Leading the journey to sustainable excellence requires the flexible combination of leveraging the forces and facilitators of change with leadership activities and behaviors, organizational culture, and individual leader characteristics. The Leadership & Design Blueprint integrates the Design Framework into the Leadership Framework providing a 14-step guide to [re]design and transform your organizations to achieve sustainable excellence.
The Leadership Framework is composed of five major components divided into 14 components (Figure I-3). Our exploration of the framework begins with the forces for change (1) and ends with the facilitators for change or journey (14). Leaders who have successfully led organizations to achieve sustainable excellence focused their time on nine key activities (Latham, 2013a, 2013b). These nine key activities form a leadership system (2-10). Leadership is part art and part science; the leadership system is the science of leading transformation.
The leadership system is the centerpiece of the Leadership Framework, and stakeholder value is the centerpiece (focus) of the leadership system. The leadership system is composed of nine interrelated components that describe WHAT leaders do. While these are presented in sequence, the actual use of the leadership system is often iterative, and you can begin and end anywhere on a given day.
The center of the system is an understanding of stakeholders and their needs, wants, and desires. This understanding informs all eight other components starting with the compelling directive that incorporates the stakeholders (2) into the purpose, mission, vision, and values of the organization (3). This directive, in turn, is the starting point for the development of a focused strategy (4) that will address the stakeholder requirements.
Once the foundation is established, the workforce is enabled, empowered, and engaged (5) to carry out the strategy in a way that is consistent with the compelling directive. Also, this workforce executes the operations of the organization to deliver the products and services in a way that creates value for the multiple stakeholders. At the same time, they continuously improve the organization systems and processes by designing and redesigning them to improve performance (6). The success of the strategies, people, and systems is measured by a comprehensive scorecard (7) that provides feedback on both the performance and the progress in each area.
This information is then analyzed and reviewed as part of a collaborative performance review process (8) that translates the information into a deeper understanding of the organization and informs changes to operations and strategy. Based on the organization performance review, individual performance is reinforced with rewards and recognition as well as remediation (9). The last component is a continuous learning and improvement process (10) that is embedded into all the key systems and processes.
The leadership system is energized by the collaborative leadership style (11) that describes HOW leaders do the activities in the leadership system. These activities and behaviors become embedded into the culture of service (12) that increases the sustainability of the transformation. The individual leader (13) often has to personally change to be credible and effective. Finally, the journey (14) is planned, tracked, managed, and adjusted to achieve sustainable excellence.
The journey is never over, which some might find discouraging — but denying it doesn’t change the facts.
1. Forces for Change
While the motivation for change varies widely, there must be enough tension to overcome the inertia of satisfaction with the status quo. The framework starts with identifying the forces of change specific to your organization and context. What are the external “pushing” forces for change? What are the “pulling” forces of change? What is the vision of a new desired future? Are these sufficient to overcome the inertia of the status quo? How can you leverage these forces to move your organization forward?
2. Stakeholders Value
The focus of a transformation to sustainable excellence is to increase the value created for multiple stakeholders including the workforce, customers, investors, suppliers and partners, community, and environment. The focus on stakeholder needs and relationships helps provide a common alignment point for the strategy, systems, scorecard, and overall organization design for sustainable excellence. In short, high- performing organizations create an efficient system and value for other stakeholders such as suppliers and partners, society, and the environment. The task here is to understand the stakeholders’ needs and desires.
3. Compelling Directive
The needs of the stakeholders inform the creation of a “compelling directive.” The format of the compelling directive varies but typically consists of the organization’s purpose, mission, vision, and values. The vision describes the desired reality. The vision is an essential part of creating positive tension, a key force of change to overcome resistance to change. The compelling directive builds a bridge between the stakeholders and the strategy.
4. Focused Strategy
How will the organization achieve the desired reality described in the compelling directive? The focused strategy translates the compelling directive and stakeholders’ needs into more specific goals, objectives, and clear expectations. The key here is to focus on a FEW key goals at a particular point in time. Some organization transformations require hundreds of changes. Success depends on picking just a few of those to work on at a time and then actually executing the plan, then working on the next priorities as the journey unfolds. The focused strategy is continuously evolving to meet the current requirements and challenges. The focused strategy aligns the priorities through the organization and provides the foundation to enable, empower, and engage the workforce.
5. Enable, Empower, Engage
While many leaders claim that their people are their most important asset, their actions often tell a different story. High-performing organizations develop and engage their workforce to accomplish the strategy. Creating an engaged workforce consists of (a) acquiring and placing talent, (b) developing (enabling) and empowering people, (c) involving and engaging the workforce at all levels, and (d) addressing the whole person. Acquiring and retaining the best talent is a challenge for most organizations. The best people will only work for organizations where they feel valued, enjoy their work, and achieve their full potential in a win-win arrangement. Note: If you don’t need the best people, then consider automating the work.
