The Six Disciplines blog has moved!

You will be automatically redirected to our new home. If that does not occur, please visit:

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What Is Business Excellence?

People disagree on what excellence means, but most everyone agrees that the journey toward business excellence is a never-ending pursuit in a world of increasing challenges.

While every organization's situation is different, the most frequent challenges mentioned by CEOs include:
  • Accountability -- things that should get done, don’t get done
  • Engagement -- people don’t seem to care as much
  • Direction – focus and direction is unclear
  • Focus – opportunities, options and choices are overwhelming
  • Leadership - transitioning to the next generation of leaders is needed
  • Control - things “feel” out of synch
  • Quality – product and service levels are diminishing
  • Alignment - people aren’t on the same page
  • Frustration - we can do better

At Six Disciplines, we help company leadership realize that their particular challenge at the moment is a symptom of a deeper need that all growing organizations have: the need to systematically improve the organization’s ability to manage their next challenge.

A business excellence program provides a predictable way to increase an organization’s ability to execute in an unpredictable business environment. It would make sense that if business excellence requires a never-ending pursuit, a business excellence program must be able to grow an organization’s capability to execute -- and it must do so in an enduring way.

The problem with most business improvement efforts is, for one reason or another, they don’t last.

What makes Six Disciplines different is that it is totally optimized to be embraced by an organization in a long-term, sustainable way.

BOTTOMLINE: Six Disciplines is the first enduring business excellence program. It includes a holistic approach toward strategy, planning, organizing people and processes, and execution management. Simply put, Six Disciplines transforms SMB organizations into ones that continually grow in their understanding of how to plan AND execute better.

From our field research, we learned that an enduring Business Excellence Program must have the following four elements:

  1. A repeatable Methodology to drive organization learning
  2. External Coaching for accountability
  3. A System to align the activities of every team member, every day
  4. A Community of like-minded people to accelerate learning

Monday, June 25, 2007

Strong Execution Enables Innovation

According to the Grant Thornton LLP Survey of U.S. Business Leaders, 14th Edition, almost nine out of 10 U.S. business leaders (87%) think that a superior level of execution provides the bandwidth to focus on innovation.

"Great execution is the platform for great innovation," said Thomas Rotherham, Grant Thornton's U.S. managing partner of client services. "Management's challenge is to achieve a balance between execution and innovation, both of which require different skill sets and competencies."

Business leaders acknowledge that they must face special challenges when juggling innovation and execution.

  • Four out of 10 business leaders note these challenges: balancing innovation and execution resource allocation (41%); inspiring innovation without compromising on the routine and rigor of execution (40%) and building organizational capabilities accordingly (40%).

BOTTOMLINE: The ability to execute strategy is a key enabler of innovation. It is the balance between strategy and operations that enables organizations to concentrate on innovation.

The Road To Excellence - Part Three

The Six Disciplines Center of Central Indiana (located in Indianapolis) has produced a several part video series entitled "The Road To Excellence."

In Part Three of the series, watch this short video as four CEOs explain why they decided to train their employees on the Six Disciplines business-building methodology.

BOTTOMLINE: Six Disciplines helps organizations achieve operational ease. Many organizations bounce against ceilings of complexity as a result of an unbalanced approach to business. We help organizations validate their strategy, create a balanced 12 month plan, and connect all people within the organization to that plan. We utilize a proven, systematic approach for executing successful business strategies. While requiring hard work, we coach organizations on how to deploy, communicate, and effectively execute their strategic plans. We are the glue between the formulation of strategy and real world execution.

The Road To Excellence - Part Two

The Six Disciplines Center of Central Indiana (located in Indianapolis) has produced a several part video series entitled "The Road To Excellence."

In Part Two of the series, watch this short video as four CEOs explain the process they went through in deciding to adopt the Six Disciplines business-building methodology.

The Road To Excellence - Part One

The Six Disciplines Center of Central Indiana (located in Indianapolis) has produced a several part video series entitled "The Road To Excellence."

In Part One of the series, watch this short video as four CEOs tell you why they chose to adopt the Six Disciplines business-building methodology.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Why Management Trends Quickly Fade Away

In the June 26 issue of the WSJ, there was an article on "Why Management Trends Quickly Fade Away," which revealed why management trends or fads like "Total Quality Management" and "Business Process Reengineering" tend to fade away quickly.

