The business unit you are responsible for is failing to achieve its performance objectives. Perhaps sales are lagging, profits are decreasing, gross margin is below target, product quality targets are not achieved, investment projects are not delivering the expected payback, customer complaints and after-sales costs are too high, or promised delivery dates are missed, etc. Maybe your unit has reached the crisis stage; you would not be the first… or the last. What is your method of choice to remedy the situation?
Much has been written on change, transformation and problem solving. But has someone really designed a better way to get people to identify business performance problems and deal with them quickly, before they create a crisis? Do truly “new ways” exist to deal with issues effectively and put your organization back on track?
Personally, I think the “boring old stuff” still works best, but it often fails to get the attention it deserves and loses out to the latest trends and rhetoric, or other more pressing priorities.
What is this “boring old stuff” that still works?
- Results drive your business: in the eyes of your customers, employees and owners/investors, you are what you deliver. Measure what is important, set realistic targets, focus and communicate these to everyone involved.
- Define the problem: the gap between expected and actual. Get your leadership team to recognize the problem, agree that it is in fact a problem and needs to get fixed, pronto! You might even want to involve the Board of Directors here; they need to support your priorities.
- Lead from the front: understand what your people do and how they feel in the trenches (the processes, the tools, the environment, and the challenges) to produce goods and serve the customer. Be visible: be there, listen, encourage, show you care.
- Sense of urgency: your behaviour and that of your leaders are key in communicating a sense of urgency to everyone else in the organization.
- Consider the risks: what could go wrong that may have negative consequences? Cover the key ones, but don’t let the fear of failure take over. If things don’t work out quite as planned, recognize it, learn from it, adjust your plan, persevere.
- Do something: engage your people, develop a plan, deal with the problem, tell people about it, ensure you can demonstrate that it has been fixed, celebrate!
- Keep an eye on things: monitor performance regularly, ensure everyone else knows that they need to monitor results and sound the alarm if they notice more problems (back to No. 1).
I have long been convinced that very few problems ever go unrecognized, and their causes undiagnosed: people in your organization know what is wrong (or not quite right) and why. Moreover, someone – often many individuals or an entire work group – has also figured out the solution… but their valuable input gets filtered out and fails to improve performance. For example, it would be hard to believe that not a single GM employee knew about the problem with the ignition switch assembly (2005), or that not a single Toyota employee knew about the problem with the accelerator pedal (2009), at some point before the issues became so serious as to require recalls involving millions of vehicles! Business books are filled with relevant case studies.
What could be more important for an organization than getting everyone involved in improving performance (or preventing performance problems)? It must constitute an integral part of everyone’s job. Getting everyone involved – today’s term is “engaged” – to accomplish the objective is leadership, pure and simple.
The most productive and, not surprisingly, the most fun projects I have been involved in had the following in common:
- the team knew exactly what it needed to achieve (results, measures) and when (deadline) – we remained focused until it got fixed
- the senior leader and the leadership team were deeply engaged in the project and visible to all involved
- the solution and the implementation were methodical. We measured and tracked results
- then, we celebrated the success!
What is your experience? Does anything work better than this “boring old stuff?”