Is your organization “Broken Working”?

I was in a networking meeting the other week when I heard one of the more accurate and hysterically funny descriptions of the corporate world.  It’s still making me laugh out loud at inopportune moments.

First, a bit about the startup entrepreneur who came up with the gem.  Kenan Unal is the founder of 2 innovative startups: Enspection (www.enspection.com) and Fotogress (www.fotogress.com).  The first is a marketplace for homeowners to view actual projects, by address, executed by contractors.  The second is like a “before and after” version of Pintrest that allows you to post a picture and then a future version of the same picture after some transformation (like a rennovation).

In my last meeting with Kenan, he described a corporate I.T. environment he worked in as “broken working”.  He didn’t provide a definition for that description, so I got his permission to give it a shot myself in this post.

For anyone who has worked in the corporate world, you probably at least cracked a smile when you read “broken working”.  That’s because it is far too true on a level that we all intuitively understand.  What causes most (all?) corporate environments are able to still work while being broken?  I believe the answer lies in inadequate leadership.  Any time there are leadership lessons to be learned, us project managers should be listening.

Before I delve into the cause, let’s define what a broken corporation might look like.  After a review of various definitions of “corporation”, the theme of a group of individuals acting as one emerged.  Therfore, I will define a broken corporation as one where everyone acts independently towards different goals.  How could this type of organization ever “work”?  Seems like it never could, yet most corporations operate this way.  Different product lines have different target markets, internal departments focus on different things, not to mention politics that fracture the inner workings of departments themselves.  Yet, should they not all be held together by one common goal?  I certainly think so.  How then can that be accomplished in a corporation that is as diverse as, say, a multinational?  Only with well designed and disciplined communication.

This is really where leadership comes in.  Although difficult to accurately define (check out Greg Vermulen’s posts on the topic: http://l4np.tumblr.com/tagged/Leadership), the word implies others following something.  That something is the direction set by a leader.  Far too often, corporate leaders get caught up in other, less value generating, activities than inspiring their troops to fight the organizational war that is the competition and setting the battle plans for each and every department so that those battles have the greatest chance of being won (ok… so I have been watching too much Game of Thrones).  Instead, leaders may focus on vanity metrics, to borrow a term from the startup world, like headcount and earnings.  Don’t get me wrong, earnings are critically important.  However, they are a byproduct of other things working correctly; not the least of which is vision and the communication and execution of that vision.

If you pause and think about all the corporations you’ve worked in, was there even one where you had a clear understanding of how the vision and mission of the corporation translated into your day-to-day tasks?  THAT is the ultimate responsibility of leadership.  It certainly isn’t easy, but those “big bucks” should be earned by our corporate leaders so that more corporations are led to be just plain working and not “broken working”.