In fact, the 2003 book "What's the Big Idea?" lists more than 140 recent management ideas from "Activity-based costing" to "Zero-based budgeting."

The reason for the fallout?

"Management consultants not trained sufficiently in the management practice in question. The surge of less qualified consultants contributes to ensuing frustration as businesses struggle to implement the idea. Eventually, interest falls off and the boom ends."

BOTTOMLINE: When considering a management improvement idea or method, make sure it is designed based on proven best-practices. Be wary....the lastest "new" idea is just that.

Six Disciplines is not a "new" management methodology, but it is unique however.

Six Disciplines is the first sustainable business excellence program, optimized for execution, and specifically designed for small and mid-sized businesses. Six Disciplines assists the leadership of mature companies that realize they need to plan AND execute strategy more effectively

The Six Disciplines Program employs a unique enduring framework that encompasses four components to achieve lasting business excellence: a sustainable business-building methodology based on proven best practices; continuous accountability coaching; use of software technologies to align daily activities with organizational goals and strategies; and accelerated learning from a community of like-minded professionals who are willing to share and champion the benefits of such a sustainable program.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Turning Your Company Around

Marc Andreessen of Netscape fame has started blogging and has written a series of very insightful posts. Today he writes "A Guide to Big Company Turn-arounds" which reads like a blueprint for how to turn around Yahoo (YHOO).

His advice may also work for small and mid-sized companies that need to take radical steps to turn things around.

According to Microsoft's Don Dodge, the challenges SMBs have during a turnaround are:

  • Small companies don't have the cash flow and momentum to carry them for a year while a new CEO figures out what to do.
  • Small companies require immediate and decisive action.
  • Cash is king in all decisions. Small company turnarounds usually focus on cash and customers first. Small companies may not have 3 to 5 things to promote and 3 to 5 things to kill. (I beg to differ! All companies need to produce that critical "stop list.")

Marc outlines 9 steps to a successful turnaround. His whole post is here.

(Hat tip to Don Dodge at Microsoft for the jump!)

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Five Levels of Excellence

According to the "Secrets of Greatness" summary article in Fortune Magazine:

"...excellence can't be reduced to some simplistic four-level hierarchy. It has five levels."

The framework they suggest is one variant of a model, a useful way to show how the brain works, popularized by the late psychologist Thomas Gordon some three decades ago.

"It shows the road to mastering a new skill - speaking a language, managing people, whatever - as a series of steps that get steeper. You can't move up by skipping steps. And most people don't reach the top."

1. Unconscious Incompetence. The lowest level, Unconscious Incompetence, is a comfortable place. You think you know everything - and you can't hear the answers to questions you haven't even thought to ask. You can linger here forever.

2. Conscious Incompetence. Now you're motivated to improve. It's here that you learn the various steps of a particular task.

3. Conscious Competence. You've learned a particular task, but only with great mental effort.

4. Unconscious Excellence. It takes time to attain level four, Unconscious Excellence, where you're no longer thinking. You just do.

5. Conscious Excellence. At this rarefied place, you use your conscious mind to deconstruct and modulate the elements of your performance. This also means you can explain it to others - something that level four achievers cannot do.

BOTTOMLINE: "That's the thing about thinking: Your mind is your ally, if it can stay out of the way. "Visualize," the sports psychologists say."

Be the Ball - and let the excellence begin.

The Benefits of Business Coaching - Part II

Some insights about business coaching:

  • Coaching allows you to think out loud with another person who is dedicated to your success. It's like having a personal trainer to support you in reaching your goals.
  • Coaching appeals to the highly motivated.
  • Studies show that when training is augmented with coaching, productivity increases.
  • External coaches may be more objective, but are less familiar with a particular corporate culture.
  • Coaching typically also is an ongoing process. Not designed to be a quick fix, a typical engagement may span a few months, or even years, depending on the needs and goals of the client.
  • Coaching benefits individuals and organizations. It will continue to be desirable to those who are looking for a personalized and time-efficient approach to reaching their goals.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Six Disciplines Tips of The Day

Last year, Six Disciplines, LLC sponsorsed Anita Campbell's Small Business Trends Radio Program, which at that time was aired on Business VoiceAmerica.

As part of the sponsorship, we put together short, 60-second sound bytes, called Six Disciplines "Tips of the Day" recorded by CEO and Founder, Gary Harpst.

