A Book Report – One Man’s Opinion of the Six Step Process

The following is a “book report” I received from an individual with whom I will soon be meeting to provide advice on the Road to Excellence.  I am publishing this with his permission but without attribution because to do so would drive his general counsel nuts.  Suffice it to say that he is a senior executive in an organization that aspires to a higher level of excellence.

When recommending or providing a copy of my book, I have always asked for a book report to convey my hope that the recipient would actually read it. I do so also as a test.  Over the years, I have noted a strong correlation between those who read it and character.  I have also noted that those who do not read it – “too busy,” “haven’t gotten to it,” “the world has changed since you wrote it” etc. either lack intellectual curiosity – hardly an admiral leadership trait, or ultimately lack key character traits.  I suspect that such individuals don’t read the book because they know they are not going to like what they read. So why waste time reading my book?

Individuals who lack character don’t care whether people are led or not because they are self focused.  This book was not written for them. It was written for people like the author of this report who seek change, but need a bit of help in seeing the road. That makes the experience for me rewarding. It was just as in teaching. There were always a few really bright lights who “got it.” At the other end of the spectrum were those who fought or ignored it — not because they did not agree with it, but because they knew they would never have the confidence of their people to lead them through it.

So, I offer this to you as an unbiased example of what an astute man of character and intelligence infers from the lessons of my well intentioned book.  Read it for what it is worth and act accordingly.

Everybody Wants to Get To Heaven

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Everybody Wants To Go To Heaven – 6 Steps to Organizational Excellence.

 

 

Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven
Six Steps to Organizational Excellence

(Book report as provided by its author)

 

The six step “system” is quite simple and we can find examples of each step occurring around us in business every day.  The true value in this book is recognizing that each step is interrelated and, when practiced in a thoughtful, coordinated, and purposeful manner; these steps will lead to organizational excellence.  So, while the steps are numbered 1 through 6, I purposefully refer to these steps as a system and not a process to protect against thinking this is a cookie cutter, linear recipe.

Steps 1 – 3 are the foundation of the system (Master Change, Build a Values Based Community, and Lead More Effectively).  They are extremely interrelated.  The beauty is when put in practice, buy-in is simplified.  In fact, buy-in should be confirmed by “calling the question… in or out?”  In the simplest form, the leader stimulates the need for change by setting a vision of “being the best”.  Are we the best today?  Do we want to be the best?  Are we willing to do whatever it takes to get there?  One would expect “no”, “yes”, and “yes” as the answer to these questions.  The bait is in the water and the organization has likely accepted the vision based upon a positive motivator, Pride.  Then, the leader turns to values as the foundation for running the business.  While the author uses Integrity, Respect, Teamwork, and Responsibility; our SPIRIT values fit perfectly.  Anyone opposed to relying on these values to run our business?  The answer will be a resounding no and the hook is in sight.  Next, gain concurrence around principle based problem solving and participative decision making.  Opposition to these are also unlikely, all that is needed now is to set the hook.  Finally, each person can be asked, “are you in or out in running our business in this manner”.  Most people when called to the plate will opt in.

There are two very important points that must be reinforced here.  First, individuals don’t have the “right” to be in our business.  Our business should be viewed as a special community where it is a privilege to be a part of it.  Therefore, when accepting membership one is essentially agreeing to live by the norms of the organization first.  Second, since our community is special, it is incumbent upon the community to police itself and hold all accountable to upholding the principles and standards established.

A critical point in my mind on steps 1 – 3 and ultimately “calling the question” is consistently practicing and reinforcing the “common sense” attributes associated with mastering change, building a values-based community, and leading effectively.  “Calling the question” essentially is like a military officer taking the oath of office “to support and defend the constitution of the United States…”  Once taken, they have agreed to be held to certain standards of conduct.  In my experience, leadership’s failure to uphold the standards (or more importantly, live up to these standards themselves) is the most prevalent cause of organizational stagnation.  While “buy in” is essentially a given using this method, it is predicated upon some pretty lofty assumptions; a true quest for excellence, an organization committed to operating based upon core values, and leadership that practices principle based problem solving and participative decision making.  As the organization sees these compromised, it is like a breach of contract.  Why should their “buy-in” be honored if in fact the basis for their “buy-in” is frequently violated.  Successful change and the pursuit of organizational excellence must begin and end with these foundational building blocks.

Once this foundation is in place, the proving ground for how stable the foundation is can be evaluated in Step 4, Creating a Strategic plan.  Each organization is different and therefore the essential elements of an effective strategic plan will vary wildly.  This books touches on many of the common fundamentals.  What hit me is the need to constantly cycle through or draw from steps 1 – 3 in order to create a successful plan.  No real surprises; set a vision for “what” we are trying to create and then establish those actions needed to achieve it.  The “what” takes us back to step 1.  The “how” requires step 2 & 3.

Executing the plan, step 5, was a major surprise for me.  I have always thought about execution as tactical; identify the task, ensure the skills exist to complete the task, schedule the task, and take the action.  In this book, executing the plan is addressed from a more strategic or fundamental perspective.  It links execution back to very controllable choices and value drivers; people, leadership, and customers.

