Case Study

Systems Design

When the CEO of a small, technology-oriented business contacted me, it was specifically to help improve flagging sales. What I found was a dysfunctional culture of not just underperformance but inappropriate behavior and deflated morale. People hid in their offices, co-workers fought openly and there were no deterrents to insubordination let alone incentives for success. 

Challenges

As with many small businesses, this company’s founder had been its sole leader from day one. So while consulting included leadership development, much of my work focused on gaps in internal systems that made it hard for the best employees to know what was expected of them and made it easy for the worst employees to abuse everything from time off to expense reimbursements.

Actions

After a full company assessment that included interviews with all employees, I worked with the CEO on a number of objectives aimed at increasing accountability and establishing systems for communication, team-building and, where needed, discipline:

  • We created job descriptions clarified performance expectations and ensured that employees could be held to functions critical to the company’s success
  • We developed a process for employee evaluations that included attention to employee development, individual goals and organizational targets
  • We created systems for more consistent and transparent communications, identifying how and when meetings would occur, how information would be documented and how employees were expected to participate
  • We identified a number of managerial tasks that could be delegated to another employee, promoting her and empowering her to enforce certain policies
  • We implemented monthly team-building activities over lunches on the company dime — trainings, brainstorming sessions and more

Outcomes

As is often the case in an unhealthy organization, the changes we implemented were initially uncomfortable for leaders and employees alike.

With structures that increased accountability and eliminated room for abuse, some employees who were the worst offenders left the company. The employees who replaced them knew from day one what was expected of them and understood potential paths for professional development.

They also found a culture of increasing trust as team-building initiatives broke down longstanding walls. Regular company meetings furthered that trust, as employees for the first time knew where the company was going and what challenges and opportunities they all faced together.

Sales increased as morale improved, and with new systems for everyday operations and a new employee to shoulder routine management, top-level leadership was freed up to focus on long-term planning, giving employees clearer targets that were now also tied to structured evaluations and rewards.