Strategy, Execution and Leadership

When consultant Ram Charan and retired CEO Larry Bossidy entitled their best-selling business book, Execution, they redefined the word for the business community.

Execution means the ability of an organization to deliver on its promises, the ability to perform efficiently and profitably, the ability to get results.

The big challenge: How to link leadership development, learning and business strategy in order to drive execution.

  • How do you translate your organization’s strategy into action? Leadership development and learning as key mechanisms for doing that. When leadership development, learning, performance metrics, and reward systems were all aligned to an organization’s articulated strategy, the ability to execute on that strategy and demonstrate progress was dramatically enhanced.
  • How do you calculate a return on leadership development and learning investments? Stop talking about return on investment (ROI), and begin talking about return on expectations (ROE). If we’re clear on what we’re trying to accomplish through leadership development and learning and if we measure our results against those expectations, we may have the data we need to prove the value of our investments.

BOTTOMLINE: CEO’s and senior executives are leading the charge to use leadership development and learning to speed-up and enhance the execution of business strategy. We must align strategy, leadership development, learning, business performance metrics, and reward systems in order to drive execution. Defining expectations for leadership development and learning initiatives was key if we ever hope calculate a return on a company’s investment in them.

Why Read Six Disciplines for Excellence?

Why read Six Disciplines for Excellence?

“…for those who take the time to read it, the payoffs can be astounding.” (Sarah Bosch, Business Opportunities Weblog)

“For pragmatists and those who love execution, I give this book a strong recommend. Buy Six Disciplines of Excellence.” (Sam Decker, Decker Marketing)

“Well done Mr. Harpst. You have created what I think will be a book and method that will be used for generations.” (Glenn Gleason, Life, Work and the Pursuit of Excellence)

“This book is about real business, how to get it done, how to consistently improve, and how to achieve excellence using that time tested method called 'hard work.' (Rob May, The Business Pundit)

“One of the more enjoyable books I’ve read on small business success.” (Dr. Robert Rausch, CEO 1 Executive Energy)

“A Business Improvement Book with a Lasting Difference” (CEO Refresher)

“Six Disciplines for Excellence, by Gary Harpst is a great example of how to use common sense to build a business.” (Bud Bilanich, The Common Sense Guy)

“Six Disciplines is unlike anything I've seen for small businesses. It's a book. It's a methodology. It's technology. It's a coaching system. It's something you'll be hearing a lot more about.” (Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends)

“There are very few people in this world that can consistently execute to get things done right. This book can help you become one of those rare execution-oriented individuals.” (Rob May, The Business Pundit)

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Four Steps of Managing Change

In this Entrepreneur Magazine article, a four-step process is outlined in a study by McKinsey & Co. will help get you through the change challenge .

  1. Convince people of the need for change.
  2. Recognize and reward the behavior you want.
  3. Provide role models for change.
  4. Make sure your people have the necessary skills to implement change.

BOTTOMLINE: Business change is hardly ever as easy as surfing to a new TV channel, and it's always hard right after you've gone through change. The upside is, you might be successful. That's when you get into trouble, because the biggest task is maintaining momentum. Change isn't an event; it's a never-ending process.

Business Strategy: Execution Is the Key

Many leaders are comfortable planning, but lag when it comes to actually putting the plan into action.

This excerpt, from the book "Making Strategy Work: Leading Effective Execution and Change" explains why execution is even more important than planning, and how you can put your plan into motion more quickly and efficiently.

BOTTOMLINE: This "....reinforces our earlier observation about strategy execution being the bigger problem for most businesses than planning and strategy formulation itself. 99% of the effort and energy goes into executing the strategy, and this is where most businesses fail." (page 61, "Six Disciplines for Excellence")

Maintaining a Mindset of Excellence

Jamie S. Walters, chief vision & strategy officer at Ivy Sea Online offers her take on "Maintaining a Mindset of Excellence," in which she compares and contrasts the fundamental differences between perfection and excellence.

The mindset of a person focused on perfection:

  • Critical
  • Harried and time-crunched
  • Unable to see the big picture
  • Stressed
  • Unconfident
  • Rarely, if ever, allowing a sense of true accomplishment and personal reward

In contrast, the person concentrating on excellence has a mindset of:

  • Continual growth and learning
  • Satisfaction of a job well-done and clients served
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Satisfaction, due to an ability to complete things and move on
  • Lower stress thanks to clarified expectations
  • Strong sense of meaningful accomplishment

How to make the transition from being a perfectionist to becoming excellent?

