It’s a good time to get back to why

At this time of the year, following the close of the fiscal year for many organizations, we often take stock of our financial health and make budget projections to ensure the sustainability of our organizations. Perhaps there is no more important time to consider also taking stock of the culture and climate of our communities and leadership teams.

In Patrick Lenconi’s best-selling book, “The Advantage,” the author contends that the greatest component leading to an organization’s success is the health of the internal climate and cohesiveness of its leadership team.

Often in times of great change and intensive sector competition, we focus our organizational assessment on strategy, marketing and finance. Lenconi suggests that there is no more important time to focus on the basics of a healthy organization – defining our institutional “why” with greater clarity, building a cohesive leadership team, and ensuring consistency in our vision and messaging.

Depending on how much time your organization has spent on this important work, the process of achieving clarity is not likely to happen overnight or as the result of a single leadership retreat. At Kent State University, we engaged in bold and inclusive discussions about our future with constituents from across our eight campus system.

The result of that interaction was the development of a Strategic Roadmap and a renewed branding strategy that have brought new levels of attention to the university and cohesiveness to the leadership team. As we use the Roadmap and its five priorities to guide all planning, budget, and assessment processes, we are also beginning to see evidence of its impact across the organization.

From why to wow
The challenges that follow frequently have to do with differentiation and determining how we can most effectively engage current and prospective audiences with defining that distinctive institutional “why”. Asking every part and player in the organization to consider their role in delivering on the “why” is, perhaps, a good place to start.

The sweet spot that propels organizations from distinction to differentiation (the “wow”) – particularly those in mature industries such as higher education –  comes in the form of proof points, outcomes and features that are most important to audiences and are differentiated from those of competitors.

Referred to as “brand drivers”, these differentiating assets are the things around which your organization can rally, and they will also frame nearly every important decision made by leaders at every level of the organization.

Determining your differentiating assets is particularly important in an environment that calls for cost-cutting, price management and increased operational efficiency. Of course, all 21st century leaders want to be stewards of responsible organizations that operate as examples of effectiveness, efficiency and productivity.

However, absent a compass that is calibrated on your differentiating assets and characteristics, these necessary decisions in the interest of cost-cutting and efficiency can have unintended consequences. An attuned, cohesive leadership team and an ongoing process geared toward assuring organizational health can sustain and build effective, differentiated organizations and outcomes.

Beverly Warren is president at Kent State University