Sep 28, 2023

How to Achieve Organizational Excellence with a Clear Internal Operating System

How to Achieve Organizational Excellence with a Clear Internal Operating System

How to Achieve Organizational Excellence with a Clear Internal Operating System

Nathan King

Men and women build a well oiled machine, with chaos in the background
Men and women build a well oiled machine, with chaos in the background
Men and women build a well oiled machine, with chaos in the background

Defined policies are a known path to increased efficiency and clarity. But curiously, most organizations neglect to define a crucial policy certain to increase the odds of success. This omission guarantees inefficiency and ambiguity.

A cross section of diverse organizations, large and small, for-profit and non- profit, would reveal that most have:

  • A defined set of IT policies: employees receive a laptop computer and supporting equipment and configured software ranging from desktop software like Microsoft Office to online software like

  • Clear policies for PTO and health insurance: what's covered; what's not; how much it costs.

These standardized policies reduce the risk of theft of information, ensure a standard for productivity, and manage compensation cost.

But the same organizational cross section would also contain a significant gap: the absence of a clearly defined system to ensure the production of results. This is striking, because such a system arguably makes an even bigger impact on organizations, but the majority of companies either don't define at all, or to the extent they do, define it incompletely.

Solution: The Internal Operating System

This system doesn't have an accepted name, but it is in effect an internal operating system. It defines:

- What winning looks like, told through measurable goals

- How team members hold themselves and each other accountable

- How often the group meets and what those meetings look like

- The method of sharing information with other departments

- A mission and vision for the future

These elements are so vital to the production of results that it isn't so much that they don't exist, but they aren't named and perfected. They become something of a guessing game, captured well in this graphic:

3 people think of a concept and think they agree, but they don't. After writing it down, the figure out how to get on the same page.

Image Credit:

When you define and implement an internal operating system – in effect, getting diverging points of view out people's heads and causing them to be reckoned with – you create a point of leverage for your business, a growth accelerator for marketshare and increased profitability.

How to Implement an Internal Operating System

To establish this point of leverage, you will need to know the components of the system, along with a plan to roll it out.

The Components

To implement the internal operating system, here are the components:

  • Mission

  • Vision

  • Goals

  • Clear measures of success

  • Accountability mechanisms

  • Meeting structure

There are many different takes on these components across a ton of great thinkers and authors. No doubt you've encountered at least some of these concepts. In short, here is how I define each of them.


A mission is why you exist. A great place to start is by watching (or re-watching) Simon Sinek's video, Start with Why. A mission is a massive goal, and for some it is so transformative it isn't fully achievable - you are always in pursuit of it. It is more like a movement that you champion, an eternal change you are pursuing but will never be able to completely reach.


A vision differs from mission in that it paints a picture with some specificity about what the future looks like. A vision looks out anywhere from 6 months to 2 years for your organization.


There are many goal-setting frameworks out there, but here are the key points to remember about goals for your operating system:

  1. Goals should be measurable by a number or by completion.

  2. Every goal should have a single owner.

  3. In most situations, goals should occur over a short time horizon: 1-3 months. Annual goals are traditional, but the time is simply too long.

My preferred goal-setting method is called Objectives Key Results (OKRs), and I recently wrote an overview.

Measures of Success

Measures of success can be split between ongoing, quantifiable measures of success with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

They also include goals, which are more periodic and change over time.

I discussed the difference between KPIs and a goal methodology called OKRs here.

Accountability Mechanisms

This crucial element reflects how results are communicated and accepted or unapproved within your organization. Examples include:

  • Weekly/monthly reports and or metrics dashboards

  • 1:1 meetings with managers

  • Weekly/monthly team meetings

  • Quarterly business reviews, internal and or external

  • Quarterly performance reviews of goals

  • Annual performance review

  • Internal/external service level agreements (SLAs)

Meeting Structure

Accountability mechanisms are commonly used in a process of meetings. Every organization needs some sort of recurring meeting to manage how individuals and departments interact. Meeting structure includes:

  • 1:1 meetings

  • Weekly team meetings

  • Quarterly executive review meetings

  • Quarterly strategic planning meetings

Lead Time

Each of these components are straightforward, but implementing them while part of a business with ongoing obligations to customers, investors, and suppliers can feel daunting.

The good news is that building a business while running a business is straightforward – build in space for coordination and lead time. There are three guidelines:

  1. Give yourself lead time.

  2. Prepare a series of structured meetings.

  3. At each step, involve your team to participate and contribute much of the work as well.

The Steps to Take to Implement The Operating System

The process to implement the system will take 10 weeks.