  • Take a reality check
  • Identify what’s most important (Discipline I. Decide What's Important)
  • Set clear expectations (Discipline II. Set Goals That Lead)
  • Identify perfectionist triggers
  • Consider using a coach (Six Disciplines Centers)
  • Delegate
  • Take baby steps

BOTTOMLINE: Don't try to be perfect. Instead ......Be Excellent™

What Sets Sustainable Companies Apart

Chris Zook (Bain & Company's head of Global Strategy) has just released his newest book "Unstoppable: Finding Hidden Assets to Renew the Core and Fuel Profitable Growth" (Harvard Business School Press)

  • Unstoppable reveals that the pace of business change continues to accelerate, with nearlythree out of four companies at risk of fundamental change or extinction within ten years.Zook finds that once-successful companies can transform themselves and renew theircore business through a cycle of F-E-R: Focus (on the core business), Expand (on newadjacent businesses) and Redefine (the core business).
In Unstoppable, Zook shows companies how to renew their business strategy when it stops fueling profitable growth, and provides a roadmap for how companies can make fundamental changes in their core business even as they continue managing their business today.

It's a great story about the path to sustainable business excellence, talking about the ways that companies reach the natural limits of their growth formula.

What sets the companies that survive apart?

  • Their ability to find the sources of renewal in customer segments, product lines, processes, and capabilities that are thriving but undervalued.
This conclusion is based on a study of the financial performance and rate of change in Fortune 500 companies since 1994, and 25 case studies of successful corporate redefinition.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Measuring Employee Performance

A recent survey by learning and talent management software provider SumTotal Systems indicates that more than 55% of companies struggle when it comes to assessing employee performance.

Other related findings:

  • Nearly half (47 percent) keep tabs on workforce performance with paper, computer spreadsheets or word-processing programs
  • Over one-third (38 percent) of survey respondents cited internal time and resources as the biggest challenge to overcome when considering technology for assessing employee performance - closely followed by budget challenges, at 20 percent
  • More than 30 percent of North American and European companies surveyed said they have, or plan to buy, software for managing talent because they are automating an existing process for measuring workforce performance

Alignment With Strategy and Goals

Teams are a means of achieving goals too big for individual efforts.

When you connect teams to tasks, you create an alignment between strategy and goals -- one person at a time.

To get the job done, we must team up. Unity around team purpose enables alignment—the link between the member's goals and the team purpose. Alignment provides the focus that unleashes the team's power.

Without alignment around team purpose, synergy -- and effective execution -- is virtually impossible.

BOTTOMLINE: Creating alignment is one of the most important roles of leadership. The team leader needs to ensure that the purpose of the team is defined, communicated with clarity, and meets five criteria:

  1. Clear (I see it).
  2. Relevant (I want it).
  3. Significant (It's worth it).
  4. Achievable (I believe it).
  5. Urgent (I want it-now!).

The Power of Execution

Dane Carlson sites a source with the clearest explanation yet of why he thinks ideas are practically worthless:


SO-SO- EXECUTION = $10,000
GREAT EXECUTION = $1,000,000

To make a business, you need to multiply the two.

The most brilliant idea, with no execution, is worth $20.

The most brilliant idea, with great execution, can be worth $20,000,000.

BOTTOMLINE: Six Disciplines is the first sustainable business excellence program, optimized for execution.

Key Elements of Planning and How They Differ

NFIB offers these definitions of the key elements of business planning:

  • Vision
  • Mission
  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Strategy
  • Action Plans

BOTTOMLINE: Planning's elements work together in a manner that says what we are and what we aspire to be, where we wish to go, how we intend to get there, and what we intend to accomplish.

Bill Gates and Problem Solving

In a recent Harvard commencement speech (as reported in the Wall Street Journal), Bill Gates noted that the student newspaper, the Crimson, had called him "Harvard's most successful dropout."

To which, Gates responded: "I guess that makes me valedictorian of my own special class...I did the best of everyone who failed."

