A cursory look at Chinese philosophy will probably get you as far as understanding that Tao is a concept around a way, path or route, an underlying natural order.
In business, I have a concept of “Totally Aligned Organisation” (TAO) – which to me is a natural order for the very healthiest organisations. Let me explain a little more.
The Totally Aligned Organisation is not one with no creative friction, and not one of unswerving obedience – it is an organisation where the direction is clear and well communicated, the role of each person within the organisation is clear, understood and bought into and the whole organisation is aligned towards attaining its objectives.
So what needs to be in place to have a Totally Aligned Organisation and why?
Too many businesses lack one or a number of the following key pieces, without them you may have some great people and some great ideas, but you are unlikely to get to that place where everything works smoothly and suddenly the whole is far greater than the sum of the parts. Sportspeople will know that sublime moment when 11, 15 (substitute your own number for your chosen sport) possibly individually unexceptional people playing as a team knock a group of highly talented individuals into a cocked hat. It’s sublime when it happens.
The following really starts at the top and filters down. If you haven’t put in place one piece don’t progress down the pyramid.
Clear Vision, Values & Mission – This ensures everyone has a common purpose, and set of core beliefs and principles – importantly this is very different from shared thinking or mind-set. It also ensures there is a clear framework and expectation around the way you will treat each other, and all stakeholders (and in turn the organisation will treat each individual). I would expect the concepts of honesty, integrity, transparency and commitment (or equivilents) to all be represented prominently in this.
Clear Strategy – A clear, well communicated strategy which is agreed throughout the organisation ensures everyone understands the direction of travel, where you want to get to, and at high level what will get you there. Think you don’t need it – imagine setting off on a journey with 1,000 strangers with limited time and limited resources before you starve, and not knowing where you are headed or how you will get there. Now think again!
Clear Business Plan – Your business plan will take your mission and strategy to a greater level of granularity. What resources will you need, applied how, and what will they deliver for you? This goes in turn into far greater levels of detail in areas such as production, sales, marketing and costs (depenendent on your sector).
Clear and Owned Group Targets – If you have a clear strategy and business plan then a starting point for targets pretty quickly drops through from this. This is not just a question of handing down targets – it is ensuring that each part/division has totally bought into its contribution to the whole. Is each part/division of your organisation happy with what they are being asked to achieve, clear on the resources they will have and how they will achieve it? Do they have a proper degree of autonomy in choosing how to allocate those resources? I don’t mean happy we can hit those targets with hands tied behind our backs by week two – but satisfied that they are attainable with hard work and focus?
Clear Individual Responsibilities – Most managers accepted a long time ago the importance of laying down targets for team members. Increasingly however individual responsibilities are not just what will each person deliver but what autonomy have they got in doing so. Not only are you probably in a fast moving organisation, but costs are under pressure – and when you get it wrong social media fallout means you want to fix it at the front line asap. If you have properly aligned things right through values, strategy and targets, and made clear not only responsibilities, but also discretion of staff, then they will be empowered to be much more proactive in getting you there on all of these factors.
Yes there will be tensions still – great – they will be creative tensions – I am not advocating a uninforimist view of automatons in an organisation – far from it. But if you have tensions make sure those tensions will be creative tensions within a defined framework, not utterly pointless. You will have a starting point and an end objective, and an agreed set if behaviours, so the tensions will be around finessing where you are going, rather than not knowing.