This timeline is fast enough that you can implement your system in a short-term time horizon, and slow enough that your team can digest the process. Start by choosing the date you want to begin, which I recommend coincides with the beginning of a quarter. But your timing may not fit well with a quarter. If that's the case, adjust to the start of a month.

Over the course of the 10 weeks, you will take the following actions:

10 weeks before launch: schedule the meetings:

  1. OS Pre-Launch Meeting for the leadership team. One hour. Schedule this meeting to occur 4 weeks from now.

  2. OS Strategy Meeting. Schedule this meeting to occur 5 weeks from now. Duration: at least 4 hours.

  3. OS Full Team (or company) Meeting. Schedule this meeting to occur 6 weeks from now. Duration: 90 minutes.

  4. OS Launch Meeting. Schedule this meeting to occur 8 weeks from now. Duration 60-90 minutes (depends on team size)

7 weeks before launch: First draft of the OS components.

As the leader, you will help your team by giving them something to react to. Create a first draft of each component and provide a week in advance to the team.

Day of Launch: Team communication to announce that this is the start of the process.

The Agendas for the Meetings

First Meeting: The Leadership Launch Meeting

This is a 30 minute meeting to discuss the components defined above and the logistical details of your launch. It is important that the senior most individual lead this meeting (i.e., if for a company, your CEO; if for a department, the department head).

Communicate clearly the reasons why you are doing this. Usually, the reasons include some or all of the following (your individual reasons may vary):

  1. Provide clear direction to the team so that they are not working at cross-purposes.

  2. Improve morale by showing team members how they connect to mission.

  3. Improve company profitability by increasing the productivity of the team through accountability AND creative contributions of the team trhough clarity and higher morale.

  4. Reduce turnover in a competitive marketplace

  5. Increase leadership morale by reducing time spent in meetings and the number of decisions leaders make because subordinates lack the context and or clarity to make decisions.

Second Meeting: Leadership OS Strategy Meeting

This meeting is a minimum of half a day. Include your leadership team in this meeting, which should not be more than 5-7 people. You need ample time in order to address the various perspectives people have been bringing to work without fully sharing with each other. There will be ideas that compete with each other.

With all the work on the team's plate, the temptation is to make this meeting no more than an hour. But not getting the key issues on the table and discussing them fully causes a delay in dealing with them, which will take much more time later. My philosophy is that some discussion today is better than waiting for ample time at an unknown time in the future.

The purpose of this meeting is for the leadership team to define a mission, vision, and objectives for the upcoming time period in question.

Missions and visions often require refinement over time. The important thing is to get something written that the team can respond to and help shape, or at least try to implement. Simply putting something out in the open starts the process of perfecting it into an asset.

Definition of objectives should be a collaborative effort that involves a clear discussion of the exciting possibilities as well as the significant challenges facing the organization.

The product of this meeting will be a fully formed answer to each of the components of the operating system. Before the meeting ends, assign an attendee the task with drafting the team's input into a single document. This will be shared with the broader team in the next meeting.

Third Meeting: Full Team Meeting

Now that your leadership team is on the same page for the components of the plan, you are ready to conduct a meeting with the entire team to explain:

1. The reason for the change

2. The draft of the mission, vision, accountability mechanisms, and the goals

3. The rollout plan

Just as you did for the leadership team, you will explain the WHY to the team. You will give them an opportunity to push back and offer input, and you will explain the objectives you defined with your leadership team.

The rollout plan - the biggest part of the meeting. Here you will have the team define their own goals. Potentially, this is new for them. They will need to do this and then to work with their leaders to get it right.

Final Meeting: Team Confirmation Meeting

in this meeting, the team will review the final goals, and, if your team size is manageable enough, each department can present their goals to the broader group.

What's Next?

By the time you've finished your final meeting, you have created a more aligned team than 97% of organizations out there. You have created a point of leverage that can result in massive benefits for your organization and for your personal career.

But you must consider this to be a fragile moment in time. Despite good intentions, there is truth to the old saying, "old habits die hard." Your team will find it uncomfortable and time consuming at first to incorporate these new practices into their work.

The way to ensure that you stay on track is through regular monitoring.

Let's say you kick off your Operating System on 1/1. You will want to have your leadership team report feedback at least once a month on how it is going.

And 6 weeks in to the new quarter, around 2/15, you will want the team to start the process all over again.




I help leaders and teams achieve clarity and alignment so they can reach their potential


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© King Strategic Consulting, LLC 2023