Written by Matt Arnold
Business issues can often feel either complicated or complex – and sometimes both. And yet I regularly see senior management trying to find a simple solution. If only life were that easy!
I’m frequently asked to help diagnose serious business situations spanning 100s of employees doing their job, together with their team leaders, managers and directors.
What I’ve learned over the last decade, is that the individual problems I see are all quite simple – but that there are very many of them, and they all interact. They form a large ‘dynamic’, where everything impacts everything else. It is this that leads to the often-overwhelming sense of scale and complexity.
So what’s the solution?
If the problem is a large collection of small/simple issues all working against you, then the solution is a collection of fixes, interactions or changes, that must happen together, and work together, to bring about a complete turnaround.
My most recent assignment, a logistics organisation with over approximately 350 employees, had such a business issue. They were a leading player in their field, and doing a good job for their customer. But the senior management understood that being good was not good enough – they needed to be excellent. The service to their customers needed to be second-to-none, which would lead to winning more business, continued growth, and margin improvements.
Our diagnosis found over 100 specific improvements that could be made to the overall process. But fixing these alone would not be the answer. The whole management system needed fixing too, including:
- Designing a process flow that worked the way they wanted it, moving away from the one that had ‘evolved’
- Creating a robust feedback loop – from the experts at the ‘sharp end’ to the management team, and back again
- Project managing a Top 40 list of fixes and improvements
- Ensuring the management team spent time at the ‘sharp end’ so they could see the work for themselves
- Learning to experiment with different ways of working before a full roll-out
- Converting vast amounts of data about the current state, and converting that to real information about what, where and how to make real change
- Developing a new management method that encouraged continuous improvement and made it normal.
It’s the way that the two systems worked together that proved to be the key – to ensure the management team understood the detail, but could climb back out and lead too.
As a Deming fan, a good leader should be able to display a clear and accurate picture of their business as a process. But they also need to understand people and their behaviours in that process to be able to maximise its performance.
Socio Technical Thinking.