A Useful Metaphor: An Organization is a House

A Useful Metaphor: An Organization is a House 150 150 Wally Hauck, PhD, CSP

Metaphors are useful. They help us to appreciate ideas, especially innovative ideas, by putting them into a context we already understand.  A useful metaphor for building a high-performance organization is to imagine building a house.

In 2016 an article in the NY Times outlined the alarming news that a sizeable number of homes have their foundations crumbling.  The homes are now worthless.   According to the NY Times, the cement used in these homes has an ingredient that swells and cracks with exposure to oxygen and water. (Foderaro, 2016)

An organization with a crumbling foundation is worth less.

The Foundation

A house, and an organization, must have a solid foundation or it could eventually be worthless.  In a high-performance organization, the foundation includes the Vision (an ideal picture of a future state), the Mission (purpose or aim i.e. why the organization exists), the Values (intrinsically important priorities), Management Theory (how the senior leadership thinks about problems and people), and Strategy (the long-term plan of action and priorities).  If each of these is clear and communicated to all employees, it helps everyone to make decisions quickly and implement the structure.

The Structure

The structure (or framing and walls of the house) of an organization is made up of all those things that puts the items in the foundation into action.   Because the structure is supported by the foundation, if the foundation is sound, the more effective the structure can be.  A weak foundation will cause the walls to crack.  The structure includes the policies, procedures (processes), competencies (skills), knowledge, learning, continuous improvement, problem solving, objectives, rewards, and measures.

The Roof

The roof protects the house from the external elements.  In an organization, the roof represents the results. The stronger the results, the more the organization is protected from the threatening elements of the environment.  These threatening elements include the competitors, the economy, the government regulations, the changing market conditions, the changing customer expectations and demands, etc. The results include, revenue, profit, employee engagement, customer loyalty and trust.

Leaders want results. Sometimes leaders want results so badly and so quickly they forget to look at the foundation. They immediately address weaknesses in the structure (e.g. changing the performance management policy) or fix holes in the roof (e.g. offer employees new benefits to address engagement issues).  Precious resources can be wasted by trying to fix the roof when the real root cause is a weakened structure caused by a weak foundation.  The results are poor and so they “repair the policies to plug a leak in the roof” and they do it over and over.  A better strategy is to reinforce the foundation, and then repair the structure because a lack of alignment on the elements of the foundation can create tremendous barriers to growth and quality for an organization.

A solid foundation must be more than just the creation of the Vision, Values, Management Theory, Culture, and Strategy for the organization. It is not enough to just clarify those items. A successful Leader must know how to align people behind these items and they must know how to have the patience to reinforce them capturing their hearts and not just their minds.  We must capture both hearts and minds to achieve commitment.  Alignment of all hearts and minds means people are willing to act, be creative, solve problems, be pro-active and have all those other characteristics or behaviors that CEO’s are looking for from their people.  It’s not about motivating people. It’s about creating an environment within which they can naturally be self-motivated.

The foundation must have all the “bricks” in place (Vision, Mission or Purpose, Values, Culture, and Management Theory) because they are interdependent.  The Vision tells us where we are going. The Mission (or purpose/aim) tells us why we want to get there.  The values and culture tell us how we are to behave and how we make decisions along the way.  The management theory helps us to think and solve problems and remove barriers we encounter. The strategy gives us our priorities.  Together they help us answer the basic questions i.e. Where, How, Why, When, with Who. When these questions can be answered by every employee, they act. They make decisions quickly.  They become like a self-organizing system.

The current management theory encourages this lack of alignment.  Most leaders want to evaluate each individual separate from the environment and this creates competition, confusion, and waste.

In his book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge describes the need for alignment in a team. (Senge, 1990)  A great jazz ensemble, a great sports team, or an orchestra are all examples of aligned teams or self-organizing systems.  The individuals have a sense of connection and interdependence.  They can make decisions quickly and interact with each other with ease and accuracy without wasted time.  They won’t do this without a solid foundation.

What is the condition of your “organizational house”?  Is the roof leaking?  Is the structure in need of repair?  Perhaps you need to start with reinforcing your foundation.  Perhaps it is time to find the root cause of the problem in the foundation and stop continuously repairing the symptoms.

Check out the interview on C-Suite Best Seller TV to learn more about how to stop leadership malpractice and replace the typical performance review: https://www.c-suitetv.com/video/best-seller-tv-wally-hauck-stop-the-leadership-malpractice/

Wally Hauck, PhD has a cure for the “deadly disease” known as the typical performance appraisal.  Wally holds a doctorate in organizational leadership from Warren National University, a Master of Business Administration in finance from Iona College, and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.   Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP.  Wally has a passion for helping leaders let go of the old and embrace new thinking to improve leadership skills, employee engagement, and performance.

Foderaro, K. H. (2016, June 7). With Connecticut Foundations Crumbling, “‘Your Home is Now Worthless’. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/08/nyregion/with-connecticut-foundations-crumbling-your-home-is-now-worthless.html

Senge, P. M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline. New York, NY: Currency and Doubleday.

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