They make bookstore shelves sag and they all promise to make your organization more competitive, your employees more productive (and satisfied) and your bottom line sweeter. But when the economy’s booming, employees are hard to find, and work-life balance means a scheduled family lunch in the middle of the 60-hour work week (did we mention employees were hard to find?), who has time to pay attention to management trends?
Here’s a cheat sheet for Alberta entrepreneurs: the five critical management ideas you should be paying attention to no matter how hot it gets in the trenches, plus a few brain teasers to help you get to the next level. The common thread that binds them together is simple: to succeed in today’s business environment, your business and its people have to be flexible and adaptive. Being rigid went out with the corset and the boiled shirt. But you already knew that.
Tired of hearing about teams yet? Get ready for another round of it: managers are going to talk teams and “do” teams until they get it right. “Most people intuitively recognize high-performance teams are a good thing, and this is why most businesses keep on trying to implement them,” says Craig Milner, a consultant with Gio Consulting Inc. and a Lethbridge entrepreneur. “But most still have not hit that magic combination of what it takes to make teams really work in the workplace.”
A high-performance team is characterized by participative or situational leadership, shared responsibility, an uber-high level of communication among team members and clearly defined, yet flexible, team roles. Get a bunch of these teams working together across a business and you’ve got a high-performance organization. When HPTs and HPOs work, it’s magic. “When we hit them, when we get the moments that work, we know it’s the right approach,” says Milner. But getting functioning HPTs is difficult.
Here’s what not to do: replace the word “department” with “team.” Says Milner, “We’ve given teams a disservice because we use the name improperly. Often, business people are introduced to this concept, go back to their department and say, ‘Okay guys, you’re a team.’ That doesn’t work.”
Mistake number two: thrust a high level of responsibility and accountability onto employees who yesterday were just cogs in a machine. “You have to learn the basics first, you have to delegate first, then to empower,” Milner says. And it’s not just the employees who have to go slowly: the manager and business owner, too, has to learn to let go.
Milner uses these principles with the East Side Mario’s restaurant franchise he owns in Lethbridge. Servers can make most service-related decisions on the spot without having to consult the manager; bartenders have open tabs so they can treat regulars to drinks. The restaur-ant has the lowest accident and “waste” rates in the chain, Milner says. “We’re getting accountability and responsibility across the board.”
On a larger scale, aviation engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney employs high-performance teams throughout its North American operations, and the Alberta arm of Pratt & Whitney Canada is the testing ground for many of its management initiatives. The Alberta plant is characterized by lots of information sharing and few managers. Recently, employees increased plant efficiency – and indirectly addressed the province-wide labour shortage – by redesigning the plant “to do more with what we had in the space we had,” says general manager Bill Halley. “The employees here feel in control of their environment,” he adds.
High-performance Team resources:
Find a one-byte summary of what high performance teams are all about by clicking here. More bulky, but a more in-depth resource is Increasing the Odds for High-Performance Teams: Lessons Learned by Arlen G. Leholm and Raymond Vlasin (Michigan State University Press), fresh off the presses and making its way to a bookstore near you. Have a mixed-age workforce? Bridging the Boomer–Xer Gap: Creating Authentic Teams for High Performance at Work by Hank Karp, Danilo Sirius and Connie Fuller (Davies Black Publishing, 2002) may also help. For something out of the ordinary, visit the idealistic folks at Chaordic Commons, an international organization focused on “new concepts of organizations,” decentralized management practices, and more equitable distributions of wealth and power within business and throughout the world, founded by Dee Hock (yeah, the guy who started Visa). Happy reading.
Everyone’s reading… Blue Ocean Strategy
W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne believe most of today’s business competes in overcrowded industries over shrinking profit pools. The result, in their colourful metaphor, is a bloody “red ocean” in which even the winners are really losers, unable to create profitable growth in the future. Tomorrow’s leading companies don’t compete with rivals. They make them irrelevant by creating “blue oceans” of uncontested market space ripe for growth. They look outside their industries and traditional niches and engage in “value innovations” that “create powerful leaps in value… rendering rivals obsolete and unleashing new demand.” PayPal and eBay created a brand spanking new blue ocean by boldly swimming where no company had swum before, even in the newish Internet marketplace. Closer to home, companies such as WestJet Airlines and West Edmonton Mall created blue oceans on the fringes of red oceans by redefining the traditional boundaries of their industries.
How to do it? The six principles of the Blue Ocean Strategy are to reconstruct market boundaries, focus on the big picture, reach beyond existing demand, get the strategic sequence right, overcome organizational hurdles and build execution into strategy. The critical gem in the book, one that top entrepreneurs know intuitively, is that it’s only the number two company in an industry that’s paying attention to competitors. Number one is looking waaay ahead.
SOURCE: Blue Ocean Strategy: How to Create Uncontested Market Space and Make the Competition Irrelevant by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne (Harvard Business School Press, 2005). Preview selections from the book at www.blueoceanstrategy.com.