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Leadership Q&A: Capacity to Grow, Capacity to Change

As the future becomes more uncertain and change more disruptive, how do leaders understand how to grow their business?  Just getting a bigger jar and filling it up is a less attractive option today. Recently, the following situation was described to me.Mason Jar

“Our business has just been awarded a contract that opens up a large new marketplace for us. We can do the work required. I’m worried about our capacity to grow to meet the opportunity we have.”

Taking a business from one level to the next is a daunting task. Where do you focus your efforts? Increasing efficiency? Better use of technology? Talent recruitment? Developing the leadership skills of managers?

All of those may be needed, but this is not where I’d begin. Let’s arbitrarily divide a business into three parts. There are the people who do the work. The products and services that the company provides is a second category. And there is the operational infrastructure that supports both.

It is my experience that people think of growing the first two as capacity building and ignore the third.

The operational or administrative side of the business is hidden and not very glamorous. Yet, it is both the structure and lubricant that provides an environment for people to develop, produce and distribute the products and services of the company. By operational, I’m not referring to the customer service side of the business, I thinking of something hidden in plain sight.

Small to medium size businesses live off the talent of its people. They use their creativity and initiative to take a sketchy job description and do what is necessary to serve the company’s customers.  Talented people gravitate toward these jobs where there is a lot of freedom to create the job. And unless addressed from an organizational structure perspective, that freedom inhibits the capacity of the business to grow.

Capacity building is not simply adding more people or making the ones you have more efficient. It is about the structure that links them and their work together. We must look to the system of communication, collaboration and coordination that supports their work if the company’s capacity is to grow. Let’s look at them briefly.

Communication: Don’t look at how each person communicates, but rather assess the quality of communication that takes place. What is the expected impact of the communication between people in your company? Do you have away to measure this?

The mistake almost all leaders make about communication is that it is about distributing information to people. It isn’t. It is about creating an atmosphere where people share relevant information in a timely manner that makes a difference in how people function in their jobs.

In our example, the company gets a big new contract. The leadership announces this development expecting each person to figure out what this means for their own position.  A better approach is to have a planning discussion about how the changes will impact staff. People need to know how a piece of information affects them, and what they are expected to do in response.

The impact of good communication is discovered in the actions that people take in response. Before you distribute information, ask, “What do we want people to do with this information?” Then, tell them what you expect from them. The impact is both clarity in understanding the message and unity in response to it.

In the context of change, it is the leader’s responsibility to make sure that a clear, consistent message is being communicated so that people understand where they fit into the changes that are happening.

Collaboration and Coordination: We are accustomed to thinking of a social environment as a network of people in touch with one another. We should also see the workforce of a company as a network for collaboration and coordination.

Collaboration is how people perceive their relationships with one another within the context of the company’s work. When people work together, they are collaborating. They must also learn how to coordinate their individual job functions to grow efficiencies and increase capacity. Coordination is how people perceive the organizational connection between their job responsibilities. Leaders are responsible for creating an environment of understanding that clarifies how employees can create the system of collaboration and coordination that is needed.

Capacity building begins by understanding in a practical and operational sense how the business actually functions.  This perception provides a basis for identifying how to enhance staff ability to collaborate with one another through the coordination of their individual job responsibilities.

In order to insure that an enhanced capacity for collaboration and coordination is achieved, the practice of communication must be addressed. As noted above, communication is no longer just the distribution of information to people. It is how people relate to one another in the workplace. It involves how they make decisions; how they solve problems; how they plan for the future; how they collaborate on projects; and, how they coordinate their various job functions.

Organizational capacity building is an organizational change process. It is not primarily an additive process of making the company bigger. It is a process to strengthen the structure that supports the people who do the work..

Capacity building begins when the leader is willing to change his or her own approach to leading.  The old command and control leadership style diminishes organizational capacity. Micro-managers are an inefficient way to run a company.  Instead, in a world of rapidly accelerating disruptive change, leaders grow the capacity of their business by developing the capacity for leadership initiative in their employees.  This is the measure of leadership that ultimately make the difference with opportunity comes.


About the author

Dr. Ed Brenegar I'm a leadership speaker, writer and consultant who is a mentor and catalyst for change. I assist leaders and their teams in the transitions required to succeed in today's complex organizational environment. I live in Western North Carolina. I'm involved the Boy Scouts, a charitable leadership training group called Lessons In Leadership, an ordained Presbyterian Church USA minister, and am the host of the Say Thanks Every Day social network.

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