In the analytical style for which he became famous in technology circles, Gates' recommends a four step approach to problem solving:
  1. Determine your goal
  2. Find the "highest-leverage" approach to reaching that goal
  3. Discover the ideal technology for that approach
  4. Make the smartest application of the technology that you already have

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Execution Advantage of Successful CEOs

CEO Refresher brings us this article by Dr. Jane Adler and Dr. Robert Karlsberg, leading experts in leadership development and the psychology of business, and founders of

Their key assertions:

  • Good leaders at every level recognize the importance of strategic planning and goal-setting to reaching new heights in performance.
  • But most of them have difficulty getting their plans to fully deliver on their promise.
  • Great change leaders, on the other hand, have the "execution advantage."
  • While their strategic plans might not be significantly better than anyone else's, they achieve great results because their organizations execute plans more effectively.
Some habits of leaders who have the execution advantage include:

  1. Providing an Inspiring Mission and Clear Direction
  2. Hiring the Best People
  3. Building a Strong Leadership Team
  4. Getting Out of the Way
  5. Communicating Regularly
  6. Rewarding and Recognizing the Right Performance

Bridging The Gap from Strategy To Execution

While many businesses put tremendous energy into formulating and crafting their mission, vision, values and strategic position, the greatest challenge for most business leaders is bridging the gap from strategy to execution.

To be successful, leaders need to be as diligent in guiding the execution as they are at setting and communicating strategic direction.
  • Set Goals That Lead: Develop a goals statement with a small number of initiatives that include measures, targets and assigns responsibility to an individual.
  • Align Systems: Make sure all processes, policies, measures, technologies and people are aligned with this strategy.
  • Work The Plan: Vision and strategy must be translated into daily activities for every person in the organization. Activities must be mutually supportive, and well aligned to the strategy. Team leaders should review these activities on a weekly basis to ensure performance expectations are met and to recalibrate the plan when at risk.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Benefits of Business Coaching

A recent study by the International Coach Federation (ICF) reported that among small business owners, the top six professional and business development areas identified in the study were:

  1. Productivity and effectiveness
  2. Planning
  3. Sales and marketing
  4. Business management
  5. Positioning their firm for the future
  6. Leadership
The most valuable results of the business coaching experience reported in the ICF coaching study by small business owners were:

  • 28% said brainstorming was the most valuable result of business coaching
  • 28% said independent viewpoint was the most valuable result of business coaching
  • 18% said encouragement was the most valuable result of business coaching
  • 15% said being accountable to the coach was the most valuable result of business coaching
BOTTOMLINE: Business coaching is one of the four required elements for achieving lasting business excellence (...the others being a systematic business-building methodology, practical activity alignment technologies, and an organization that is ready and able to change.)

Execution and Common Sense

Bud Bilanch, our good friend - who's known as the "Common Sense Guy," posts about one of our favorite topics: Execution.

His assertions?

"My model for building a successful business is built on four pillars:
  1. Develop and communicate your clarity of purpose
  2. Enlist the sincere commitment of everyone
  3. Skillfully execute the things that matter
  4. Build long lasting, mutually beneficial relationships with your important constituencies"

Here are Bud's five keys to effective execution:

  1. Focus on what's really important.
  2. Develop meaningful measures.
  3. Create SMART goals.
  4. Measure progress regularly.
  5. Reinforce good performance, redirect poor performance.

Read about "Focus on what's really important" - here.

And....for the Six Disciplines approach for "Decide What's Important", look here.

Lasting Excellence - Lessons From The Coach

John Wooden (former UCLA basketball coach, and Hall of Famer):

"When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don't look for the big, quick improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens - and when it happens, it lasts."

Isn't that what we're really looking for? Improvement that lasts?

At Six Disciplines, our mission is to enable organizations with a method, tools and coaching to achieve business excellence that lasts. No quick fake sales pitches about the latest and greatest business improvement fads. Six Disciplines is a cyclical, repeatable method that includes process improvements every day, along with tools (software) to make it practical, and local coaching that reinforces the principles - every day. For lasting excellence.

"Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens - and when it happens, it lasts."

Seven Essential Elements of Leading Change

Most organizations do not follow a systematic approach for planning and implementing change. What happens more often than not, is a two-step "plan":

  1. Senior management determines that a change is needed
  2. The CEO/President announces the change to “the troops”

This kind of two-step plan invites resistance to change.

