I have a question for you: if you could choose one word to describe your leadership and your organization, what would it be? Awesome? Great? Best? Exceptional?
What I have found in my twenty years of leadership roles is that when you ask a leader what their ultimate objective is, they may offer a variety of words, but what they all want to achieve is making their organization remarkable.
Many leaders may say that they want to transform their organization, or increase its relevance, or make it the best, or make it impactful. These things are outcomes or symptoms of a greater state – organizational remarkability.
Remarkability is what separates the uncommon and extraordinary from the merely good, suitably adequate and the intensely mediocre. Remarkability is what gets noticed, gets support, gets interest, gets funded and wins. Therefore, leaders committed to getting their organizations to do their absolute best and finest work strive to make their organizations remarkable.
Being remarkable will support a positive future for your organization. But futures aren’t predicted. They are created, and creating a remarkable organization is no easy task. Many leaders find themselves at a point in time when their once remarkable organization is now no longer remarkable. They have failed to keep up with the times. They have failed to notice the signals. Or, a new leader is brought in to turn things around and make an organization remarkable. Or it was never remarkable in the first place. Or, someone is thinking of starting an organization and their goal is to make it remarkable. Regardless of the path, it requires a lot of work and focus.
There are three elements to remarkability: purpose, people, and platform. Each one of these must be finely tuned to a position of optimal performance such that, as a baseline, it can thrive in uncertainty and disruption, deliver a solid value proposition, and achieve its key metrics. But more than this, a remarkable organization is one that delivers on a bold and inspiring purpose, and is one that peers, competitors and members hold in high regard as uncommon and worthy of notice and commendation. And it is one that creates its own zealous communities and followings. The framework that I have built for organizations to create a highly tuned purpose, people and platform is called the remarkability agenda.
So what does each part of the remarkability agenda look like?
Your purpose is your why. Your reason for existence. It is a foundational component of your brand. It is your guiding star, and your ultimate measure of success. It is remarkable how many organizations exist while not being clear on why they do what they do. They know what they do, but they don’t know why they do it. Remarkable organizations have a clear and compelling purpose that drives them, attracts followers, and establishes the bedrock for the building of the balance of its elements.
A remarkable organization is tuned to have:
- A clear and compelling purpose that identifies why it exists;
- A strong brand that incorporates the why, and is part of the DNA and fabric of everything that the organization says, does and produces.
People are the driving force behind any remarkable organization. If the right people are on board to govern, work for, and support an organization, and they embody its purpose, then there is little to stop it. You have heard the phrase “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Well that phrase is true, and a culture is the embodiment of purpose, brand, and values within its people. And so, no matter what strategies are in place, if the right people are not working together in a true state of collaboration, then remarkability will remain elusive.
A remarkable organization is tuned to have:
- A high performing board of directors that are focused on the future, strategy and governance, and optimized in their approach, format and frameworks;
- A high performing team that believes in the purpose, and lives the brand and values each day, working under a robust leadership operating system, and program of development and performance management;
- A strong values-based culture that is reflective of the spirit and energies of its people, and is embedded in hiring, development, recognition and rewards programs to support attraction and retention of the very best.
The platforms of a remarkable organization enable the purpose to come to life, and the people to deliver on their task. Remarkable organizations spend a lot of time making sure that their platforms are current, modern, and reflective of the needs of their customer – constantly surveying, adapting and measuring. Attempts to become remarkable by only focusing on purpose and people, without adequate attention to the platform, will be like having a well sculpted body and engine for a car, without the transmission, tires or gas.
A remarkable organization is tuned to have:
- A compelling and perfectly aligned value proposition to the needs of a specific target customer or member market, and a business model that supports the profitability of the organization;
- A lightweight and nimble strategy and planning structure that enables creativity, flexibility, accountability and measurement, all while creating a line of sight for staff to be able to see how their work directly impacts the long-term targets of the organization;
- A contemporary and well-funded digital and technology platform that enables the enhanced delivery of the value proposition, achievement of organizational metrics and the development and growth of new opportunities, all while making the jobs of staff easier and more efficient;
- A facilities and infrastructure approach that maximizes the benefits of any space or real estate while keeping costs and commitments to the lowest level necessary;
- Policies and procedures that enable the organization and ensure that it is compliant with the necessary laws and regulations, but does not encumber the organization with undue work and reporting;
- A strong financial footing and performance that enables investment in new growth opportunities and provides stability and security for the future of the organization.
This is what a remarkable organization looks like. Achievement of these levels of performance for each feature of the 3 P’s will mean that your organization truly can be considered remarkable.
Remarkable organizations are also characterized as being:
- Responsive – to disruption and opportunity;
- Quick – operating in shorter cycles;
- Innovative – constantly experimenting, testing and refining;
- Engaging constantly with members, customers, stakeholders and communities;
- Inclusive and diverse;
- Purpose driven;
- Lean and efficient – leveraging external capabilities; and,
- Accepting of failure.
Why is being remarkable so difficult? It is because the world is changing constantly. Yes, this is a total cliché and understatement. But we are surrounded by crazy changes, like those of world leaders and the electoral choices of the populace. We are surrounded by demographic changes, like baby boomers beginning to retire and millennials taking a more substantial role in the workforce. Or technological change that is bringing about tools, experiences and opportunities that even two years ago we never thought possible. Or environmental change that is forcing us to think about what we consume and what we use in our daily lives.
In short, we are amid that oft-used word: disruption. Everything is being disrupted. Books. Music. Taxis. Hotels. Banks. Manufacturing. You name it, it is ripe for disruption. Including your organization. You must consider that someone somewhere is actively trying to figure out a way to disrupt a part of the entire, organization. The saying “if you aren’t disrupting yourself, someone else will” is true.
Becoming and staying remarkable requires that leaders constantly monitor the changes happening in and around them, and ensure that their organizational purpose, people and platform evolves and adapts to be reflective of the customer and member needs today and tomorrow.
The harsh reality is that very few organizations are remarkable. Many have let too much change pass them by and have not evolved, like many associations, chambers of commerce, or service clubs. Some have had bad leadership that made bets in the wrong places. Some have hired the wrong people who don’t have a drive for remarkability. Others have poorly defined their value proposition or business model and can’t make a go of it. Some have failed to understand the needs of their customer and have built programs or services that no one wants to buy. And some still hold on to outdated history and legacy that weigh them down like anchors. Any and all of these will add up to average or mediocre.
Many leaders now face a decision: with the current state and the change happening around me, do I get by, or do I aim for remarkable? If you want to get by, you likely don’t need to listen to me. If you want to achieve remarkability, let’s get on with it.
Whether it is the stuff going on around your organization, or the stuff going on in your organization, remarkable is attainable, but it is very likely that you will need to change one, or many, things about your organization to achieve it. Start thinking about what you would change in your purpose, people and platform. Being remarkable is an imperative for survival.