MESSAGE FROM THE AUTHORS
this article we continue our discussion of the building blocks
for vital organizations.
month's issue covered 1, 2, and 3, which were Know
What Makes the Business Tick, Know the Performance Indicators
and Rewards, and Delineate Roles and Responsibilities.
always, your feedback and comments on this newsletter are
welcome at email@example.com.
Building Blocks for a Vital Organization, Part II
Understand How Business is Done
In the vital organization, employees truly understand
how the company does business. If yours is an insurance company,
does everyone in the organization understand what happens
when someone calls up and says “I want to buy insurance?”
would it be more accurate to say that there are silos of knowledge
in your company, and someone in one department might not really
have any idea how work gets done elsewhere – how their
own personal cog fits onto the wheel?
Just about the neatest technique we’ve seen used to
support this building block is a “day in the life”
program, where people from various parts of the company are
tapped to spend a full day with a particular customer, learning
about that customer’s business and its needs from their
“Word spreads; an entire department, sometimes an
entire company, gains insights simply by sending a representative
into “new” territory for eight hours.”
similar, technique is to have people “spend a day in
the life of your product, or service.” At one manufacturing
company we know of, employees from different departments are
regularly rotated through a “day on the assembly line.”
They literally follow the path the product takes as it is
assembled and readied for shipping.
iteration of this technique? The shadow program, where employees
– again at a variety of levels – are tapped to
spend a day with a manager from a different function.
value of these programs is that the benefit extends quickly
beyond the person or people who participate directly. Word
spreads; an entire department, sometimes an entire company,
gains insights simply by sending a representative into “new”
territory for eight hours.
HBR articles come to mind: Staple
Yourself to an Order (Benson P. Shapiro, V. Kasturi Rangan,
and John J. Sviokla, July 1992) and Spend
a Day in the Life of Your Customers (Francis J. Guillart,
Frederick D. Sturdivant, January 1994). Worth a read.
You can't always predict them, but you can have a policy for
dealing with “exceptions.” Most people know what
to do under “normal” circumstances. But many organizations
get stumped when faced with a situation that is even slightly
out of the ordinary.
happens, for instance, when a product that has never been
customized needs to be customized for an important customer?
Is there a chain of command in place to make the requisite
decisions? Or will the request flounder for weeks, bouncing
back and forth from manager to manager while the customer
waxes angry and employees become uneasy?
“If something unusual crops up, the person it touches
first must say 'OK, this is an exception; let’s
not try to do this our normal way.'”
one publishing company we know of, which has a very neat way
of handling proposals from would-be authors – at least
those that are either very good or very bad. Proposals that
are clearly “on target” are immediately accepted,
and proposals that clearly “won’t work”
are immediately rejected.
the review process doesn’t take into consideration those
proposals that might be “almost right” -- the
ones that don’t quite fit, but that have potential.
Those neither-here-nor-there documents bounce from desk to
desk, sometimes for months. And as time passes, anyone whose
desk they bounce onto is increasingly reluctant to take any
action. The extra effort to bring about closure – the
trying to figure out what should be done and by whom –
is increasingly distasteful because it gets in the way of
the otherwise smooth accept-or-reject policy. Meanwhile, irritation
builds on the outside.
One way to begin to create and sustain this building block
is to demand that your troops “name it and claim it.”
If something unusual crops up, the person it touches first
must say “OK, this is an exception; let’s not
try to do this our ‘normal’ way” and go
from there. Another idea is to devote a cadre of experts to
“exceptions” – special deals, quirky programs.
These people are employed specifically to deal with things
that are out of the norm.
the math for your own company. What is the value (or the cost)
of the typical “exception?” The customized product
for an important client? The accelerated delivery of a product?
How much time (and money) are you losing while your “exceptions”
remain unresolved? You might be better off dedicating an individual,
or a small group, to the job.
tuned for our September issue, when we discuss building block
6, Resolve Conflicts.
If you have something to say about organizational vitality
let us know.
forward this newsletter to your colleagues and friends who
are interested in organizational and leadership issues. Your
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