Consider the following seven essential elements for successful organizational change:

  1. Involve the people who will be affecting (and affected by) the change. Get their input. Workers are a valuable source of information for management decision making. Today’s workers want to be part of what’s happening. (No buy-in from these folks guarantees resistance.)
  2. Communicate a good reason for the change. Human beings can change quickly when they see a way to maximize benefits and/or minimize threats. Make sure the change is seen as relevant and strategy-driven. (Busy people will resist changes that they see as irrelevant.)
  3. Designate a champion for the change. A senior executive does not have to take the champion role. In fact, it might be better to find someone the workers can relate to. (Natural leaders, many times in unofficial roles, exist throughout every organization. Take advantage of their leadership ability.)
  4. Create a transition management team. This cross-functional team can provide emotional support as well as practical ideas for change leaders. (Remember, no one individual is charismatic or talented enough to effectively implement an organizational change single-handedly.)
  5. Provide training in new skills, behaviors, and values. If workers fear a loss of competency, they will resist change. They will revert back to the old skills, behaviors, and values when they feel threatened. (Change invariably involves a threat to one’s current sense of competency.)
  6. Bring in outside help. This sounds like a self-serving comment since I am an independent consultant, but the external consultant can play a critical role. An outsider brings a fresh perspective. An outside consultant doesn’t have an “axe to grind.” (And realistically, most senior managers are not trained in leading or facilitating organizational change.)
  7. Reward people. Remember, whatever behaviors you reward, you get more of. Rewards do not have to be in the form of cash. Acknowledgement, praise, new job assignments, or additional decision-making authority can be more powerful motivators than cash. (In every successful organizational change, people are the essential factor.)

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Podcast: Summary of Six Disciplines for Excellence

In the fifth and final podcast with CEO Zane Safrit, Gary Harpst summarizes his book, Six Disciplines for Excellence, the journey it starts towards building a small business that learns, leads and lasts.

Harpst also reveals the coaching provided by Six Disciplines Centers, and talks about the activity alignment software that Six Disciplines clients use. Harpst also talks about plans for a new book, called "Execution Revolution."

Special thanks to Zane Safrit over at Conference Calls Unlimited for taking the time and interest to interview Gary over the past five weeks.

You can listen to all of the podcasts here or download them from iTunes.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Importance of Mission Statements for Small Businesses

"That business mission is so rarely given adequate thought is perhaps the most important single cause of business frustration." – Peter Drucker

With 40% of small businesses failing between the first and fifth years of inception, 27% failing between the sixth and tenth year, and 33% failing by the time the businesses cross their tenth year, the lack of a well-written (and well communicated) mission statement is one of the foremost causes of small business failure.

The mission statement answers the first question of any business venture: What business are you in and what is your reason for being?

The mission statement explains why your organization exists - and what its purpose is.

Companies that do not have a clear and concise written mission statement risk wandering aimlessly in the sea of competitors. A written mission statement forces the small business CEO to think about what he/she is doing and where the company is headed.

Some hints and tips:

  • The most important attribute of purpose is authenticity - not on what looks good to others.
  • The purpose should be valid for 20-30 years - or even longer
  • The simpler the better.
  • Focus on why - not how. ("How" is strategy, and will change over time.)

BOTTOMLINE: Once you have created your mission statement - put your energy into communicating what the mission means - and living it.

Building Company-Wide Accountability

Building company-wide accountability is a key element to making a business sustainable over a long period of time. Not surprisingly, all high-performing organizations are moving toward more empowerment, enlightenment -- and creating organizational accountability.

So what is accountability? To some, it’s something you make people do, as in “making people accountable.” But as long as you think accountability can be purchased, mandated, or motivated, you’re trapped in trying to create high accountability -- in a low-accountability workforce.

So let’s consider what accountability is, and how we can create an organizational culture that encourages it.

Be definition, accountability is being answerable or responsible for something. Accountability opens the door to ownership – not necessarily financial ownership, but certainly emotional ownership, where someone acknowledges they’re responsible for some aspect of the organization.

Accountability is not something you “make” people do – it has to be chosen or accepted by people within your organization. People must “buy into” being accountable and responsible. For many, this is a new, unfamiliar way to work. Most importantly: individual purpose and meaning come from assuming responsibility and accepting accountability.

With accountability comes a measure of discipline. Accountability is the opposite of permissiveness. Holding people accountable is really about the distribution of power and choice. When people have more choice, they are more responsible. When they become more responsible, they can have more freedom. That’s what company-wide accountability is all about.

So, how do you build company-wide accountability?

First, you stop doing things that undermine accountability—stop overseeing, legislating and micromanaging. Realize the power of reflective questioning, conversations, and collaborations.
Companies that can clearly identify, articulate, and execute their strategic goals are well positioned to be able to create organizational accountability. To effectively achieve these goals, companies must measure and manage actual business performance against these goals in a highly coordinated manner.