“People” as a value driver is rational.  I’ve never been in an organization where the phrase “our people are our greatest asset” hasn’t been used.  This book creates a call to action to truly evaluate how well we do at unleashing the potential of our people in its discussion around training and challenges whether or not we have the courage to make the hard choices relative to people in the discussions around hiring and evaluating talent.  Looking at my “tactical” list above causes me to reflect on some recent difficulties relative to execution.  Our people are the ones being asked to do these tactical steps; yet if we haven’t hired the best, trained them, supported them with the proper process and technology, it should not be a surprise why execution is a hit and miss.

The section on customer is also exceptionally insightful and somewhat of a vindication on our decision to segment our customer base as we did heading into 2012.  The linkage between people, process, and customer is very important.  There also is a linkage to steps 1 – 3.  If we are going to strive to be the best in our industry; doesn’t it follow we should be selective on what customers we will service?  If we choose to service a customer that doesn’t share our values, are we not diminishing the foundation of trust required to fuel our quest for excellence and telling our people “compromising values” is OK?  If we are unable to execute principle based problem solving and participative decision making, have we not eroded the essence of leadership?

Execution is the behavioral manifestation of change.  Assuming we’ve created a sound strategic plan, execution is also the means to achieve our desired end state of “being the best”.  When we identify new process and challenge the status quo, then and only then will we be able to assess where we are at in the change process.  We must constantly measure what we want to achieve and respond to the resistance to change we see in our people.  Mastering this activity (step 1) will be a function of adherence to values (step 2) and effective leadership (step 3).

Step 6, Achieving Continuous Improvement, completes the system.  This isn’t the implementation of Six Sigma, Lean, or any other TQM approach.  Rather, this is the embodiment of steps 1 – 5 in a continuous nature as the very fabric of the organization has changed.  It is the step that recognizes our markets are dynamic and when we achieved the summit, we best be ready to climb a new mountain or we will soon be picked off by competition that is executing their own system to achieve excellence.  We must constantly evolve or be ready to die.

Summary of the 6 Steps

Step 1 – Master Change… Change would be easy if not for people.  People have a natural reaction to change and managing (or leading) while behaviors are “skewed” due to the reactions is key.  Understanding what motivates and understanding the underlying driver to the reaction is critical.  Basic human needs of Fear, Greed, and Pride are primary motivators; in the business setting Pride (or seeking First Choice) is generally the preferred method to motivate and hence create “the need for change” in associates.  The human change cycle is comprised of denial, fear, anger, resignation, and ultimately triumph or acceptance.  Understand where your “A” players are in the cycle and get them through it; let them be your prophets and pull the rest along.  To truly master change, remember to measure what you expect and establish accountabilities.  These go a long way towards bringing an organization through the valley of death (reaction to human change cycle).

Step 2 – Build a Values-Based Community… Values can be used as a true north; that which all rational people will agree to.  Relying on values to run an organization creates a sense of trust as decisions are evaluated against the agreed to moral compass.  Trust is essential to change (as many of the other core values are as well).

Step 3 – Lead More Effectively… Nobody will change without somebody leading the way.  The key to change starts with leadership.  Much has been said about leadership and many hold the belief leadership is an innate trait.  While charisma, an often cited attribute of a leader, may be innate; leadership itself can be developed.  Character is the foundation for leadership, and an organization that helps nurture character is one that can spawn leaders (or at least one where leaders can thrive).  The notions of principle based problem solving and participative decision making are central to leading more effectively.

Step 4 – Create a Strategic Plan… This is both what and how to achieve the goal of being the best (first choice).  The vision describes “what” and the strategy describes “how”.  It is essential for the organization to see the linkage between the two.  Our first choice success pyramid is a good example and a great start.  Adding meat to the bones and further clarifying specifics is the leader’s job.  A roadmap is the journey from current state to future state.  An honest assessment of the current state is needed (SWOT).  The organization must be built to execute against the plan… A, B, and Cs must be identified and appropriately handled and resources empowered to execute.  Alignment of individual and organizational goals is critical.  A strategic plan will be most effective with true “value drivers” are identified.  Once done, it is important to align business processes (policies, practices, and procedures) to enhance or stimulate the value drivers.  The more closely related the business process is to a value driver, the more important it becomes.

Step 5 – Execute Your Plan… The key to execution lies in the alignment of business processes with value drivers.  Redesigning process for effectiveness and efficiency is likely going to be necessary.  People and their leadership are one of the most fundamental value drivers of any firm.  Hiring the best, providing superior, relevant training (delivered by the best, in a professional manner with the appropriate tone), properly evaluating and promoting associates, supporting them with the best technology, and ensuring the processes they are executing are streamlined and simplified is an unleashing play relative to people.  Step three, leadership, is so critical to execution as the leaders must be fully engaged in execution particularly when it comes to the “people” value driver.  The next “universal” value driver is customers.  The key to execution is ensuring an organization has selected the best customers as it is unlikely to become “excellent”, “the best”, or “first choice” if the customer base isn’t world class.  Eliminating “the worst” customers from a book of business is an important first step.  Redirecting attention (and activity that is of most value) to the best customers enables execution.  Finally, companies must have a defined approach to acquiring new customers.  Again, all customers are not equal, therefore new customers must look like the “best” customers.

Step 6 – Achieve Continuous Improvement… This step is described as one that is “off in the future”.  An organization has to achieve success and have conquered the vast majority of the primary change efforts (i.e. have become “the best”) before thinking about sustaining this position.  In fact, in this context, achieving continuous improvement is nothing more that constantly repeating the five steps above to stay ahead of the competition.  This step represents achieving a fundamental change in the organizations DNA.

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