Important lessons that can spur your organization to higher levels of performance
This week, we are in the midst of an interesting period witnessing what is now the longest Government shutdown in modern history. In the past, Presidents have approached pet legislative issues with 18 shutdowns – 8 under Ronald Reagan alone – with the second longest (21 days) under Bill Clinton over spending disagreements with Congress. This whole affair begs the question from what we hear in the Northeast during annual cataclysmic snow storms: “All non-essential employees are to stay home”: Who is an essential employee? And, in fact, during this protracted partial shutdown, non-essential employees stay home while many essential employees are forced to do their jobs with deferred compensation. Gets one to thinking about government and what is in fact essential, but not to worry, I understand and on good authority that those who feed the elephants, Koala bears, and Pandas at the National Zoo are classified as ‘essential’ and the zoo inhabitants are well cared for.
This type of thing may prompt one to consider how much Government is in fact essential? How much is needed? Does access to information and the advent of things like Artificial Intelligence disrupt notions we have about government and control in business?
“To produce the desirable changes as early as may be expedient may require the incitement and patronage of government.”
In this case he refers to the active role of management to spur progress and that is the ever changing art, balance, and science of good management. When? (do we manage) How much? (oversight is necessary) and Why (do we need to provide government)? So the shutdown certainly can help you focus on the art, balance, and science of managing your organization. What is the right span of control? What is the frequency of follow up and feedback? What is the decision process and delegation method? What information do you use for performance and problem analysis? How and how frequently do you act on this information?
There is something to be said for taking the time to systematically evaluating these elements of government and to establish rules that define who you are and how you will operate. A couple examples here may be illustrative:
We have an industrial client whose sales force has run for over 4 years with no sales manager. The client assumed that since the sales team was compensated largely by commission that they would have the self-interest to maximize their own personal income and that the company would benefit. In this scenario one quickly sees that the company has no systematic way to communicate points of value and differentiation to the market. No campaign orchestration, weak budgeting, little Year over Year improvement from individual contributors, no consistency in relation to the interaction between ‘sales’ and the other departments in the company, and dampened innovation have been the result.
Another client that is a large Metropolitan public service agency, has publicly deemphasized the importance of front line management in promoting productivity, morale, and safety believing that the negotiating contractual arrangement between various union groups would result in a negotiated level of performance. Frustrated by inefficient front line communication, the more senior managers scramble to get information that will gauge performance. In a statistical review, we identified over 220 custom reports that were created from the main information management system – all intended to divine some truth out of the apparent chaos. In fact, the chaos is not found in the work or lack of work being done in the organization; the chaos is from the lack of leadership and orchestration at the management level.
As much as your company differentiates itself on the specification and performance of products and services, you should seek to differentiate on the management process and the all of that is as ripe for refinement and innovation as any other element of your business.
Consider, if you will, the most important mentor, coach, or boss in your life. These are people who have struck the right balance of discipline, straight talk, enthusiasm, and aspiration. We all know non remarkable performers who became remarkable when they became contributors to winning teams. Similarly, we know superstars who never met their potential by not being aligned in a management process or in the football vernacular, a ‘system’ that helps them realize their own unique capability.
As you look at your government process and your own ‘system’ take it seriously. It is who you are and is in your organization’s DNA. There are a few simple rules that will help this process work for you that are aligned with the 3 Box Solution idea espoused by Dartmouth professor, Innovation and Strategy expert Vijay Govindarajan. You can put your practices in 3 boxes to help you define a more effective future:
Box One. The present. Once you identify what is important. Do it and tell your organization that you are going to do it. Reduce the number of important elements in what you do, reduce the critical data and decision points, and work on consistency.
Box Two. The present. Once you identify what is important. Do it and tell your organization that you are going to do it. Reduce the number of important elements in what you do, reduce the critical data and decision points, and work on consistency. The past. Identify which practices (reports, meetings, reviews, data streams) are vital and which are legacy. If it is a practice that adds no value to the process in terms of quality, productivity, or morale. Stop it! In the example of the agency above with the 220 custom reports we sought to discontinue publishing any reports unless they are requested and unless the requester can define the value. Don’t hold on to the past.
Box Three. The future. Identify the practices and disciplines that, in your estimation, will result in better outcomes (productivity, quality, and morale) and forge ahead.
The simplicity of the 3 Box Solution helps you look at your organization’s governance not as a continuity but as a product built on a process that can be optimized and modified to result in better outcomes. If you look at your organization’s governance in a proactive fashion, when the siren call goes out:
“Essential employees only report to work”, everyone in your organization will be on board and none looking in the mirror: “Are they talking about me?”