By Robert Hackman | 4C Consulting June 22, 2018
“We don’t want visibility,” a longtime manager said. The process to which he was referring made servicing customers more difficult and less dependable, instead of making it easier and more reliable. He was responding to hearing one of the benefits to be gained through a change to one of their existing systems.
Rather than improving the ability to navigate a highly demanding and dynamic environment, the existing system reduced these capacities. The process increased the demand to react to problems in the moment and diminished the ability to plan and respond to them ahead of time. As a result, similar dramas between sales and operations were repeated daily.
Have you ever experienced this? Has something like this ever occurred in your organization? A process is obviously not functioning effectively and yet management does not acknowledge that any issues exist. The frustrations experienced are accepted as necessary and therefore no alternative solutions are entertained. The system is in management’s blind spot.
What prevents beneficial change?
What keeps process flaws from being recognized and eliminated? Frequently the answer is “success,” despite and not because of an existing system.
The company was one of the most successful within the markets it served. Its overall success blinded their managers from seeing specific problem areas that needed to be fixed, thereby enabling them to be ignored.
Absent success, leaders and managers typically remain open to alternatives out of necessity.
What Would Our Successors Do?
The key question to ask in these situations is “What would our successors do?” In other words, how would an incoming leader respond? Andy Grove, then President of Intel, famously posed this question with the CEO as they were trying to decide whether the company should exit the memory business – the very business on which the company had been founded.
The successor question provides the required cognitive and psychological distance to challenge existing strategies and methodologies to determine their usefulness and relevancy. It increases clarity in decision making.
A sure sign something needs to be changed or improved is that problems, generating disruption and impairing the ability to achieve desired outcomes, are encountered on a regular basis.
Workarounds are a resulting symptom created to complete work in the absence of effective systems. These workarounds mistakenly become considered part of a designed work process and not a bolt on to correct a broken one. The most broken systems require multiple workarounds.
Sometimes processes are faulty from the beginning. However, more frequently the original processes made sense at the time they were created but have outgrown their usefulness.
If leaders were replaced today, how would the incoming people design their systems? Too often leaders fail to ask these questions. If they were acquiring or creating a company the size and complexity to which theirs has grown, they would have never implement some of their current processes.
Implications from not changing or eliminating outdated systems and processes range from:
1. Lost productivity.
2. Decreased reliability.
3. Diminished engagement/associate turnover.
4. Lost business/slower growth.
5. Reduced profitability and more.
The opposite of what is desired.
Therefor Company Leaders should:
1. Commit to adopting a simple and reliable criterion for change – “When something is significantly different from how it would be if they were setting it up today, then it needs to be changed.”
2. Regularly review their processes, people, and structures to determine how well they work and the degree to which they remain aligned with their core strategies and values.
In Grove’s case it was a pivotal strategic decision point for the company. However, this same question can and should be used by leaders and managers as a lens through which to examine all aspects of how they run their businesses, particularly those that impact customers. Which ultimately impact revenue growth and profitability.
Successes combined with organizational habits create blind spots. Keen observation, a commitment to asking good questions, and a relentless commitment to problem solving helps eliminate them.
In many cases, getting help from outside a company is critical to improving leadership’s perspective, enabling leaders to recognize opportunities as well as diagnose problems and implement solutions. This can be achieved by engaging advisors, hiring outside talent – or a combination of both.
The best organizations commit to responding to a Simple Criterion for Change – When something is significantly different than it would be if it were being set up today, then it must be changed. Especially when it impacts customers.0
Robert Hackman is the Founder and Principal of 4C Consulting, a Consulting and Executive Coaching business centered around helping companies, their leaders and associates grow and flourish, so that they can live the lives they want and leave the legacies they intend. He can be reached via the 4C Consulting Website www.4cconsulting.net, email firstname.lastname@example.org and text or voice at 484.800.2203.