A six-step framework to build company-wide accountability is to:

1. Decide What’s Important (develop an authentic mission, vision, values, strategic position)
2. Set Goals That Lead (planning that includes measures, targets, projects)
3. Align Systems (streamline processes and resources so everything supports the goals)
4. Execute the Plan (each employee’s plans and activities support the goals)
5. Solve Problems Innovatively (get to root causes quicker, make more informed decisions)
6. Develop Leadership (step back, assess results, develop leadership from within)

Building company-wide accountability requires not only a framework or a systematic methodology based on proven best practices. It also requires technologies that make the framework practical to use and implement on a daily, weekly, monthly quarterly and annual basis. In addition, it takes a outside coach or strategic advisor to help you along the way to make it “stick” – to make it last. Finally, it takes an organization that is ready and able to accept accountability, the ownership and the freedom that comes with the new responsibility mindset.

Accountability and organizational change come through a new set of conversations. You can start having these conversations in your organization. Don’t wait - start today!

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Avoiding The Mistakes of Startups

The Wall Street Journal's entrepreneurial publication Startup Journal recently published an article "Starting a Business? Don't Do This."

Start with this statistic:

  • Just 44% of small businesses with one or more employees -- in addition to the founder -- survive after four years, according to the Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy.
The six mistakes to avoid are:
  1. Lacking a detailed plan
  2. Failing to talk to experts
  3. Assuming control over prices
  4. Not connecting with the customer
  5. Failing to seek advisers
  6. Not reacting to market changes

BOTTOMLINE: A detailed plan, and a systematic way to align daily activities toward meeting that plan and a way to measure progress are essential. Seeking the input of a trusted expert advisor, or what we refer to at Six Disciplines as an "accountability coach" also goes along way to ensuring that you stay on the plan, and spend the time "to do the right things."

What Keeps CEOs Awake At Night - Part III

Identifying, retaining and replacing the best talent in an organization is the key issue most likely to keep chief executives awake at night.

Key findings from a recent study by Accenture:

  • More than 60% of the respondents to annual survey of chief executives said that the inability to attract and retain the best talent is now a key threat to their business, outstripping the issue of low employee morale.
  • Chief executives and financial officers need to empower and champion HR more effectively, so that people issues rise to the top of the business agenda

BOTTOMLINE: Succession planning, leadership training, and keeping the workforce aligned with the strategy and goals of the company are key to long-term talent management.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Execution from A Leader's Point of View

Laurence Haughton (author of a number of great business books) focuses a lot on execution. Here's one post named "Follow-through from the Leader’s Point-of-View."

His premise?

Follow-through, (successful execution), from the leader’s point-of-view means making sure that what’s expected gets done.

If you take that simple definition and break it down, the obstacles that doom half of all the best laid plans are much more plain to see:

  1. First, everyone needs a clear idea of exactly what is expected.
  2. Second, we consistently underestimate how difficult it will be to get everyone to buy in to our best laid plans.

BOTTOMLINE: “Buy-in” is management shorthand for people’s trust in their leadership measured by their willingness to go in unfamiliar directions and to try new things. Buy-in gets everyone at every level to get off their hands (to overcome organizational resistance to change) and pitch in with whatever needs to get done, based on what is expected.

Why Is Changing Behavior So Hard?

All leadership comes down to this: changing people's behavior. Why is it so hard?

Science offers some surprising new answers -- and ways to do better.

This from a Fast Company article called "Change or Die."

"Changing people's behavior: It's the most important challenge for businesses trying to compete in a turbulent world, says John Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor who has studied dozens of organizations in the midst of upheaval: "The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people."

  • As individuals, we may want to change our own styles of work -- how we mentor subordinates, for example, or how we react to criticism. Yet more often than not, we can't."
  • CEOs are supposedly the prime change agents for their companies, but they're often as resistant to change as anyone -- and as prone to backsliding.
  • Conventional wisdom says that crisis is a powerful motivator for change. But severe heart disease is among the most serious of personal crises, and it doesn't motivate -- at least not nearly enough.

So...what works? Why, in general, is change so incredibly difficult for people? What is it about how our brains are wired that resists change so tenaciously? Why do we fight even what we know to be in our own vital interests?

