Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Staying with Operations Excellence...

The last time we were here, I said, "The surprising thing about execution is that it is very, very simple. Any one can do it.  And that is the problem! It is very, very boring."  So how does one handle this situation? 
The first - and simplest - is when an 'activist board' takes control to decide whether the company needs an 'Operational CEO' or a "Visionary CEO" (yes, they are different people).  They then go about hiring the right kind of CEO.  The Operational guy does not get bored with the execution stuff.  S/he revels in it.  They love going to the shop floor, getting involved, meeting the people there, motivating them with coffee or beer.  They pour over reports and ask questions.  They are thinking next quarter, next product launch - and if they really need some visionary thinking, they call in McKinsey - or is it Bain? - whoever.

What if the Board decides they want a "Visionary CEO"?  Well this guy comes up with a new vision, is hopefully charismatic and manages to rally the troops around their vision.  Should the time come for execution, he hires a Chief Operations Officer.

But then a few CEOs manage to do both, i.e., the vision thing as well as getting hands dirty.  How do these people do it? 
Great companies like GE have developed a mantra for this.  They use two broad tools:
  1. Dashboards
  2. Calendars
Dashboards are standard reporting formats, typically graphic.  They tell the operations story visually and do not take a lot of pages.  They come in slides, instead.  The page layout and orientation shifts from portrait to landscape.  You see less text and more bullets, arrows, graphs, pictures and colors.  You think visually.  This brings the detail more in tune with the visionary's bias for the visual.

Dashboards are not easy though.  They take a lot of time to design.  Even more, to bring to shape.  The CEO needs to sit with her team and be able to identify the vital few metrics s/he wants to track.  They need to be few and yet comprehensive enough.  A Balanced Score Card kind of approach is very helpful here.  It then takes a smart six sigma kind of person to design the actual dashboard templates.  The scene then moves to IT to come up with a system to generate the required data and massage it to fit the template on a periodic basis. 
The good news is that this can be done. 

Calendars.  This is the "Financial Year" kind of rhythm, you find in the Finance Departments of most multinationals.  "If its September, its time for Budget Blues", "February is Performance Review month", etc.  You set up a detailed, enterprise-wide process for key functions and ensure it works like clockwork. 
The idea is to eliminate the 'clutter' of unplanned work taking over your day.  (You never succeed 100%, but you can still do a good job). 
So, there are cycles for all key processes.  The work for them starts on a particular date every year and concludes on a particular day every year - typically by way of a presentation to the CEO or to the Board.  This enables this CEO to stay on top of operational issues, while focusing all the time in-between to his vision thing.

I bet there are more.  Can't think of them right now, though!  If you can, please add here.