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Michael Balle

Michael Ballé: Combining the three Cs of Organodynamics: Competence, Compliance and Creativity

By Michael Balle, co-author of The Gold Mine and The Lean Manager - Last updated: vendredi, mars 12, 2010 - Save & Share - Leave a comment

FIRST LAW: without continuous process improvement, performance will deteriorate

Entropy affects organizations as it does engines: without constant attention, any process will deteriorate. In the past this has been accepted as a necessary evil compensated by occasional investment. Let the machine run down and when you can’t do anything with it anymore, buy a new one. Kaizen thinking has opened a new way: by improving continuously existing processes we can avoid the performance decline by keeping people’s attention focused on getting the equipment and its operations as close as nominal performance as possible. Overall, significant leaps in performance will still be driven by investment, and only, say, 10% of performance progress can be attributed to kaizen, but the mental frame is completely different. First, day-to-day, processes perform closer to nominal performance and don’t lose ground as traditional operations do. Second, people are far more involved and interested in what they do – in order to improve their processes, they need to understand them in details, and which problems crop up regularly. As a result, investments will be far better thought out and effective. Over time, the gap with competitors who let their processes deteriorate and then compensate with the wrong kind of investment will widen sustainably.

SECOND LAW: to deliver products or services competitively, first develop people

Organizations are not organizational chart boxes to be filled by robots who read the corporate manual and then follow instructions blindly. They are communities of experience and dedicated people working together towards de common goal of offering complex products (products they couldn’t build and distribute on their own) to society to make people’s lives better – in the process, they are rewarded by fortune and sometimes fame when things work out well. Developing people is the fundamental law of thriving organizations. There are two dimensions to this – one is job demand: the clearer the expectations about how to succeed in one’s job and the fewer the overload in terms of two much work and/or perturbations, the easier it is for people to perform. The second is the greater staff’s autonomy to take decisions and contribute to the organization of their own work and the higher the need for their individual competences and development, the greater the engagement. Organodynamics must offer working environments where work is clear (both in expectations and activities) and perturbation-free, and where people have the opportunity to use their autonomy and competences every day. As this is not a given in changing, turbulent times, these conditions must be constantly re-discovered by managers and their teams. To do so, managers must have the leadership to first, self-develop and second develop others. Training people to change effectively and without stress would be my second law of organodynamics.

THIRD LAW: to develop people, teach them to recognize and resolve their own problems – learning by iteration

Developing people is about making them think deeply about their own work. Deep thought, however, doesn’t come from philosophizing about events, but from “just do it” action and reflection. The key to developing people is teaching them to recognize and solve their own problems. This means starting from a detailed understanding of processes as they should be, identifying variation, jumping in to place a band-aid and protect the customer (external and internal) and then asking “why?” repeatedly until the root cause of the problem becomes apparent. In other words, developing people is about teaching them to follow the Plan-Do-Check-Act learning cycle with a bias to action: learning comes from doing – repeatedly so, by small step iterations. From an organizational perspective this involves a radical shift away from staff departments designing and controlling work for others, to an environment where the line solves its own problems – with the support of staff experts; in order to maintain the continuous improvement dynamic of challenging oneself on problems, this also involves setting up an organization of coaches (sensei for senior execs and coordinators for frontline managers) whose function is to make line managers conduct set improvement exercises (“Katas” as Mike has termed them) with the explicit aim of deepening their understanding of their own processes and improving things by solving problems collaboratively.

FOURTH LAW: to limit losses due to organizational friction, grow positive relationships across processes

Organizing is about dividing processes according to resources management – and there is no way around that. All attempts to organize along processes have hitherto resulted in duplication of effort and ineffectiveness (plus a great deal of matrix-born confusion). By dividing in small enough component part, specialization generates benefits of focus and creativity – but it also can generate more heat than light if relationships across boundaries are vague and/or conflict prone. A key to organodynamics is to emphasize constantly efforts to develop win-win relationships across stations, departments and along the supply chain. To do so, teamwork can be encouraged by solving problems across functions. The impact is large as this means shifting from “status-report” meetings to problem-solving meetings with the expecting aim of seeking mutually satisfying solutions. As much of adult learning occurs as a result of applying another’s (fresh) perspective to one’s own knowledge – building positive relationships is a key ingredient to personal development as well. Developing positive relationships often requires an environment of confidence (if we work together, we are confident we’ll find a good solution and we’ll both profit), fairness (split the profits if it works, share the blame if it don’t) and trust (don’t use the fact that I’m being open about my side of the problem to shift the blame on me). Mutual trust with customers, employees and suppliers takes a long time to grow but is easy to harm and hard to build up again, so this dimension must be watched and re-emphasized constantly.

FIFTH LAW: constantly stretch the organization by trying new things, new products, new technologies and new markets

Experience (often acquired the hard way) shows that a key to maintaining performance is to avoid innovating directly on processes: innovation has to happen off-line and be integrated in day-to-day work only when fully debugged and understood. The downside is the risk to simply stop innovating. The last law of organodynamics is stretch: constantly challenging the organization to try news things, develop new products, experiment with new technologies, seek new markets and so on. Doing so requires creating explicit room for experimentation, whether investing in new ventures, giving employees some time off to try things or paying factory teams one hour of weekly overtime to solve quality problems (quality circles). Without constant challenges to attempt six impossible things before breakfast, the organization will turn in on itself and use the proceeds of its performance to endow the top power players at the expense of their employees, customers and society at large. Setting clear and impossible challenges (a car that cleans the air it uses to drive the engine pistons) as well as small proximate challenges and setting aside the time to play, investigate and explore is the critical component that will keep the organization healthy and growing in the long term.

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