Dynamics Matters Podcast Ep 90: REVELAED: The secrets of a well run organisation

With special guest David Johnson, COO, HSO

✔ The secret to maintaining company culture

✔ How to keep information flowing even as you grow, and change

✔ Why people buy into vision not processes

Transcript

Welcome to episode 90 of the HSO Dynamics matters podcast.

Your regular sonic dive into the world of Microsoft technology related matters and much more besides.

And I’m your host, Michael Lonnon.

Your organisation, any organisation, has many moving parts to its operation. If one of those parts malfunctions, it will impact the effectiveness of other areas. Obviously, you don’t want this.

So how do you go about balancing function with efficiency and stability with effectiveness. Basically, how do you keep all those plates spinning. To help answer this I grabbed HSO Chief Operating Officer, David Johnson, to find out how he approaches things.

So, grab a brew, sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Michael Lonnon
So, tell me a little bit Dave, about your day-to-day role and focus on the things that interest you.

David Johnson
My role is a role with lots of very different components, so no two days are the same. You could go and think very strategically about setting a vision, delivering and communicating vision and values out. Alternatively, you could talk about monitoring progress and taking corrective action and needing to put in place processes to be successful. You've also got elements around corporate performance and ensure that you take effective decisions to improve our corporate performance, whether that's in terms of increasing sales, reducing cost, or making the business more productive and efficient. All of those things can merge into any given working day.

Michael Lonnon
I'm going to ask you off the basis of that another question but first, I want to find out from you. What do you think makes a good COO?

David Johnson
I think it's someone who can actually be supportive of the key person in the business, which is the CEO, the two of you need to work very, very closely together, but in essence, the CEO has got the responsibility for setting the direction and setting the vision. The COO has got to be the person who is going to underpin all of that and make it happen and become a reality. You can't really afford to have an awful lot of ego, that's the CEO, but they’ve got to be confident enough in their own delivery capability that they can take those things and make them a reality.

Michael Lonnon
You answered earlier to my question about the sort of role within the COO and you said it's important as part of it to have or emphasize and build upon a vision. How important do you think having the right vision and the right values is when making a company or an organisation successful?

David Johnson
It's absolutely 100% critical. People often focus on the how and the what but as Simon Sinek has written in his book, you need to start with why and why is all about vision. That vision then gets converted into strategy and then converted into actions. People buy into vision, they don't buy into process, the process helps them, but you want to provide something that people can get behind, really acknowledge and buy into with both heart and mind.

Michael Lonnon
You described a load of stuff there in terms of your day-to-day role, how do you manage that level of responsibility and those varying things?

David Johnson
I think with anything, where there's an element of things that you can plan and execute on yourself and other things where you need to respond and be able to react to things that happen and take corrective actions, you've always got to ensure that you give yourself enough time to put in the big boulders into your time calendar, so he things that you know you've got to do and be responsible for but leave enough time for focus and reflection and response to the things that you know what will come up. I only plan half of my calendar and I try to leave the other half free to pick up on the things that I know will arise, but I don't know what they are yet today.

Michael Lonnon
That's a fantastic piece of advice for anyone actually, not just you and your role. Do you think in terms of the things that you do, what are the things that you like to do the most? You were speaking to me earlier on, a little bit about what you've been doing over the last couple of days in Glasgow and speaking to customers and those sorts of things, but what is it that floats your boat?

David Johnson
I do enjoy customer interaction, I do enjoy sitting down one to one with people in our own teams and having an element of mentoring, coaching, providing direction and also being a sounding board for people to come and bring their challenges, hopefully with some options because I don't want to pick up and own their challenge. I want to help them to be able to succeed in working through their challenges. I see myself as a person who mitigates risk and helps people to be successful, I'm a motivator and empowerer rather than a directive manager.

Michael Lonnon
People are the most important element of any organisation, right?

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David Johnson
People are the most important part of any organisation, particularly in the services business where 95% of our revenue comes from the service that we offer via people.

Michael Lonnon
Exactly! Now, what tips would you give organisations navigating through a period of change to allow growth? The reason I asked that question is because HSO are going through a period of growth. We're obviously doing lots of really good stuff because we had lots of new customers, but it kind of pushes out the boundaries of where we're going to get to, we're getting lots of new people coming in. What tips would you give to organisations who are equally going through that period of growth, private or public sector?

David Johnson
We've gone through almost, in the 11 years I've been with the business, 11 years of growth, continual organic growth. It's been organic growth rather than growth by acquisition and consequently, there are challenges that come with growth. One of them is the challenge of getting people to be able to buy into vision, as you get bigger the selling of a vision and the communication of that same vision takes a lot longer to land. When we were 40-50 people, you knew everyone and it was very easy to chat with them, either one to one or in groups and get them to buy into what you're after. Once you get up to 350-400 people, you don't know everyone. I only probably know half the people personally now in our organisation and your paths don't ordinarily cross as much either so that that opportunity for informal interaction lessons. Therefore, you've got to work harder to get engagement and buy in to the things that you're trying to achieve, and you've probably got more levels of filtering of messaging that goes on. Originally, we will probably have had no filter and message, it would go straight from the person delivering the message to the person receiving it, effective communication. Now we've probably got two or three filters that it's going through, it's a bit like Chinese whispers, is the message coming from your heart and your mouth, the one that's actually been received by the ultimate recipients.

Michael Lonnon
What is a good measure of whether that vision, that message continues to filter down in in the right way?

David Johnson
I think we’d like to get personal feedback from individuals but also teams so going to join another’s management teams. We do issue surveys from time to time to try and evaluate whether messaging is hitting home and just looking at the behaviours that we see in the business and the overall team morale and other things to ensure that people are bought in. We also have a very open-door policy, even though we often work remote. I think as a senior leadership team we're very accessible, anyone can pick up the phone or say, can you give me some time and I think we're very open to that, we are quite a personable organisation that believes in employee engagement, that's part of our values. Interestingly, we did have six values that were a little bit generic, so we were entrepreneurial, customer focused, results oriented, cooperative, ambitious and quality driven. You can see those in our old culture book, on the website and on our team mugs but we've thought actually, we wanted to put a little bit more focus to that, so we've put those into three new words that need to be more than just words on a mug, they need to be behaviours that are lived out, so we're now focusing our values around care. We've always been a caring organization but as we've got bigger, we need to be able to show that more. Curiosity, which could be linked to the ambitious previously in those six values, but we want to grow ourselves, we want to grow our customers, we want to take advantage of new technology, therefore we are curious about those things. And then finally, clarity. We've always been known as the results company and historically we've been able to bear that out with good reference ability. It's important that we set the right expectation and then deliver on that expectation, so clarity is key and that's both externally with our customers, but internally with our teams as well. People need to know where they stand, and we need to be transparent and honest with integrity but sharing a communication that is full of clarity.

Michael Lonnon
It's the culture isn't it; it’s about building up a culture both internally and externally but you kind of almost come across in the same sort of way.

Summary
David believes that a well run business is as much down to the embedded culture as the processes, tools, and technology you put in place. It’s why he sees his role as more of a motivator, and empowerer, than a directive COO. Guiding people and helping them succeed in what they’re doing ultimately leads to the smooth running of the organisation.

In a growing business, getting people to buy in to a vision and embedding themselves in a culture, is essential. And for this David encourages leaders to live out the company culture. This means being open, transparent, and having an open door policy that reduces silos and keeps communications, and culture, flowing through the organisation.

And on that note, thanks for listening, until next time, take care of yourselves.

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