Achieving more value with less


As Stephen R. Covey, Bob Whitman and Breck England point out, in their one-hundred-and-ten page “Predictable results in unpredictable times”1: “in bad times, the distractions are more severe than ever… As people get laid off, the survivors have more to do.  The distractions pile up to the sky as the economy grows rougher…”

In our increasingly lean organisations, we all need to achieve ‘more with less’.  But rather than indiscriminately piling on more work with the stress and burn-out that this will entail, we need to find ways to ‘work smarter not harder’.  We can do so by focusing on what our customers value, and examining how we and our teams can deliver that value more effectively.

Covey et al’s book is a very readable synopsis of modern day thinking on how to tie a strong focus on strategy, keeping score and customer value with process improvement, engagement and empowerment of the people in our teams.  This blog picks out and discusses some of the book’s main points.

Build customer loyalty vs. customer satisfaction

We all know the importance of understanding what would satisfy our customers, but the concept of ‘customer loyalty’ takes this further.  What would it take for our customers to be emotionally connected to us, so that they would miss us if we were gone?  How far do we understand what we would need to do to achieve either customer satisfaction, or customer loyalty?

Covey et al quote a Bain survey of senior executives in 362 companies where:

  • 96% said their companies were customer focused
  • 80% believed their companies delivered a ‘superior customer experience’
  • Only 8% of their customers agreed

From my conversations with people in various organisations, there are many opportunities for companies to gain a much better understanding of what constitutes value for their customers.

Covey et al suggest that companies should look for opportunities to reduce the complexity and diversity of what they offer to their customers, and so do less than their competitors, but do it better.

Develop employee engagement, empowerment and loyalty

It’s a sad paradox that in difficult times, many of the people that get laid off are those who have the knowledge that could help the organisation out of recession.

Covey et al make a number of references to how Anne Mulcahy, CEO of Xerox in 2001, managed to turn the organisation around.  One of the key ways she did this was by making fewer people redundant than others might have done, and by appealing directly to people throughout the organisation for ideas.  It may seem obvious but, as the authors point out, “only knowledgeable people can create the solutions you need to succeed in a crisis.”

These 2 other extracts from the book are also I think particularly pertinent:

“Even in tough times (perhaps especially in tough times) people want to contribute, they want to help, they want to make a difference.”

and

“When a company aligns the customer experience with the employee experience, they create employees who are passionate about what the company stands for.”

These thoughts remind me of the points Stephen R Covey makes here and in his book “The 8th Habit”2, which I’ve written about elsewhere3 about how much more effective we can be in our work if we find our ‘voice’, and also in my commentary4 on Goffee and Jones’ book “Clever”5 about the need to clearly and regularly communicate the organisation’s vision and goals to your  ‘knowledge workers’.

Push the ‘reset’ button to align around goals and continuously improve your work

Covey et al close the loop on ‘doing more with less’ by having organisations realign what they do around the priorities set by customer value and employees ideas to address them.

The priorities are in effect the organisation’s one, two or three ‘wildly important goals’.  Effective team leaders will ensure that everyone understands what they need to do in relation to these, and also that there are good measures in place to monitor performance against these measures.

Covey et al differentiate between ‘lag’ measures and ‘lead’ measures. Lag measures are typically the KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) or output measures that organisations use to demonstrate to what extent they have achieved their goals.

Lead measures are more effective indicators of anticipated performance because they are based on ‘in-process’ performance.  Teams should be able to regularly review how they are doing against these lead measures, and share knowledge and lessons learnt to continuously improve their performance and so achieve the final goals more effectively.

Closing thoughts

Large sections of Covey et al’s book are devoted to the importance of execution and trust.  To me these are enablers of the 3 main themes I’ve pulled out above.

Effective execution relies on focusing on a few key goals, making sure everyone knows what they are, keeping score, and ensuring that the team reviews and improves performance.

Trust is the trust between leaders and their teams in ensuring that there is transparency around the goals and where the organisation is in relation to them, keeping commitments (on the leaders’ part), and extending trust to the team.

But trust is also about having trustworthy systems and processes such that, as for the Formula One pit crew: each knows their job: “Silently they do it, and they get out of the way.”  Great Ormond Street Hospital, London studied the Formula One team’s approach to improve the serious issues they were facing and, as a result of this, “introduced a system that defines carefully who does what, and in what order.  Every action is focused and productive; everyone has a contribution to make.”

In all of this thinking, there are strong analogies with Stephen Spear’s 4 main steps in “Chasing the Rabbit”6, which I also describe in one of my blogs7: design (or define customer value, processes and roles to achieve them), improve and share knowledge (involving everyone in these), build capabilities (through the interaction between leaders and their teams).

I’ll close with this quote in the book, which I particularly like:

“Focus on your customers and lead your people as though their lives depended on your success” Warren Buffett

Notes

1. “Predictable results in unpredictable times”, by Stephen R. Covey, Bob Whitman and Breck England. FranklinCovey Publishing, 2009.

2. “The 8th Habit. From effectiveness to greatness”, by Stephen R. Covey. Simon & Schuster Sound Ideas,1980.

3. Empowerment and self-employment; (A consultant’s) life is like a game of rummy; Aptitude, Attitude, Plenitude and Servitude.; Social networking tools, empowerment and knowledge management; Project leaders empower, project managers organise; Powerful quotes for strong performing teams… – see https://elisabethgoodman.wordpress.com”

4. Why conventional knowledge management, process improvement and project management won’t work with ‘clever’ teams.  Or will they? http://wp.me/pAUbH-1n

5. “Clever. Leading your smartest, most creative people.” By Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones, Harvard Business Press, 2009

6. “Chasing the Rabbit. How market leaders outdistance the competition and how great companies can catch up and win”, by Steven Spear. McGraw Hill 2009.

7. High performing organisations – interweaving process improvement, knowledge management and change management http://wp.me/pAUbH-1V

8. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement, knowledge and change management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.

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