Getting The Breakthrough to
World Class Performance

by Paul J. O'Neill

Do it Yourself: A Message for the CEO

The consulting industry, according to the CEO of one of its leading players, is endeavouring to re-invent itself. No longer content merely to write reports for some director or manager to blindly follow, it now wants to get its hands on your business. To re-organise, slash, cut and paste and otherwise change bits of your company, while the CEO and fellow directors stand by and hope the result does not destroy the business altogether. Many CEOs I hope, will be aghast at the prospect. Sensible, hands on, and enthusiastic CEOs will want to retain the pleasure of changing and improving their company for themselves. They may require assistance in the form of knowledge on the latest thinking, methodologies, tools and information technology, but learning how to manage a company better is part of the responsibility and fun - yes fun - of running a company. No CEO can know everything, so bringing in outside assistance for the sole purpose of acquiring knowledge, is both sensible and honourable. But to hand over the action and responsibility of change to outsiders is tantamount to an admission of defeat. My message to any CEO is this: you and your executive management team can significantly improve your company's performance, given alternative paradigms and new information, together with your experience and knowledge of the business.

It's a Personal Thing

What is this new information? Well it is as simple as thinking out of the box followed up by a guaranteed change process. Too often a company tries to implement a superb methodology only to fail in the execution of that implementation. Read my words. It is not difficult. New knowledge can be quickly injected into a company and effectively utilised providing there is power behind the determination to be world class, and this means the personal involvement of the CEO.

The story goes that Jack Welch was informed of Six Sigma while playing golf with a fellow CEO. He then proceeded to drive it into GE himself. That personal involvement gave him great satisfaction, and earned him a great deal of respect. Much of it from Wall Street. Personal involvement is the key to getting a kick from your business whether it is a million dollar operation, or a two hundred billion dollar one.

I suppose it is all a matter of perspective. Of how a CEO sees him or herself. A detached, distant, inward looking figurehead, far removed from the realities of daily problems, relating only to directors, shareholders, bankers and the trappings of wealth and status. Or, a hands on, involved outward looking leader of men and women whose purpose is to deliver excellence to the customer. A leader for whom reward for the creation of value is not just wealth, but professional respect from the world's business community, and a great sense of personal achievement. To be in business not just to make money, but to use money as a measure of the difference made on the world and on peoples' lives. Today, business is a demanding intellectual exercise requiring a highly tuned perspective on the economic, technical, and sociological realities. The potential to make vast improvements through new technologies to the quality of life is enormous. There has never been a better time, and CEOs have never had it so good. Why? Because there is a world wide clamour for change. People of most Nation States have higher expectations than ever before and are demanding a better world, and you have such people in your organisation. Providing your perspective is conducive to good, beneficial change, they are all on your side. It is merely a question of tapping into this willing reservoir of knowledge, and meeting the challenge with applied intelligence.

Go for Gold

Information and knowledge is of little use in the drive for success without intelligent appraisal and application, and this is not only the prerogative of management. Unless every individual is encouraged, by various means, to stretch their personal abilities and goals by meeting tougher and tougher challenges, the company will slip in that international league of companies that vie for the same business. Set noble goals, and set them high. Not only are they achievable, given the will and determination, but wealth will be generated for all who desire it. Limit the goals to simply increasing profit, and the profit generated will disappoint because the fundamentals - value and integrity - will have been ignored.

Your people want to help. They want to be associated with the business. They want to be consulted because their knowledge and experience is respected by executive management. They want to be valued and given the opportunity to achieve personal goals, and to provide their families with a better life, insulated from poverty, debt, the stress of unemployment and to look forward to a financially secure retirement. What hacks them off is the converse of each of the above sentences in this paragraph. They have to go to work every day because they need the money. Life is humrum. They live for the ball game on Saturday but do they care about your customers during the week? They dream of winning the national lottery instead of creating their own value and wealth. This is not a winning attitude. Strike a deal with them. Show them how the company can benefit them as well as how they can benefit the company. What's in it for them? Why should they pull their finger out? Simply because you tell them to? Sorry. Not good enough. Treat them like hired hands and you may if you are lucky get them to work at 70 - 80% effectiveness. Change their relationship with the company. Tell them you expect 110% and then show them how, and also how they will benefit, and then measure the difference, particularly to your bottom line. If you think this is the soft option, you could not be more wrong. There is a hard and ruthless edge to this approach, but it is also fair and realistic. Further, capable, competent, and willing people, with a good attitude, will respond positively and make it work both for themselves and for the company.

Force the Issue, No Weak Links

If my approach so far has you worried. Read on. I am on your side.

