I've been reflecting recently on successful organisations. I'm lucky to be associated with several great organisations that in most people's eyes would be admired. I've been watching Chatsworth work towards its triumph at the Chelsea Flower Show. Recently, I've visited and met senior people in the British, Science and Natural History Museums.
I've been to see my old colleagues at the RSPB and spent some time training with the National Trust. I've spent some time with great farmers and successful private estates. Commercially, I'm working with several large and successful companies and I'm working with two excellent universities and several highly capable Government agencies. I write for the Newspaper of the Year, The Times.
Great organisations share a few common themes.
They tend to attract, retain and develop great leaders. They're generally good to excellent places to work and engender loyalty amongst their staff. They tend to set their own rules, standards, priorities and focus and are rarely swayed by those of others. They have independent or secure resources, so can be flexible and focused on mission, not chasing resource and survival.
Usually, great organisations have plenty people in their upper echelons Boards, Trustees, Directors, CEOs and Chairs who are respected in their own field. They role model talent in their leadership and they encourage talent through the organisation.
In my experience super - elite organisations have all the usual corporate processes in place, and the people who lead these are good too, but rarely are corporate plans, budget processes and corporate communications at the top of their agendas. Great organisations focus their leadership on their mission and the day job. Their focus is excellence, striving for higher achievement and the values of their organisation
Strong and capable organisations are not without their problems. They can be poor at allowing and encouraging dissent and their internal rules and maxims can be a double-edged sword. This risks the organisation missing opportunities, failing to see the shifting sands of change and being too slow to adapt. Really strong organisations know this and can accommodate innovation and change in their internal systems.
Successful organisations can feel threatening to smaller, less-financially-secure and less well-known organisations. It's a fine line between corporate confidence and corporate arrogance. However, in my view, I'd rather there were a few more confident organisations around, especially in the public sector, even if this risks a few bruised egos in their margins.
Why am I in favour of the big and successful fish in the sea? Firstly, successful organisations grow ( at least in the private and 3rd sectors) and this means economic and social growth. They also innovate, invest in research, data and knowledge and invest too in the skills of their workforces.
Successful organisations can choose to adopt good partnership, corporate social responsibility and ethical financial behaviours. Poorly performing organisations cannot. The highest performing FTSE businesses in carbon reduction tend to be FTSE 100 and the FTSE 250 lag behind. Modern investment in new plant, technology and distribution systems are generally better environmentally than old and out-dated plant.
Of course, I love small organisations and I wouldn't wish to equate large with successful. Small organisations can be highly effective, focused around niche expertise. But big organisations, well-led and well-focused achieve much for our world.