Second of two parts
Editor's note: In the first part of this article, published May 12 in Tire Business, Mr. Elash addressed how to get a business running at peak performance by adopting a ``combat readiness'' attitude, much like the U.S. military, orchestras or champion athletic teams do in preparation for tasks at hand. Among those lessons were unifying a work force, clarifying a company's mission and instilling a sense of pride in a work force.
As you prepare your troops-your work force-to execute your company's business plan, let's recap a few points I presented in my last article.
Before people who work together each day in your company can truly dedicate themselves to your mission, they need a deep understanding of what your business is all about. That means not just its goals, but its priorities and requirements. Have you expressed to them a clear business mission that embodies your purpose? Have you ensured that your business story is told throughout the organization?
When soldiers must act under fire, they need to understand what's expected of them. So, too, your work force has to anticipate how teammates will be acting to fulfill their parts of your company's mission. And when people understand how they can best add value, they can act to address breakdowns and glitches.
Here is how you can begin to address these issues:
* Facilitate conversations among your people across the organization so that they clearly understand each other's responsibilities and how all their roles fit together to support your business' purpose and promises.
* Establish and support a performance feedback process that sustains ongoing conversations about how the key components across your business are working together.
* Establish an after-action review process that focuses people on evaluating the impact of their efforts in relation to their goals within the mission.
Are your people getting better every day? Do they search out feedback? Are they open to new ideas?
Soldiers spend a large portion of their time training, practicing and rehearsing. To prepare to compete successfully, troops continuously push themselves to get better, constantly working to improve their skills and capabilities. When they are in battle and could be distracted easily by emotions and pressures, their training kicks in and gives them a framework for doing their jobs well.
How do you ensure that your people are focused on continuously improving themselves? In the midst of the action, do they rise above obstacles, exceed expectations and succeed? Or do they fall back into old habits, make excuses or wait for someone else to recognize that they are stuck and tell them what to do?
Here are some actions that support a culture of learning:
* Recognize that mistakes are always opportunities to learn.
* Make learning a core value. It shouldn't happen occasionally, off-site. It has to be pursued everyday and in everything that happens. Everyone should be expected to both teach and learn.
* Build competence and harness the potential of the team by using hands-on learning, ongoing mentoring conversations and, when practical, an involvement of the whole team in generating solutions.
* Use the daily work activity as a practice field to develop additional skills, deepen contextual understandings and make people more sensitive to the signs of problems in the making.
Establish a battle plan
Does your business plan fit your resources? To be successful, does it depend on everything falling just right or rely more on your optimism than your peoples' capabilities? Do your people know how to adjust to the unexpected, and how to partner with each other to create success?
Generals have learned the hard way that creating a battle plan today that fights yesterday's war is a recipe for disaster. Establish a battle plan framed to address your current realities.
Ensure that your people can execute it within their available skills, experience and resources. Tailor and communicate the battle plan for your business in a way that enables people to anticipate the demands of a changing business environment. The plan should guide rather than restrain your workers and enable flexibility and collaboration among them.
When they understand the assumptions that underlie the plan, the workings of the plan itself and when they have the confidence to work within the plan, you have a work force with a powerful focus.
Too often a company's battle plan is little more than a fancy, wordy operating plan for the coming year. The emphasis is on everyone hitting his or her numbers on a monthly basis. As the year unfolds and unanticipated events disrupt the plan, the strategies and tactics outlined in the document become irrelevant. The overall focus of the organization becomes fragmented, and potential is wasted.
To combat those pitfalls, your workers must have the skills to pursue their objectives within the business' battle plan rather than abandoning it under pressure. Here's how you get started:
* Involve a broad cross-section of your work force in an effort to think through various ``what if'' scenarios that could develop and upset the plan.
* Have the same team identify signs in the environment that would presage the emergence of each of these scenarios.
* Have your work force develop plans to respond constructively to whichever of these scenarios might emerge, so you're not caught flat-footed.
* Build a work force that knows how to create opportunities within the plan rather than operating on autopilot until problems arise that derail their efforts.
*Analyze performance shortfalls with an eye to applying the right remedies to either get back on track or modify the plan-whichever is in the best interest of the enterprise.
As you assess your company, ask yourself if vital business information flows as surely, quickly and easily as gossip among your people. Do you tend to shoot the messenger bearing bad news? Is accuracy prized?
When troops are in the field, the availability of accurate information can make all the difference to the success of the mission. In the business environment, the company will run better, adapt more quickly and think more effectively if its lines of communication stay open.
Information is the lifeblood of adaptive organizations. Ensuring that the right information gets to the right people at the right time is critical for peak performance.
On the other hand, inaccurate information or self-serving interpretations of events sap an organization's competitive potential. How people interpret what they are told-or what they see-is often colored by their personal agendas and their unique perspectives. Their hopes, fears and ambitions can impart a bias that often can cause confusion.
Successful companies instill a discipline around how information is captured, interpreted and disseminated. Here are some ways to do it:
* Tighten meetings-work from an agenda, keep them focused and follow up on action items.
* Make it safe for people to speak the truth.
* Make solving problems more important than assigning blame.
* Encourage conversations between internal consumers and suppliers.
* Support an ethic that puts accurate information into the hands of people who are executing the plan.
Are your people able to learn and improve through accurate self-reflection? Can your company, as a whole, think about its performance with the maturity that allows improvement?
The military places great emphasis on teaching soldiers to draw lessons learned in the field in order to enhance effectiveness in future operations.
When companies have the ability to step back and watch themselves in action-seeing themselves through the eyes of customers, suppliers, allies and even competitors-they can modify their actions for greater competitive advantage.
Unless it perceives itself accurately, the company is not ready to use the consequences of its actions as a source of constructive feedback and to harness its true potential.
The following steps must be practiced continuously if a group is going to become proficient at self-analysis:
* Establish a robust system of after-action reviews throughout the organization.
* Establish an expectation of accurate, honest feedback across the boundaries within the company.
* Enact a disciplined approach to diagnosing problems.
* Keep the focus upon closing the gap between today's performance and tomorrow's goals.
Learn from the military's experience regarding combat readiness. Preparation sets the stage for peak performance, focuses your efforts and creates competitive advantage.
It isn't enough to have a good idea or a good product. To be a winner you need to be the best prepared among your competition.
Preparedness is an ongoing process-and leaders who ensure readiness both create potential and put it to work.
Mr. Elash is the principal of Syntient, a Pittsburgh-based strategic consulting firm that also has offices in Charlottesville, Va., and Dallas. He specializes in helping companies realize their potential on the leadership level or as a total company. His company's Web site is www.syntient.com. He can be contacted via e-mail at: [email protected]