Companies do not exist to employ people. They exist to produce wealth. There must be no idle or ineffective assets in your organisation. Human or otherwise. Each asset must leverage ROI. The degree of leverage is dependent on managerial skill and the intelligent use of all assets by everyone in the company. Achieving the maximum possible depends upon unceasing vigilance and application, and the vital principle of continuous improvement. However, continuous improvement requires maximum effort by all, and effort has to be measured and continuously assessed. No company can afford dead wood, either in the board room, the design offices or on the shop floor. People must be continuously appraised. The results of appraisals should result in more training and education, and those that prove incapable of responding to the opportunities in the organisation have to be elbowed out. People must be continuously made to prove that they are still fit to be on the team. Just like in school, college and university, there should be periodic checks to ensure they are up to speed. It may even be possible for the company to set a threshold, a competence level below which dismissal is automatic. This may involve a number of people that form a percentage of the workforce, say between 5 and 10% that are removed each year. This takes careful management, but margins increase and asset leverage also increases because you are retaining your most productive people in the most vital areas of the company. People who make the grade should be well rewarded.

Be Efficiently Effective Not Effectively Efficient

Continuous review of the design and manufacturing processes should also take place. Processes or parts of processes, currently operated or executed by people, that can be replaced with I.T. and intelligent machine based systems, should be replaced. But ensure there are cost savings and improvements in quality, performance, and effectiveness. Effectiveness is the key, not efficiency, because you could be very efficient at executing ineffective processes.

It is vital to remember that unless the customer is getting the best possible product and service, you are not investing in future business, and it is future business that ensures job security for your best people, as far as that can be assured in today's world. Nothing is forever.

Drive the Changes in With an Iron Fist

By now, I hope, you are curious as to the new knowledge required, the new paradigm having been described above. Did I say new. That's nonsense. Highly respected management gurus have been prolific in the last twenty years in trying to get the point across. No Sir. The wisdom exists. What is missing is the perspective. What is missing, once the perspective is established, is the will to drive the changes ino the organisation with an iron fist. What is missing is the appreciation that only a company's people can make the changes as long as they are given no choice, and what is also very often missing is their [the people] belief that management is serious, and not just spouting words for effect. That's why, initially, change has to be quick and be seen to be implemented by those most affected. They must be involved and the benefits both to them and the business demonstrable through measurement and personal experience. The CEO must get personal with the people, and they must be convinced. They will not accept mere talk.

Ruthlessly Effective Knowledge

Once the people - company associates - are convinced, they will make the changes for you without any outside assistance. Once executive determination and resolve has been demonstrated, and has been practically implemented, it only remains to examine the new knowledge. Again it is hardly new. Try extraordinary common sense. Advanced Configuration Management is simple common sense marshalled into a few basic concepts that are supported by practical applications, themselves supported by continuously improving software tools and information technology. The same can be said for Six Sigma. Extraordinary common sense and a ruthlessly effective quality and performance improvement system first in its class. World class.

Remove Obstacles to Improvement

By now you should be extraordinarily curious about discovering how all this works in practice. It is very simple. If the culture and environment of any organisation (or institution) is not conducive to the introduction of either of the two systems mentioned at the end of the last paragraph, their potential contribution to dramatically improving the bottom line figures will be severely debilitated at best, and an utter waste of time and money at worst. Both of these systems implicitly require Kaizen as their modus operandi, and Kaizen requires the full and willing, indeed, fanatical co-operation of every associate in the business. Do not rip off your people. Remove the obstacles. Help them to learn continuously. Lead them to victory, and then allow them to share in the spoils.

Execute, Prove, and Get Better

The basic concepts and practice of advanced configuration management and six sigma, should be implemented by selected champions, and then simply applied to get some initial results that prove the systems. Once demonstrable results are evident, then a strategy for further in depth education in these systems with the appropriate institutions (Institute of Configuration Management & Six Sigma Academy) can be confidently undertaken. Approach the task simply at first to gain understanding and belief by the whole organisation. The calculus is taught only after the student is adequately acquainted with mathematical fundamentals. Using 'intelligence' in the analysis of design, manufacturing and overall business performance requires the same approach. Introduce the habit of simple process analysis first, then follow up with ever increasing knowledge when people are ready to go to the next stage. Too much information too soon blows too many fuses in the brain, and perfectly good methodologies can be laid to waste.

You Will Win if You Dare To

This is my perspective based on direct experience of introducing new methods for quality and performance improvement. Investment in such systems can be considerable, so their successful take up should not be left to chance. There should be no risk attached because your company has not got the time or resources to waste. Your competitors are snapping at your heels. Recession is biting and cash flow is diminishing. It is time to change, to improve, to innovate and to meet the challenges of a continuously evolving world market. Let your competitors run for the hills; you must turn around; face the enemy (complacency, outdated paradigms, narrow thinking, too much focus on profit and not enough on the customer, insufficient regard for the very people who produce the wealth), and overwhelm them with your aggressive and dynamic will to build a world class company ready to attract every available customer with your six sigma rating, signifying perfection and excellence delivered every time on time.

It can be done. You just have to believe it. Then do it.

Paul J. O'Neill is CEO of Powerdigm Limited. View Powerdigm Limited at: and contact Paul J. O'Neill by e-mail: .

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Copyright 2001 by Paul J. O'Neill. All rights reserved.

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