The Platform Driven Organization
by Herb Rubenstein

Introduction

In a previous article I made the distinction between what a "leader" typically does in organizations and what a "leader of leaders" does. Today, many leaders in America are primarily problem solvers. Occasionally, they help organizations set and change the strategic direction of their organizations. More often, they merely solve problems like revenue shortfalls, make human resource allocation decisions, select and guide marketing campaigns and serve as the "spokesperson/cheerleader" of the organization.

"Leaders of leaders" have a different role. They develop a platform upon which the organization and the organization's "leaders" set the tone, ethic and direction of an organization as well as figure out the best answers to systemic challenges and entire classes of problems an organization can face.

If "leaders of leaders" create and lead from "platforms," we need to be very clear in defining what a platform is and describe how to create solid, robust and meaningful platforms in organizations.

Key Elements of a Platform

The first element of a platform driven organization is that the platform is known, understood, respected and dominant throughout the organization. It directs and guides decisions and actions at every moment and at every level in the organization. No exceptions.

The second key attribute of a platform is that it is broad in scope and deep in meaning and impact.

The third key attribute of a platform is that it is a living, breathing, streamlined set of values, principles, mores and guidelines that leaders of the organization teach and follow on a daily basis.

The fourth key attribute of a platform is that in order to sustain itself and the organization it supports, the platform inspires and demands consistent betterment of the organization as a whole and of the platform itself.

Like the North Star that used to guide the mariners, organizations universally used to have "platforms." Today, platforms have been routinely abandoned as organizations adopt expedient practices or so called "best practices" to deal with current problems. Enron, MCI/WorldCom, Andersen Consulting, Global Crossing, MicroStrategy and Xerox all resorted to falsifying financial data because they had no organizational platform that inspired honest behavior or inspired the courage to tell the truth to their investors and the public and take the consequences.

West Point and Washington and Lee University's "honor code," Nordstrom's customer service platform, "satisfy the customer," IBM's platform in the 1980's "do what the customer needs" and McKinsey's platform of "provide the client 10 times greater value than the costs of the project" are excellent examples of platforms that drive organizational betterment.

Platform as the New Organizational Paradigm

No customer and few employees really care about the mission statement or vision statement of an organization. What customers and employees care about is how the organization treats them and meets their needs. The creation, teaching and enforcement of a true "organizational platform" represents a paradigm shift in the search to improve organizational effectiveness, and regenerating trust in organizations. An organizational platform must become the guiding set of principles used by leaders to lead their organizations to greatness.

Steps to Becoming a Platform Driven Organization

Below, are twelve steps an organization should take to create a platform and become a "platform driven" organization. The first set of steps describes how to create a robust platform. The second set of steps suggests how to implement the platform. The third set of steps suggests how to refine and improve the platform. The steps are:

  1. The organization's key leaders should develop a list of the core principles, obligations and objectives of the organization. A few examples that might appear on the list include:
    • consistently meet customer needs;
    • develop, maintain and report accurate financial information;
    • establish and maintain excellent service;
    • develop defect free products;
    • treat employees with respect and honor;
    • tell the truth in all circumstances regardless of the potential negative consequences;
    • make informed decisions;
    • strive to be the best in all aspects of the organization's life;
    • become the technology or service leader;
    • be ethical in all dealings;
    • strive for excellence first, then improvement.

  2. The organization should survey the key stakeholders (employees, stockholders, customers, vendors, board of directors, etc.) to determine their view of the core obligations and objectives and finalize the list.

  3. The leaders then use this list to develop a concise statement that embodies the highest priority core principles, obligations and objectives of the organization. This document is the organization's draft "platform."

  4. The leaders then send out the organization's new platform to all key stakeholders for review and comment. Take all comments and adopt this 2nd draft as the "organizational platform." Print the platform and distribute it broadly.

  5. The organization then provides training to each employee on the meaning and role of the new platform and create ways to make everyone accountable to the organization and their fellow employees, customers, investors, managers and stakeholders for carrying out the platform meticulously.

  6. The organization then publicizes the platform and ensures that each employee and each participant in the supply chain of the organization agrees to have their behavior guided by the platform. Each member of the organization should sign an agreement to this effect. Violation of the platform should be deemed cause for dismissal or termination of any contract of the organization.

  7. The organization then establishes a system to reward and regularly acknowledge examples of behavior consistent with the platform.

  8. The organization also establishes a system to reward those who identify and report behavior that is not consistent with the platform.

  9. The organization then continuously updates and disseminates a data base of examples of "platform consistent behaviors" and "platform inconsistent behaviors."

  10. The leaders of the organization must take quick, decisive, well publicized and strong action whenever platform inconsistent behavior is observed in order to insure that the person or group responsible for the platform inconsistent behavior does not have the opportunity to act this way again in the organization.

  11. The leaders of the organization should encourage all stakeholders to provide feedback on how each and every element of the platform is working or not working.

  12. The leaders should repeat steps 1-6 to revise the platform, at least annually, to reflect feedback from stakeholders and republish, retain and reinvigorate the organization with the new, improved platform.

Conclusion

Today, ask yourself and your organization's leaders, "What is our organization's platform?" I doubt you'll get a solid answer. Then ask, "What should our organization's platform be?" The answer to this question, once created and implemented throughout the organization, will become an important source of organizational betterment.

It is the role of the an organization's "leaders" and more importantly their "leaders of leaders" to create, disseminate and enforce the platform for the organization. This important element has been missing from the organizational landscape and literature over the past several decades. This missing link helps explain the Enrons we have been seeing lately littered across the American business landscape.


Herb Rubenstein is an attorney and the CEO of Growth Strategies, Inc., a leadership and management consulting firm. He is co-author of Breakthrough, Inc. - High Growth Strategies for Entrepreneurial Organizations (Prentice Hall/Financial Times, 1999). He also serves as an Adjunct Professor of Strategic Planning and Leadership at George Washington University, is a founding director of the Association of Professional Futurists, and is the author of numerous articles on futures studies, leadership and strategic planning. Visit www.growth-strategies.com for additional information, e-mail: herb@growth-strategies.com or telephone (301) 718-4200 in Bethesda, Maryland or (202) 236-7626 in Washington, D.C.

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Copyright 2003 by Herb Rubenstein. All rights reserved.

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