Let’s start by acknowledging that soap operas are wonderful – for some people, some of the time. The adventures and mis-adventures of family and friends in domestic situations provide valued entertainment and insights. The trouble arises when things that are not soap operas become soap operas. It happens when long-running television series lose their outside focus and turn their attention inward. It happens when organizations lose their outside focus and turn their attention inward.

Thus, the one thing you must do to keep your organization from becoming a soap opera is to keep your focus on your most important external mission – the problem you solve in the world.

You can divide television series into three buckets:

  1. Soap operas like Guiding Light and Coronation Street that define the soap opera genre.
  2. Long-running shows like the Simpsons and Law and Order that stayed true to their core premise over time.
  3. Shows like The West Wing that started with a focus on the moments before and after presidential press conferences and then turned inward to the drama between the ensemble.

In the real world, the buckets are:

  1. Organizations set up to serve the members of their own organization, association, union or the like.
  2. Organizations that stay true to their core premise of serving others outside the organization.
  3. Organizations that start with a focus on serving others outside the organization and then turn inward to the drama between the ensemble.

I was invited to be the “Consumer Provocateur” at a meeting of the extended leadership team oof a health insurance company called to discuss a new focus on “Consumer-oriented healthcare.” The most senior leaders gave talks to the whole group about why this mattered and the general approach the organization wanted to take.

The we moved to breakout sessions to discuss.

The 12-person breakout I was in immediately jumped to discussing the impact of the change on their own regional structure. And they stayed there. After 20 minutes, I had not heard the word “consumer” or “patient” or any variation of that even once. I raised my hand and said “Aren’t we supposed to be talking about “Consumer-oriented healthcare?”

Someone said, “Of course. But we have to deal with this first.”

After another 10 minutes, I jumped in again. “I was asked to be here to represent the consumer point of view. You seem to have no interest in that. So, I’m going to go over there and get myself some coffee. Come find me if you ever want to talk about the consumer.”

15 minutes later (3/4 of the way through the breakout,) someone finally came over and said “You’re right. We’re ready. Come back.”

Warning Signs

Deteriorating impact on those you’re supposed to be serving, potentially showing up in declining customer ratings, market share, growth, profitability.

Deteriorating morale and relationships as people spend more of their time focused on competing with each other than on serving your customers.

The Fix

Refocus all on doing good for others. Almost everybody strives for their own balance of doing good for others, things they are good at, and things that are good for them. Be an other-focused leader and lead your entire organization to recommit to its mission.

Some possible steps:

  1. Build a shared understanding of the current reality – the real, ground truth on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the context – so all understand how they have become more inwardly focused and its impact.
  2. Help all to recommit to your mission, vision & values – what matters and why – or opt out if they choose not to recommit.
  3. Co-create new strategic paths – making fundamental choices on an overarching strategy and posture, strategic priorities and enablers.
  4. Agree on your distinctive capabilities – with clear priorities.
  5. Deliberately and consciously choose your collective go-forward mindsets and behaviors – playing them out in guideline and culture choices.
  6. Collectively craft your change management process with simple, understandable words and steps to bridge the gap between the new/revitalized mission, vision, values, and strategy and execution and then implement, track, assess, and adjust as appropriate.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #822) and a summary of my book on executive onboarding: The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan.

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