units, budgets, products, and services to thrive.

None of us are perfect, so why would we think our company is flawless?

For our well-being, individuals should not ignore a company's harmful patterns. Here is something you already knew; leaders, managers, and other employees will occasionally let you down. You will also disappoint or confuse someone. We do not need to jump to anger. Instead, we can draw on our well-being, embrace our collective humanity, and improve the corporation. Each of us can say to the corporation; I am here for you. The company must be there for you too.

We experience the corporation, and the corporation (one body) expresses itself through us. Let us ensure our company is Fit to Win.

John Ryan advises B2B companies on elevating their marketing. He also counsels private equity firms and venture capitalists.

John has served as a board member, general manager, and CMO. He has provided advice and consulting from startups to Fortune 1000. You can reach him at LinkedIn.

Fit to Win 1020A
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