Rabbits, Wombats, and Organizational Ecology - The Value and Dangers of Focus
by Dow Tippett
As the digital world continues to expand and marketers work tirelessly to capture the attention of consumers, “Focus” has become the clear path to standing out from the competition. Organizations are focusing their vision, departments are being asked to clarify their roles in the organization, and even job descriptions and titles are getting detail upgrades.
However, this extreme need to focus has also come with its draw backs that organizations must recognize and guard against if they are going to thrive in today’s economy.
Rabbits – The Value of Focus
In 1859, an Australian sheep rancher named Thomas Austin decided he wanted to hunt rabbits on his ranch. The problem was that rabbits are not native to Australia. So, Mr. Austin decided to import 24 English rabbits to his ranch. However, with no natural predator in Australia, and rabbits being rabbits, by 1865 these rabbits were destroying grassland making it impossible to continue raising sheep.
By 1883 the rabbits had spread more than 1000 miles across the Australian frontier and become a major problem. For the next 50+ years the Australian government spent large amounts of money trying to curtail the rabbit population. Until in 1937 a virus was found that would destroy on these rabbits and by 1950 had been spread by enough mosquitoes to finally control the rabbits.
Focus keeps rabbits out of your organization.
The value of clear vision, values, and systems is that your organization keeps itself from being distracted and destroyed by getting caught up in things that don’t have the greatest benefit.
“Clarity attracts. Confusion repels.” – Kary Oberbrunner, CEO of Redeem the Day
“If you confuse, you’ll lose, noise is the enemy, and creating a clear message is the best way to grow your business.” – Donald Miller, Founder and CEO, Storybrand
“The cruelest thing a leader can do is be unclear.” – Dave Ramsey, Radio Host
Having clear direction and distinction from those around you allows you to stay undistracted and stand out in the marketplace from your competitors.
Unfortunately, in our right efforts to be clear, we have a tendency to silo our operations. When this happens focus can become our enemy, because we lose sight of how various parts of the organization interact with each other in order to accomplish the greater vision.
Wombats – The Danger of Silos
While clarity has so much value for creating compelling vision and unique value, it also has the danger of losing sight of one key understanding necessary for healthy organizational ecology.
Everything is connected.
Back to Australia:
Currently, one of the greatest threats to the continent’s ecology is the slow depletion and extinction of burrowing species such as the wombat, bilby, and bandicoot.
These burrowing animals offer most of their benefit beneath the surface of Australians lands. As they burrow holes under the surface of the natural grasslands, coasts, and desserts, they bring with them important bacteria and nutrients that replenish the soil. Everywhere they dig they created fertile ground.
Most of their work goes unseen, because these marsupial diggers work underground. Still they are vital.
In organizations, when we forget that everything is connected, we may find that key unnoticed components necessary for the health and growth of our company are dying out. Sometimes it is difficult to see the connection immediately between some departments, yet if a large retailer doesn’t connect the dots between their software development department and store managers, they may find developers making software that goes unused by floor managers because the needs of the stores were not clearly communicated to developers. If the VP of Sales loses sight of the value of the janitorial staff, they may find themselves working in filth.
Each department needs clear direction and vision about their role, but they must also understand clearly how their task affects the overall work of the organization. Sales people need not become janitors, but they should understand how their messy desk or eating habits in the break room can change the dynamics of the entire corporate environment.
Especially as the digital age grows, we see that departments must be connected to compete in the global economy.
Leaders must maintain the delicate balance between clear communication and expectation of each person in their organization as well as constantly keeping tabs on the overall organizational ecosystem and the connections between the teams.
Here are ideas that may help:
Maintaining Healthy Organizational Ecology
Ecology is the study of the interactions between living and non-living things.
Organizational Ecology is the study of all the connected interactions within any given organization.
Maintaining healthy organizational ecology is one of the great tensions of a leader’s work. How do you get done what needs done while making sure the interconnectedness of various teams remains healthy?
1. Flip the Pyramid – In order to maintain healthy organizational ecosystems, we must first flip the pyramid.
For a long time, companies ran a top down military style leadership that produced good profits, but often lost on the human end. In today’s culture the shift to bottom up leadership has been proven, not only to be more effective in gaining market share, but to create the advantage of keeping employees for longer periods and saving billions in finding new talent.
When we realize that customers are the top of the pyramid and we must care for them to have a business much less make a profit, we begin to change the way we value input.
CEO’s no longer set direction and leave it. Instead great leaders become those who serve the leaders in their organization and encourage them to serve their teams who serve others, until finally front facing operations serve customers well.
When we see the pyramid inverted, we understand the responsibility of keeping all those above us connected to one another.
2. Spend Time at the Top – Once we recognize that customers are at the top, we will take time to hear what they need or want, since we exist to serve them, but this mindset should begin to permeate every part of our organization.
We must train and free leaders at every level to listen to those on top of them. Again, to the illustration of departments: leaders must take the responsibility to hear the needs of the sales team and make sure that those needs are clearly communicated to the POS software development team, and the needs of the customer follow up team to the sales team, so they input the necessary information into the POS for listening to customers later.
Very quickly this can get complicated, unless the leaders learn and give time to listening to each other.
Thus, the true job of a CEO should be to make sure that all parts of the organization are remaining connected to each other in healthy relationships.
3. Weekly Meetings – Depending on the size of your organization each week you should take the time to stop the work to remind everyone at every level of the organization that you are connected.
At Ramsey Solutions, this is an actual gathering of employees that has a managed one-hour time of sharing highlights from various departments as well as a training from Dave Ramsey on the key values of the organization.
When Frank Blake was CEO of Home Depot this was a video piped into every store every week that celebrated the best in customer service from people all over the company.
Your weekly meeting may be different still, but the importance of communicating clearly to your organization and being sure that your organization is communicating clearly with each other is the best way to insure you will continue to gain in influence and income.
4. Choose Relationship Today – It should be obvious that because everything is connected, the health of organizational ecology is measured in the health of relationships. Therefore, leaders must be willing to expend the resources to create, build, and sustain thriving life with others.
Not only is it important for leaders to learn these skills, it is vital that organizations give time and money to helping every member learn the skills that create healthy relationships.
“While technical skills are always necessary, respondents are especially interested in building interpersonal skills, confidence and ethical behavior—all of which they consider essential for a business to be successful. They would like business to take a lead role in readying people for Industry 4.0.” – Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018
(For more information on finding a Relational Arts Instructor for your organization check out www.7DailyChoices.com/leadership)
As the global economy grows and organizations compete for attention the maintenance of healthy organizational ecology will require leaders to keep both focus and connection in healthy tension by growing healthy relationships.