  • Kotter says: "Behavior change happens mostly by speaking to people's feelings. In highly successful change efforts (even in organizations that are very focused on analysis and quantitative measurement), people find ways to help others see the problems or solutions in ways that influence emotions, not just thought."

There's compelling science behind the psychology of change -- it draws on discoveries from emerging fields such as cognitive science, linguistics, and neuroscience -- but its insights and techniques often seem paradoxical or irrational.

So how to make change really work? Recast the reasons for change. Instead of motivating people with the "fear of failure" or "fear of whatever" - motivate people with a new vision of the "joy of working in a new way" -- convincing them they can feel better, do better - not just work longer. That means enjoying the things that make daily life pleasurable."

Why does this work better? "Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear," Kotter says.

How to do this? Convey passion. Articulate vision. Say it in simple, positive, and emotionally resonant terms.

Interestingly enough: Radical, sweeping, comprehensive changes are often easier for people than small, incremental ones, since "These are choices worth making."

Of course, radical change often isn't possible in business situations. Still, it's always important to identify, achieve, and celebrate some quick, positive results for the vital emotional lifts that they provide. Harvard's Kotter believes in the importance of "short-term wins" for companies, meaning "victories that nourish faith in the change effort, emotionally reward the hard workers, keep the critics at bay, and build momentum. Without sufficient wins that are visible, timely, unambiguous, and meaningful to others, change efforts invariably run into serious problems."

Even when leaders have reframed the issues and reasons for change, it's still vital to give people the multifaceted support they need. (That's a big reason why 90% of heart patients can't change their lifestyles but 77% of one doctor's patients could -- because he buttressed them with weekly support groups with other patients, as well as attention from dieticians, psychologists, nurses, and yoga and meditation instructors. Essentially - this is the benefit of coaching.)

BOTTOMLINE: If we can change, then why don't we? He have spent years learning certain habits, and habits make each of us more specialized. Specialization also instills an inherent "rigidity." The cumulative weight of experience makes it harder to change.

How, then, to overcome these factors?

Be open to learning new ways of working. Unless you really work on it, you won't learn new ways of behaving, new ways of learning. Unless you're willing to learn new things - what you get, will be the same thing you always got.

Mastering the ability to change isn't just a crucial strategy for business. It's a necessity for health. And it's possibly the one thing that's most worth learning.

The Strategy - Execution Gap

George Ambler, over at The Practice of Leadership, posts about the The gap between strategy and execution in which he points out a study by OnPoint Consulting which surveyed the gap between strategy and execution.

The results? Of the leader’s surveyed:

  • 49% perceived a gap between their strategies and execution (the ability to make their strategies happen)
  • and of these 64% didn’t have full confidence that their companies would be able to close the gap!

The research highlights the following key lessons for leaders looking to close this strategy - execution gap:

  • Successfully achieving execution takes more than clarifying and communicating the organization’s strategic direction. Many businesses put all their energy into crafting and gaining agreement on their vision and strategy. They frequently do not attend to clarifying the assumptions about what it will take to achieve the strategy (what will be required operationally) and the priorities for action.
  • Few organizations appear to ask whether or not they have the proper management systems in place to support the achievement of the strategy.
  • It is also important to go beyond gaining understanding and acceptance of the strategy throughout the organization. Vision and strategy must be translated into action at each level of the organization and, beyond that, these actions must be reviewed by senior management to ensure they are mutually supportive and well coordinated across work units and levels (rather than everyone going off and doing what they think is best for their work unit) and monitored to ensure performance expectations are met or to recalibrate the plan when new information becomes available.
  • Leaders must behave in a way that is consistent with organizational values and priorities.

BOTTOMLINE: According to George, "The strategy-execution gap is not new to most leaders. Leadership is about initiating and leading change. This requires strategy, the casting of vision as well as guide the implementation and execution of the strategy. To be successful leaders need to be as diligent in guiding the execution as they are at setting and communicating strategic direction."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Six Disciplines Leadership Centers Expand in Ohio

This article, published in the June issue of the Toledo Business Journal, is an interview with Eric Kurjan, president of the Six Disciplines Ohio Group, which is expanding the coverage of Six Disciplines throughout Ohio.

The article explains more about Six Disciplines Leadership Center franchises, why the Ohio group is expanding its efforts within Ohio, and offers more insight into the benefits that Six Disciplines offers to small and mid-sized businesses.