When a CEO first joins a company, the big question is always where to focus. There are likely refinements that need to be made to the product, brand and internal processes.
Each of these improvements matter, but for Stephanie Newby, who joined Crimson Hexagon as CEO in 2012, the true priority is organizational health.
According to Newby, if your organization can’t execute and your leaders don’t trust one another, how can you expect to achieve meaningful progress?
Developing a healthy organization entails cultivating a high-performing leadership team that trusts one another, and then empowering that team to foster direct and clear communication among their departments.
“Organizational health enables individuals to enjoy the fun that comes from being part of a true team dynamic rather than flying solo,” said Newby. “Ultimately, the goal is for every member of a company to have the chance to experience that fun.”
1. Get the right management team on board
Leaders who want to cultivate healthy organizations should begin by surrounding themselves with high-performing executive management teams. Getting to this point necessitates finding the type of leaders who can thrive in a healthy environment.
Specifically, Newby recommends looking for people with emotional intelligence who understand how to listen, confront conflict and accept feedback. It’s critical to be crystal clear about how the leadership team will operate and the level of transparency necessary to make that happen, so that anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable with that type of environment can choose to leave on his or her own accord. After all, she said, “If you’re not happy in a situation, why on earth would you stay?”
2. Help the management team build trust and master conflict
Hiring the right people is just the first step to cultivating a high-performance team. Newby believes that the next step is to get the team to a place where they begin reporting to each other, rather than function as individuals who report to a boss. This shift in accountability requires team members to truly trust one another, which is the foundation of learning how to master conflict, a concept she learned about in Patrick Lennon’s book, The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.
But how exactly do you get your leadership team to that point? Newby suggests running regular exercises with the management team to cultivate a conscious development of trust over time. For example, she once asked members of her executive team to share one thing they liked about how she operated and one thing they would like her to change by writing short bullet points on a white board. These types of exercises give everyone on the team a deeper understanding of what motivates and drives his or her colleagues.
Newby also recommends facilitating workshops that focus on finding ways to identify conflict as it occurs, discuss the emotions driving that conflict, and work through it on the spot. Effective leaders need to be aware of the second dimension of the conversation — reading between the lines to understand where conflict may be festering, even when it’s not overt.
That means being in touch with things like body language, who’s talking and who’s not, and tone of voice. “The key is to call those moments out, and give your team the space and permission to work through them, rather than try to deal with it later, or to assume that things will get better on their own,” she noted.
3. Communicate and reinforce clarity
Once trust and conflict are mastered among the executive team members, the next phase of organizational health is to transfer that approach throughout the company, with an emphasis on communicating and reinforcing clarity. This requires department leaders to not only create effective channels for communication transparency, but also to constantly be on the lookout for signs of conflict and misalignment.
In addition, it’s important to have metrics in place that can help leaders measure the health of their organizations. “Reduced attrition is a key indicator of success, which is one of the reasons why I’m so invested in organizational health in the first place,” Newby said.
Building a healthy organization doesn’t happen overnight. However, in today’s market, it can be a valuable investment in time for leaders who want to increase organizational productivity, improve company culture, and retain a first-class workforce.