6. [Re]Design Systems
The focused strategy also drives the implementation of action plans to accomplish the strategy. There are typically two types of strategy deployment projects — those focused on new products and services and those focused on building the organization systems to develop, produce, deliver, and the products and services. Even new product launches are organization systems that need to be designed or redesigned to achieve the particular goal. The deployment of the strategy focuses on the [re]design and further development of one or more key systems to achieve an objective. The Design Framework combined with a focus on system design provides the structure to design, develop, and deploy any new or redesigned initiative or system in the organization. The only way we know if our redesign efforts are actually improving performance is to measure performance.
7. Comprehensive Scorecard
The progress and performance improvements resulting from the deployment of the action plans are measured and tracked by a comprehensive scorecard that measures the stakeholders, strategy, and systems. The comprehensive scorecard goes beyond a simple bottom line to a deeper understanding of the organization as a system. This includes both current performance and the performance trends over time. Measuring performance and comparing your organization’s performance to other high-performing organizations helps create dissatisfaction with the status quo and is a key part of creating tension: productive tension. The scorecard is designed to facilitate a dialogue during the periodic organization performance reviews.
8. Organization Performance Review
Scorecard results are analyzed and periodically reviewed by the leaders at all levels who then revise the action plans and operations as necessary to accomplish the strategy. While much of the learning during these reviews is limited to single-loop learning and keeping things on track, occasionally the dialogue will result in an examination of the underlying assumptions and double-loop learning that enables the team to address root causes and prevent similar future problems. This fact-based approach to management includes organization performance analysis that informs the reinforcement of the desired behaviors.
9. Align, Coach, Appreciate
There is an old saying, “What gets measured gets done and what gets rewarded gets repeated.” Reinforcing behavior is based on progress towards the overall strategy and includes recognition, rewards, promotions, and sometimes the removal of individuals. All too often, incentive systems are counter-productive and drive behaviors that are inconsistent with the overall compelling directive and strategy. So caution is warranted when evaluating and incentivizing performance. High-performing organizations align their incentives to ensure individual performance is supporting the best overall system performance.
10. Learn and Improve
Successful leaders of transformation are never satisfied with the organization’s performance and learn from experience. To fully develop the organization’s systems, culture, and individuals requires that the organization learn not only from their successes but also from their failures. Organizations that have achieved sustainable excellence by learning from success and failure did so using four common methods or approaches: strategic management cycle, organization assessment and improvement, continuous improvement, and benchmarking. These methods are often integrated into the other eight leadership system components.
11. Collaborative Leadership Style
The framework offers leader behaviors that support the leadership system to achieve sustainable excellence. You might consider these the art of leading transformation — or HOW leaders accomplished the activities. The collaborative style includes nine behaviors. Leaders establish their credibility by role modeling the behaviors and actions they want to see in the new organization. Organization architect leaders respect everyone, which helps them develop collaborative relationships to [re]design and transform the organization. OAs are great communicators and deliver a consistent message regardless of the situation. At the same time, they hold people accountable for the changes. They are systems thinkers who are always learning from their personal involvement in the design and change activities. It is a style that helps people create the organization that they want. This style along with the activities shapes the culture.
12. Culture of Service
Ultimately, sustaining excellence requires that the new systems, processes, and practices become habitual and embedded in the culture. Culture is composed of values and norms that are manifested in the rituals, heroes, and symbols. Organizations that have achieved sustainable excellence have five cultural characteristics in common. They are a complementary combination of valued employees who trust each other and work as a team. At the same time, this trusting team is focused on delivering excellence to the customer. In the end, individuals working together are the essence of any sustainable change.
13. The Individual Leader
Organization architects have five common characteristics that increase the odds of achieving and sustaining high performance: purpose and meaning, humility tempered by confidence, integrity, systems perspective, and motivational and attitudinal patterns. While the other leadership components of system and style are visible and observable, this one is below the surface. What would it take to make this leadership style authentic for you? What motivates you to do the key activities?
14. Facilitators of Change
Some leaders of successful change doubted they could do it. It can seem overwhelming. There are a few key facilitators of change to help you along the journey. First, you are not alone so start by developing your team of organization architects. Second, begin with the senior leadership team so you will have credibility and the personal knowledge to lead the journey. Then develop a plan to guide your [re]design and transformation. There is an old saying, “If it has been done, it must be possible.”
Enjoy the journey!
Latham, J. R. (2013a). A Framework for Leading the Transformation to Performance Excellence Part I: CEO Perspectives on Forces, Facilitators, and Strategic Leadership Systems. Quality Management Journal, 20(2), 22
Latham, J. R. (2013b). A Framework for Leading the Transformation to Performance Excellence Part II: CEO Perspectives on Leadership Behaviors, Individual Leader Characteristics, and Organizational Culture. Quality Management Journal, 20(3), 22
This article is based on an excerpt from the Introduction in the book [Re]Create the Organization You Really Want! Leadership and Organization Design for Sustainable Excellence. Available on: