"Six Disciplines for Excellence"
by Gary Harpst
A Business Improvement Book with a Lasting Difference

Too often, the majority of business improvement books are long on theory and short on practicality. The ideas are good (or great), but most business leaders do little to incorporate the ideas in their businesses long enough for positive change to take place.

So, why are many passionate small business CEOs, presidents, founders and leaders reacting so differently - and positively - after reading "Six Disciplines for Excellence: Building Small Businesses That Learn, Lead and Last"?

Simply put, this book distills the essence of hundreds of small business improvement books, and gives passionate, excellence-driven small business leaders actionable direction.

The best performing small businesses have passionate leader (CEO/president/founder/owner) who seeks excellence in their business, wants to improve short and long term planning, and wants his/her team members to perform to their potential and execute more consistently toward the company's strategy. In essence, they want their business to last - for the long-term. These business leaders understand that the skill set to build a product -- and to build their business -- are entirely different. To achieve lasting excellence, an organization must make the transition from product-building to "business-building."

The Six Disciplines™ Methodology synthesizes and integrates the most fundamental elements of strategic planning, quality management, integrated organizational learning, business process automation, people performance management and measure-driven improvement - and offers a systematic and practical "business-building" approach for small businesses to continually improve and sustain business excellence.

Be aware that reading about each discipline separately doesn't make you good at using Six Disciplines, any more than taking five golf lessons on different fundamentals of the game makes you a good golfer. In the end, you have to learn how to use all the disciplines together, and the only way to truly learn this is by doing.

So, what are the Six Disciplines? You can think of the Six Disciplines Methodology as a series of annual, quarterly, weekly and daily repeatable cycles which, with each successive pass, helps your team learn how to better root out the barriers to lasting excellence:

Discipline I. Decide What's Important. The foundation of all strategy formulation is deciding what is most important to your organization (and by implication what's not important) so the allocation of resources-time, money and creativity-can all be aimed toward this end. In this discipline, organizations systematically and regularly review and renew their mission, values, strategic position, vision, their most vital few objectives, as well as agreeing what to stop doing.

Discipline II. Set Goals That Lead. Well-defined goals are among the most effective communications tools available to any leader-yet most leaders don't know how to set goals that lead their people in the right direction. The purpose of this discipline is to produce annual goals that are clear and measurable. Pursuing these goals will lead the people in the organization to align their activities with the vital few objectives set in Discipline I. The result is a brief company goals statement that every team member should understand.

Discipline III. Align Systems. One of the greatest barriers an organization faces in pursuing its goals is itself. For many businesses, the systems that make up the business-its policies, processes, technologies, measures, and people-are often at cross purposes with the priorities of the company. Why? Because most organizations do not have an organized approach to keep their systems aligned with their strategy. Discipline III, purposefully sequenced after Disciplines I and II, taps the knowledge of the whole workforce to identify the areas where the company will get the greatest return on its investment in policies, processes, measures, technologies and people.

Discipline IV. Work the Plan. One of the greatest organizational learning tools ever invented is the individual quarterly plan. In this discipline, every person in the company works with his/her team leader to develop Individual Plans for the upcoming quarter. These goals are reviewed and checked for alignment with company goals. This quarterly plan serves as a timesaving template for a weekly Status report. The result is that every individual in the company learns how to set goals, understand company priorities, take responsibility for their own goals, report progress and use their innovative capability to solve problems.

Discipline V. Innovate Purposefully. Innovation is just another name for problem-solving, and everyone in the company has the ability to solve problems. This discipline is unlike the rest in that it provides tools and principles that are used throughout the other disciplines to help people set clear goals. These goals will align with company priorities, and then employees will use their innate creativity to meet or beat those goals. Empowering principles, such as Embracing Constraints and Taking Informed Risks, plus tools like the 100-Point Exercise and 5-Step Problem Solving, are but a few examples of what's included in Discipline V.

Discipline VI. Step Back. This annual discipline helps the whole organization Step Back from the press of everyday business and gain perspective on business performance, and the factors that affect business performance. This is achieved through a series of "discovery exercises," exploring Externals (competitors, industry, economic) and Internals (goal performance, stakeholder feedback, measures, etc.). In addition to the organization as a whole stepping back, all individual team members are encouraged to do the same by providing input on each other's performances. This is achieved by completing a 360° and an annual performance appraisal for each team member.

The book, however, is just the tip of the Six Disciplines "iceberg." Where most business improvement authors drop the ball is writing a decent book - and stopping there - leaving it up to its readers to implement the ideas and hope for the best. General conversation about excellence without focused directions for action just gives people a spark of hope that's quickly dashed, because passion that's not applied to a purpose doesn't lead to excellence.

That's where Six Disciplines is different. Behind the book is Six Disciplines Corporation, supported by more than $10 million dollars of funding and 50 man-years of R&D, developing practical Internet-based technologies that make the Six Disciplines Methodology practical. In addition, Six Disciplines Leadership Center franchises are being established nationwide to help coach the best small businesses to keep on track, and achieve excellence that lasts.

Six Disciplines is not for small businesses that need a "quick fix." Six Disciplines is a long-term organizational learning and business process improvement approach and is designed for the passionate small business owner who seeks excellence, wants their business to last, and is ready and able to take the challenge.

Who should read Six Disciplines for Excellence? CEOs, presidents and owners of small and emerging businesses who have a deep passion for excellence, who have already achieved a level of success, and want to continue doing a better job of planning and executing - on their way to becoming excellent organizations.

Gary Harpst, founder and CEO of Six Disciplines Corporation, is the author of Six Disciplines for Excellence. Harpst, who was the former co-founder and CEO of Solomon Software, grew Solomon to $60 million in sales before it merged with a company that was later acquired by Microsoft in 2001. Six Disciplines provides a professional business-building service, integrating the methodology described in "Six Disciplines for Excellence" with practical Internet technologies and a nationwide network of local coaching organizations, to help small businesses achieve and sustain excellence. Visit them on the web at www.SixDisciplines.com

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