Why “World Class” Performance Isn’t Measurable

Why “World Class” Performance Isn’t Measurable

Let’s say our organization needs to buy a fleet of vehicles and we have two procurement teams. We tell team 1 that we want quiet, blue, four-door, fuel-efficient cars. We tell team 2 that we want world-class, high-quality, great-value, high-performing cars. Then we give both teams a few weeks to find their vehicles. Guess which team will be able to produce measurable results? Team 1 will have the easier time, as it is clearer what is meant by the criteria provided. Team 2 will struggle because their criteria are too ambiguous. Without further clarifications, “world-class” could be interpreted to mean a hot rod sports car, a luxury sedan, or even a nice SUV. And if the team cannot agree on the specifically desired result, how can it measure success? This example demonstrates an important principle of good measure design. Before you can design a measure, you first must agree on what result you are trying to achieve. And not all results are created equal. Results written in abstract language are less measurable and harder to implement than those written in concrete language. Abstract language refers to concepts or vague ideals. Examples of abstract words or phrases include sustainable, innovative, reliable, leadership, quality, effective, leverage, efficient, resilient, optimized, or responsive. Strategic plans are often littered with this type of language, as we aim to deliver best practices, thought leadership or world-class performance. These “weasel words”, as they are often called, are notoriously hard to measure without first translating into concrete terms. Concrete language is sensory-specific, meaning it describes things you can see, hear, smell, taste, or feel. Because they are observable, concrete results are measurable. Team 1 will have no problem determining the percentage of cars procured that meet their specifications. Concrete results are also more memorable and easier to implement. So if you are struggling to design measures for your organization, your first step should be to clarify what result you are trying to achieve, in concrete terms. To learn more about developing concrete results or related measures, please look into one of our KPI training or certification programs or visit kpi.org.
How to Keep Lettuce Crunchy and Other Strategy Execution Lessons

How to Keep Lettuce Crunchy and Other Strategy Execution Lessons

I learned two lessons in college that I still think about – one in the kitchen and one as a strategy execution consultant. My professor claimed during a cell biology lesson that if you leave iceberg lettuce in water for about 20 minutes its cells expand as they soak up the water. He said that many chefs knew that soaking lettuce in cold water made it seem fresher and crunchier but few understood that it was because the cells were packed to the bursting point. I went home for the holidays eager to share this new lesson with my mother. This is where I learned the consulting lesson. My mother had been taught that in order to keep salad crisp, you should throw a slice of bread into the salad as you are making it and then pull the bread out just before serving. The thinking was that the bread soaked up the excess moisture that would otherwise lead to wilting. When I shared my professor’s theory with her, I assumed that we would immediately begin saving a nickel per month due to all that saved bread. Instead I was surprised to find that my mother was not about to change the way she made salad because of something her son’s biology professor said, not even after I showed her that the lettuce didn’t wilt. Strategy execution is about transformation. It is about the systematic implementation of the changes needed to move an organization forward. Unfortunately, as you try to convince people to change the way they do things, many of them react exactly like my mother did. The change management field is built around several general principles in how to manage people through change: thoroughly communicate how/why/what change is happening, look for the “what’s-in-it-for-me” for employees, communicate using two-way dialog, remove barriers to change, celebrate success, describe a “burning platform”, etc. Strategy execution specialists bring a few more key approaches to these basic doctrines. Engage Around the Big Picture. A simple business case (e.g. this initiative will help us improve process efficiency and lower operating costs) often isn’t enough. To embrace change it helps to understand how a particular initiative is aligned with the overall strategy of the organization (e.g. we want to bring low cost healthcare solutions to those suffering from an ailment. If we can improve this process, the solution could be better, more consistent, and cheaper than anyone else in the market). Employees will be far more motivated to change if they believe in the strategy. Strategy professionals typically have the skills needed to articulate and communicate that story. Make Strategy Everyone’s Job. Strategy is a team sport. Too many strategy professionals think that because they are good at it they should do all of the work themselves. But good strategy execution relies on others to implement. I can tell my mother that this is a better way or (if she were an employee) order her to follow a new process, but as long as she can dismiss the idea as an outsider’s, change will be painful. Good strategy execution professionals understand that their job is to facilitate a consensus around a shared vision rather than simply dream up a vision in a vacuum. Pick Your Battles. Strategy is about focus and strategic thinkers should be good at prioritizing. The worst thing you can do is overwhelm employees with dozens of major changes at the same time and then when things go badly decide that it’s not worth the trouble. Better is to pick the most important changes and implement them at a pace that the organization can handle. Then think through and communicate the timeline, action steps, and resource changes that will happen as the change is rolled out. Facilitate a Sense of Inevitability. The weakest client outcomes in my career happened when there was uncertainty about whether or not the senior-most executives were on board. A well-meaning strategic planning director that isn’t visibly supported by the executive team will struggle to move an organization forward even if they do everything else right. On the other hand, if the executive team has thoroughly and repeatedly communicated that this change is going to happen with or without you, the inertia of inevitability will convince people to jump on the bandwagon even if other change management mistakes are made.
Boots on the Ground: Making a Difference in Kuwait

Boots on the Ground: Making a Difference in Kuwait

Dateline: CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait. First, let me acknowledge that for some inexplicable reason, my career has repeatedly veered into Department of Defense work and this little fact is extremely amusing to those who know that my idea of “roughing it” means staying in less than a four-star hotel and, even worse, having to eat with plastic utensils and use paper napkins.  Nonetheless, I and my high heels are frequently found traipsing across military bases.

I was recently on yet another military base and had the opportunity to visit with a former Institute student – a U.S. Army Colonel.  He had deployed to Kuwait just days after attending our Balanced Scorecard Boot Camp course in 2011.  Upon arrival he found that the Army Contracting Command for which he was to be responsible was faced with tremendous challenges – from dealing with perceptions of corruption in the local supply chain to managing the extreme complexities of contracting for all of the products and services needed by the Army in such a challenging location.

This particular command needed a rapid transformation in order to achieve his vision of “being recognized by our customers as the best contracting office in the U.S. Army.”  –  a bold vision considering the challenges that he and his team were facing.

But before his tour of duty had ended, his contracting command had, indeed, received accolades and acknowledgement as being one of the best Army Contracting Commands anywhere in the world.

How did he lead his Command to achieve this vision in such a short time period?  He applied his new knowledge and developed a strategic balanced scorecard.

A few “secrets” to the success of his scorecard implementation should sound familiar to students of The Institute Way:

  • Leadership Engagement: Command & staff meetings utilized statistics on a dashboard tool to provide a snapshot status of where the organization was in accomplishing the strategic plan objectives.
  • Incorporating the “Voice of the Customer”: The team regularly conducted customer satisfaction surveys to obtain feedback in order to sustain or improve the contracting processes within the command.
  • Alignment: The command’s managers embraced the strategic scorecard and used it for employee counseling and to track personnel contributions.

Army Public Affairs subsequently featured the command’s accomplishments – to learn more:  http://www.army.mil/article/71433

To learn more about how to achieve transformational results for your organization or to read more stories of break-through success, we invite you to explore The Institute Way:  Simplify Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

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