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When the How Becomes Greater than the Why!

I was recently in a seminar by a business leader.  The theme was on how organisations function, and how to keep them focused.  There are four elements to how an organisation runs:

How (how we work?)

Why (the purpose of the organisation)

What (the nature of our work)

Culture (the way we work).

The main theme was the importance of the ‘why’ to the organisation, which ensures it remains connected to its original aims.  An organisation with a ‘how’ and no ‘why’, or a ‘how’ that is stronger than the ‘why’ will continue to function, but simply as a self-existing operation.  Take, for example, a group of business people who meet once a week to network and enjoy a meal.  Once everyone knows what the rest do, and what they have to offer, it can easily become a social occasion rather than a business networking event. 

Or a member organisation where process becomes more important than reaching out to members and ensuring quality of service.

I was reminded of this recently in my dealings with a large national organisation which links buyers and sellers across a range of specialist operations within the construction world.  It is a bit like the CAS model which ensures professional members are competent in the skills for which they are promoted by CAS, except that it also looks at finances, turnover, Health and Safety, recent commission, references etc.  Considerable effort is needed to become a member, and annual updates are required.

There is the advantage that, in order to become a member of this large organisation, one’s own operation needs to have the numerous policy statements and documentation that are a requirement of the modern corporate world, all in place.  It has enabled me to successfully bid for a series of commissions, especially working with Housing Associations.    However, if a single box remains un-ticked when it comes to the annual renewal, membership is soon suspended.

The problem is that you don’t always know what the issue for suspension is.  A request is made for the annual financial report.  The request doesn’t stipulate that this needs to be the full report which includes turnover.  It took concerted efforts to identify this (including talking to a person).  I then found that efforts to upload documents on-line didn’t work.  The documents were sent by e-mail.  The system then sent out repeated e-mail requests for the information to be uploaded.  Two weeks later, I was informed that all information had now been received and my profile could once again be accessed.  Is this not a case of process and the ‘how’ getting in the way of the ‘why’?