Why organisational efforts succeed in some cases and fail in others is a puzzle that continues to intrigue business leaders and academics. In the volumes of pages on how to successfully implement a strategic plan, we find several forces that contributes to a positive outcome such as market conditions, competitor’s efforts, and sufficient resources. However, there is an element that does not get as much attention and yet, is the foundation to stories of success: the CEO’s ability to build and sustain a unified, cohesive workplace.
Let’s look at a case-study.
In 2000 at Akamai Technologies, a high-flying startup in Massachusetts, USA, and the young company’s then-CEO George Conrades had to find a way to unify the workforce.
The bursting of the dot-com bubble in 2000 staggered Akamai, and the innovative Internet content-delivery firm, founded just two years earlier, saw its stock plummet so low that it was nearly delisted from the Nasdaq. Conrades was forced to initiate layoffs and figure out a path forward through the chaos. Akamai suffered another severe setback the next year when its co-founder and spiritual leader, Daniel Lewin, was killed on Sept. 11. Lewin was aboard the first ill-fated flight that crashed into the World Trade Center. His death was a devastating shock to the young company. Struggling to get traction, Conrades was forced to come up with a plan to reunify the fractured firm.
Creating unity can be challenging even when a company is thriving. But when it is under severe stress, the challenge goes much deeper.
“We held multiple ‘town halls’ with employees where I reinforced the importance of making Akamai successful in Danny’s memory and asked four questions,” Conrades recalled: “ ‘Do you still believe in the big idea, the mission, that we can make the Internet faster, more reliable and secure?’ They did. ‘Does our technology work to support the big idea?’ The answer was yes. ‘Does the business model make sense?’ We were able to demonstrate, by sharing graphs of sales, revenue and bottom-line data monthly, that we were on the road to profitability. And, finally, ‘Do you like your fellow employees?’ People would laugh and start hugging the person next to them.”
“The idea,” added Conrades, “was that we had the right vision, the right technology and a great team to get us through a tough time.” The answers to his questions helped hold the company together. While many other startups would have folded under the pressure, Akamai eventually turned a corner and became highly successful, the leader in its market space. Today, Akamai has annual revenues of greater than U$2 billion and is considered a highly desirable place to work.
The key to building a unified workforce is finding a shared interest that will inspire employee. As my colleague Mark Royal, senior principal at Korn Ferry’s Hay Group says: “People don’t get out of bed in the morning to maximize share price. They get out of bed to make a difference.” It’s critical that they feel that they are part of a collective purpose.
Learn more about how to securing ‘buy in’ for a corporate vision in this thought piece by the Korn Ferry Institute: Finding Common Ground to Keep a Team (and a Company) Together