Jay Frost is the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Atlas Manufacturing, a U.S. contract metal fabricator. More than a year ago, Frost earned an Executive Certificate in Management and Leadershipfrom MIT Sloan and completed several courses to do so, including Building Game-Changing Organizations: Aligning Purpose, Performance, and People, a two-day program led by MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Douglas Ready. Frost has since operationalized many of the takeaways from this program in particular and recently let us know how useful some of those tools have been.
“The course material from MIT has been very beneficial for me, personally and for our organization,” says Frost, who is part of a seven-person leadership team at his company. “Each class was very good, and our organization was especially receptive to the collective ambition concept from Building Game Changing Organizations. Over the last year we have completely redrafted our mission, vision and values and have had great discussions about our culture and how to take the organization to the next level.”
The collective ambition model to which Frost refers is a framework for summarizing how leaders and employees think about why they exist (their company’s purpose), what they hope to accomplish (their company’s vision), the choices they will make and how they will collaborate to achieve their ambition (their strategic and operational priorities), and how their brand promise aligns with their core values.
The power behind the course is that it is deeply rooted in both research and practical applications (the hallmark of MIT Sloan’s programs: mens et manus- “mind and hand”). Professor Ready spent years studying and working with companies across industries around the world, helping them to craft and communicate their companies’ collective ambitions in order to drive deep change.
“We’re not starting from scratch with the concept of collective ambition,” says Ready. “For decades, organizational scholars have studied things like purpose, vision, strategy and culture, but have done so in a one-off fashion, as if vision and strategy are disconnected challenges. What I have found is that C-Suite teams are looking for practical approaches to creating a compelling story of their company’s future and then creating a collaborative process for building the capabilities needed to help that story come to life.”
Ready identifies seven elements that must be carefully integrated in a company’s collective ambition: purpose, vision, targets and milestones, strategic and operational priorities, brand promise, core values, and leader behaviors. Clearly defined, these elements can help leaders spot areas of misalignment and launch initiatives to address them.
In his Executive Education course, Ready presents a graphic design in the form of a compass. Purpose is at the center. The “vision” and “strategy” elements are at either end of the North/South axis, while “brand” and “values” anchor the East/West axis. This enables participants to see the clear connections between the strategic choices they are making and how these choices are being made in pursuit of their vision. During class participants are able to practice compiling a Compass for their organizations and and then articulate their stories to Ready and the rest of the program participants.
“When Professor Ready explained the framework in context of the course, he did so by bringing into the room leaders from other companies who talked about what it took to implement it in their organizations,” says Frost. “That was really powerful.”
When Frost brought the model back to Atlas and walked his colleagues through it, “everyone saw its potential and engaged with it very quickly, without hesitation,” says Frost. Over the course of several months, his team worked to redefine the company’s purpose, mission, vision, values, and leadership behaviors. “We have now updated our materials to reflect these new ambitions. As leadership we can articulate purpose more concisely, and we have a better understanding of who we are as an organization, what we want to achieve and how we will get there. I have no doubt that as a result of this effort we will serve our customers better. We are also more involved in the community through charity programs, enhancing the work environment for our employees. And we are laser focused on our strategic priorities to make the organization stronger. Atlas Manufacturing is a small 100+ person company, but collective ambition is having a large impact here.”
The owner of the company believes this is driving the organization forward. He has participated in the development of Atlas’ collective ambition all along and his feedback to Frost and the others on the Leadership Team was that this effort has given him “a renewed sense of action and focus.”
“When I attended the courses at MIT Sloan, I was an operations manager. I had been in this industry for 11 years, in multiple roles, and I was feeling stagnant in terms of continuing education. I now have a new role as Director of Strategic Initiatives, partially due to my experience at MIT and my Executive Certificate. The concept of the collective ambition and Professor Ready’s presentation of that model were instrumental in my professional development as well as the work the leadership team at Atlas Manufacturing has done over the last year to redefine the organization.”
Building Game-Changing Organizations: Aligning Purpose, Performance, and People - Participants in this organizational strategy program will learn what it takes to build game-changing companies that make their teams and areas of responsibility world-class talent factories. They will also discuss the importance of building an innovative company culture and learn from the successes and challenges of various companies that have been on similar journeys of transformation. 2019 sessions are offered March 28–29, July 9–10, and October 17–18.