The concern for any enterprise is its level of performance, and for most members of the enterprise is a concern for how to elevate the level of performance. This elevation can be to fulfill the ambition for growth, to meet a changing marketplace, to match competition, or even for the sake of survival or to stay even in its outcomes and prospects. But over time this elevation of performance requires change, learning, and a reconfiguration of processes, practices, and even the understanding of how to function. Every organization eventually faces these changes into today’s world.
The point is to create a winning game, and too often leaders fall into the assumption that winning is just a matter of working harder in the current game. Yet having to work harder is a symptom that the current game isn’t as valuable, productive, or effective as it used to be. It’s the wake up call to examine the game you are playing, the game that is needed, the gaps between them, and strategies to close these gaps.
This view applies from cut-throat competition in global cell phone markets to small companies trying to make it.
What is often secondary or even left out of the strategy for change in organizations is the shift to be made by the people, the shift in skills, roles, understanding, interpretation, attention, and practice. The shift is a journey that is sometimes addressed by “change management,” usually regarded as futile excursion into pain, a mandate for the often struggling management team, or a quick toss to a new CEO or executive savior. And if the change required is late and significant, larger companies are potential targets for corporate raiders or private equity slash-and-burn investors.
Starting with the human dimension as the source of power and focus for change for significant measurable results is an approach in used in our consulting company Enterprise Performance (EP) over the years, based on the discipline of generative leadership developed and offered by our sister company the Institute of Generative Leadership. At the Institute we focus on the development of individual leaders and leadership teams in leadership skills. In Enterprise Performance we focus on the application of these skills to address real business and organizational breakdowns and opportunities for measurable results.
As an example Enterprise Performance was engaged to work with a software development group in one of the largest software product manufacturers in the world. (The EP approach is based on human coordination, and is not just appropriate for software – we have worked with semiconductor, medical, mortgage industry, technology, service, and other companies. At the time the group had seventy software engineers, and the group was having significant trouble delivering to and satisfying the six product groups that they were producing software for. Late and buggy software deliveries were producing delays in product releases, with tens of millions of dollars of revenue lost or deferred as a consequence. The team was also in overload and burnout while failing to meet its commitments or produce satisfactory software on time. Our approach enabled the following positive shifts in the operating performance of this team:
Before Enterprise Performance Tune Up After – 4 months later
|Late delivery of software – up to several months||On-time delivery – to the day|
|Low quality software delivery – numerous bugs||delivered software had no bugs detected|
|Lost revenue and disruption of sales schedules due to late delivery||Delivery to schedule eliminated revenue impact of delays|
|Long staff hours – eighty hours a week was common – people were leaving||Retention stabilized – working week reduced to an average fifty hours and weekend work eliminated|
|Extremely dissatisfied internal customer groups||Product groups were declaring satisfaction with how they were being coordinated with|
|No reduction of the level of demand due to the involvement in the release cycles of multiple consecutive products||The group didn’t borrow time from a downstream work to meet their current commitments, and were not automatically behind on subsequent work|
As is explained in the discussion that follows, this shift was made by introducing the CTT management to the principles, and more importantly the practices, of managing commitments, capacity, managing customer satisfaction, coordinating work, and implementing their day to day management practices around this approach. The client team made this approach such a success because they were committed learners, were motivated by considerable pain, and found that the new actions addressed the issues they were facing.
The Enterprise Performance approach addresses the key issues of “what to do,” “how to do it,” “how to learn to do it,” and “how to implement what I am learning in my world” in establishing more effective result-oriented perspectives and actions in a team. The approach allows customization for a specific client and client situation from a rich discipline of management practices that have been developed, refined, and deployed in dozens of companies over the last twenty years and taught to hundreds of managers and executives. The approach centers on the frameworks, skills, and practices to: make commitments that you can fulfill, and avoid overcommitting; manage your commitments to produce customer satisfaction in the fulfillment of the commitments and during the performance to fulfill; stay in communication with customers throughout the project to maintain trust, satisfaction, and open future opportunities with the customers; coordinate the making and fulfillment of commitments with the entire team that is responsible for fulfillment, so there is ownership and teamwork; make the progress and problems of work and projects visible so that they can be better managed, and customer expectations be taken care of; and establish clear accountabilities and communication practices at the individual, as well as team, level.
Here’s some examples of key skills that the team had to develop in this project:
- Saying “no” when performance was infeasible, and address the situation rather than cover it up with an uncommitted “yes”.
- Clarifying the actual capacity of the team, and not allowing demands to exceed capacity at unsustainable levels.
- Negotiating and documenting clear commitments with the team’s customers.
- Clarifying roles, particularly around who managed the relationship with the customers, and how the team coordinated with the relationship managers.
- Establishing visibility as to the progress with key commitments.
- Establishing regular communication with the customer where progress was reported, problems anticipated, and issues resolved together.
- Clear coordination practices for the team members.
The shift was a shift the skills, behaviors, and practices of the client team. Through working sessions, clear actions and practices, and the support and feedback of skillful EP coaches the client team was able to change, adopt, and embody new skills in a matter of months. All of these practices were based on foundations of skills in action-communication and the making and managing of commitments, by all the team members.
What this project demonstrates is the importance of shifting the skills, behaviors, and practices of organizational staffs and their managers in order to shift the performance of the enterprise. The people are worked with as the responsible source of action, commitment, and outcomes, not as resistant components plugged into a new system. The system, processes, and tools then follow. The EP approach is founded in what only the people can deliver in the organization – commitment, ownership, accountability, care and commitment. When these are mobilized in clear and effective practices for coordinating action, they affect the performance of the enterprise directly.