What does organizational potential mean to you?
A few years back, I was called into an organization to try to settle a conflict among the executive leadership. From what I understood, certain leaders were accusing others of the fact that the organization wasn’t fulfilling its potential.
As I prepared for my meeting, the word “potential” was really gnawing at me. Of course, I had my own understanding of the word, and used it widely in my practice. However, to help narrow the rift among the leaders, I needed to understand what they meant by potential.
I made a series of appointments with some of the leaders involved with one question in mind:
What is organizational potential?
My first stop was the CEO. When I asked him the question, I received the results of the latest marketing research: market share, competition analysis, etc. This all led to the increased market share the organization should aim for. For the CEO, the organization’s potential was the market share left for the taking.
I then moved on to the VP business development. I was met with a similar answer, as she explained new markets, innovative products, and some possible M&As down the road. So from her perspective, organizational potential seemed to be business growth as well.
After a quick coffee break, I headed to the office of the VP product. I received an answer similar to the VP business development, but with details about new product lines, new products for existing lines, and increased market share. There was also mention of the need to improve logistics. With regard to organizational potential, I was definitely seeing a pattern.
As I crossed the campus to the VP of HR, I wondered if I would get a different response. And of course, I did. Her answer was that for her, organizational potential is the organization’s people. Of course, I wasn’t at all surprised.
After a long day, I returned to my office to think about what I’d learned. It was clear that the fact that the VP HR’s office was on the other side of the campus wasn’t accidental. I decided that I’d make another appointments with the CEO to ask him this simple question:
Do the organization’s people represent any kind of organizational potential?
The next day, when I posed the question to the CEO, he looked a little surprised. “Of course, our people are the most important part of our organization.”
So when I asked him why he hadn’t mentioned people at our previous meeting, he responded “because it’s so obvious - so clear that it doesn’t even need to be mentioned.”
In my mind, his answer was telling me something else: that this organization’s people weren’t seen as the key to its potential. Worse, they were being taken for granted.
I had my work cut out for me and continued working with this organization for quite a while.
Unfortunately, as I look around, this is a common story. Most organizations do not see the obvious connection between their people and the organizational untapped potential.
How do you help organizations reach their potential through their people? I’d love to hear from you.
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