As I read today’s CNN headline, “Obama Signs Healthcare ‘Fixes’ Bill,” I’m struck at just how backward politicians of every stripe are compared to what’s becoming standard fare in the high performance business world.
In the high performance world, something that needs to be fixed after you’ve made it is called a defect. Defects represent a form of waste. They represent waste because defects have to be either scrapped or re-worked. Scrapping something represents money down the drain. Re-working it adds unnecessary costs.
In the high performance world, when you produce defects you understand that as long as the systems remain the same you’ll reliably keep building defects. So in order to stop building defects, high performance organizations change their systems and processes so they won’t produce more defects. They try to get the right results the first time.
But in the political world, when you produce defects you first try to find someone to blame for creating the defects. It’s especially convenient to blame the other party. That’s in part because politicians are often less concerned with the results as they are with the process–especially the process of getting re-elected. (That’s why Kennedy and Deal in their book Corporate Cultures referred to bureaucracy as a process culture out of control.) “Just work the process; we’ll fix the problems we created later,” they say.
That’s foreign thinking to high performance organizations who understand that customers won’t pay for those fixes and that everyone needs to accept personal accountability for continuous improvement.
It’s hard to think like this unless you have a high level of emotional intelligence and maturity. Given the spectacle we’ve seen in Washington lately, this may be the primary reason politicians can’t seem to learn from high performers.
I found this current Harvard Business Review article entitled, “Are You Ready to Rebound” instructive. It focuses on identifying new opportunities to improve business execution through:
- Strong operational hydraulics
- Rewards for performance, not mediocrity
- Core values with teeth
- The right conversations
- Adventurous leaders in key positions
- Constant pressure versus heroic efforts
It uses a straightforward and useful checklist of questions you can ask yourself.
I just returned from the West Coast where I conceived and delivered a new crash course workshop on change management.
It started with a call from Jose, a business leader in Southern California who’d learned of our work integrating the cultural and technical aspects of lean transformations. He wanted help launching lean six sigma with his leadership team and employees. Last week was my only available four day window–day out, day back, two days at the client site.
Jose loaded me up with emails covering every conceivable aspect of his company. Everything I needed to get up the learning curve on the long ride out.
I used day one to get to know the leaders, conduct a few focus groups with employees and tour the operation. That plus the advance reading gave me what I needed to understand the climate and culture, performance opportunities and likely barriers to achieving them.
For the next two days we plowed through change management fundamentals and then the advanced course: defining the future condition; identifying the requisite leadership roles and expectations; creating a plan to eliminate root causes of performance problems related to on-time delivery, quality and operating income; building the framework of a continuous improvement process; and prioritizing what work needs to stay on the plate and what must go.
All in two days!
It worked because the leadership team was business-savvy, enthusiastic, used to doing hard work fast and, of course, (here comes the self-serving part) the content was exceptional.
The team has plenty to work on. We’ll check in at regular intervals for what Jose referred to as “sanity checks.”
Good work, happy client, nice ride home.