The Elite Eight
Is your infrastructure sound? Here are 8 factors that make a successful, emotionally bonded organization.
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This story first appeared in the June 2008 issue of Entrepreneur. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.In a successful company, you'll find both skilled employees and tools for them to apply their skills. But in a truly successful company, you'll also find strong leaders and dedicated team members that all share a dynamic bond. This aspect of a successful business, according to Vijay Govindarajan, professor at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business, is its emotional infrastructure.
In studying families, Govindarajan and his partner, Subroto Bagchi, found that not only does this third infrastructure exist (in addition to intellectual and physical infrastructures), but it's also made possible by eight common factors. To make sure your business is successful, you should adopt the following eight practices:
1. Proximity: Leaders are accessible in times of need. Smart leaders should make themselves available, keep staff continuously updated, create opportunities for dialogue and "be seen in the rubble and speak from the ruins," says Govindarajan. "[With] proximate leadership, people know at any point in time what the leader's priorities are."
2. Rich Communication: Leaders are open and honest and know how to communicate. They use multiple channels of communication, get people engaged, collaborate and know how to manage incoming communication. Says Govindarajan, "An emotional infrastructure thrives when there is zero latency between the need to communicate, the conveyance of thought and its return."
3. Myths and Rituals: Specific rituals and stories not only make a company unique, but they also reinforce ideas and concepts within the company. "Mythic and ritualistic elements, propagated by leadership, offer purpose and meaning to employees," says Govindarajan. "They give employees the sense that they are part of something distinctive, which activates pride and passion."
4. Bonding Through Adversity: Many organizations fall apart when times are hard, but an emotionally bonded one pulls together and comes out stronger. "Adversity gives leaders a rare opportunity to show employees that they genuinely care," explains Govindarajan, who cites Southwest Airlines during 9/11 as an example. When other major airlines laid off employees, Southwest did not; the company's executive officers decided to forgo their salaries, instead.
5. Voluntary Support Networks: Leaders let rich and supportive social networks grow within the institution. Says Govindarajan, "Leadership provides the opportunity to network with the external world and effectively work as connectors to import valuable ideas and diffuse best practices across the organization."
6. A Bold Vision: The company has an articulated vision that is bold and ambitious--sometimes unattainable. And this bold vision is more than just a mission statement; it's an entire "vision community" that the leader creates, says Govindarajan. Because people are drawn to challenging goals, "the vision community helps to question the vision, maintain its currency and bring it to the fore [if it] appears dead."
7. Deeper Values: When emphasis is put on values beyond the corporate level, employees feel a stronger bond with the company. According to Govindarajan, leaders follow several principles: They ensure that values are parallel with changing times, live by the values the organization symbolizes and encourage feedback.
8. Extreme Exclusivity: If it's easy to join an institution, people are not strongly bonded to it. "Easy come, easy go," says Govindarajan, citing wine clubs or gyms. Conversely, if it's very difficult to join (Harvard, for example), then people become interested. "Once you are accepted into these institutions, the connection not only describes who you are, but also defines who you will eventually become."
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