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Practicing High-Performance
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High-performance organizations are those that consistently achieve superior results, often through a combination of effective leadership, engaged employees, and a strong culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

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Practicing High-Performance

While many training and consulting companies across the United States concentrate on improving employees' technical skills and daily processes, Black Diamond Leadership's vision differs from the rest. We aim to prove that more specialized training and benefits can only motivate and empower employees like human developmental training. The distinction is our emphasis on the model for high-performance business rather than the traditional model that has dominated the business world for many years.

Consider these facts as researched by The Center For Organizational Design:

  • A Sherwin Williams, auto paint plant boasts 30 percent higher productivity, 45 percent lower costs, and 25 percent fewer employees for equivalent volume over a sister plant.
  • A Digital Enfield plant yields equal volume to sister plants with half the people and half the space while realizing a 2.5 times higher rate of first-time-perfect modules.
  • A Corning mold machine shop realized 100% improvements in quality and delivery while reducing costs from 15% above to 15% below the competition.
  • Rocky Mountain Labs reduced turnaround time from 28 to 14 days and reduced internal handoffs by 500%, thereby improving productivity by 50% and profits by 25%
  • Tektronix Portables Division decreased inventory from $40 million to $15 million and reduced cycle time from 12 weeks to four weeks.
  • Shenandoah Life Insurance Company reduced the employee-to-supervisor ratio from 7:1 to 37:1, service improved, and complaints and errors declined.
  • American Transtech decreased headcount by 56 percent, increased sales volume by 46 percent, increased customer satisfaction, and had an average of 158 percent improvement in shareholder services.

These are just a few of hundreds of businesses achieving outstanding results in the United States. They are doing so by changing the way work is organized and empowering the people who do that work. This is known as the High- Performance work system! However, before looking ahead, let's look at where we have come.

The Traditional Paradigm

The traditional paradigm has dominated most modern businesses. It is based on a set of principles and practices formally defined by Frederick Taylor in 1903 and known as "scientific management." The principles of scientific management were beneficial a century ago when this country was moving from a rural society to an urban community based on mass production. With these changes in the structure of society and the way work was organized, it was necessary to create bureaucratic organizations to manage and control masses of untrained people. Taylor believed work could be accomplished by breaking it down into simple and repetitive tasks for workers. That management's job was to control the means and speed of production. Some significant features of job design that came out of the industrial revolution are the following:

  • Simple, narrowly defined jobs
  • Division of labor that keeps different functions separate
  • One best way to do a job
  • Uniform and strictly enforced policies
  • Management's role in controlling the means and speed of work

Although this paradigm may have helped move us to an industrial society, it does not fit with the complex and changing nature of the economy, marketplace, technologies, and people today. It is seriously flawed in two primary ways:

First, traditional organizations are structured around engineering, manufacturing, and sales in a manufacturing company or customer service, accounting, and billing in a service company. This creates fragmented work so that people do not see or feel responsible for a "whole process." They might over-identify with their jobs and need help understanding or caring about the overall good of the company or customers they serve. This leads to poor communication, redundancies of effort, turf battles, delays in decision-making, and general inefficiency. It is most noticeable when:

  • A piece of work is completed and "thrown over the wall" to another department.
  • When an urgent decision that directly impacts a customer is delayed for a couple of days because it needs someone else's signature
  • When work is inspected after it has been built

The former Soviet Union was the paragon of inefficiency and bureaucracy. It took five years for the government to approve the construction of the first McDonald's restaurant. Furthermore, changing a single ingredient in ketchup took numerous levels of government approval.

The second flaw of this traditional paradigm is the assumption that it is the management's job to control employees' work. Management sets goals make decisions, measures progress, and evaluates performance.

Managers are the thinkers and planners, and employees are the doers. These organizations need to tap the tremendous intelligence and creativity of their people. Power exists at the top. People on the "front lines" closest to the core processes have less authority to make decisions, solve problems, or significantly contribute to the organization's mission and goals.

Most people do routine, repetitive, and somewhat unchallenging jobs with little sense that they make a difference in the overall direction or success of the business. Organizations structured this way are bureaucratic, rigid, unconcerned about quality, lacking innovation, unresponsive to customer needs, and generally unsatisfying places of employment.

Unfortunately, despite such limitations, the traditional paradigm continues to dominate the practices of most businesses throughout this country today.

Solutions to this have been Total Quality Management (TQM), Kaizen, Six Sigma, and most recently, Agile and Lean manufacturing. Plenty of evidence shows how these have contributed to improving the bottom line. Each of these claims employee involvement as the means to engage and challenge employees "to make a difference." While boasting about real successes, leaders block every time they challenge the organization structures, i.e., the "fiefdoms." In particular, they need help getting by the barbed wire set in place by mid-level managers. It's more than turf.

The High-Performance Paradigm

In recent years, an exciting new paradigm known as High-Performance work systems (HPWS) has emerged. HPWS is changing how we think about people and how work is organized. A High-Performance organization could be defined as an organization in which each person is a contributing partner to the business.

High-performance work environments require deep respect and trust in people. People are neither viewed as extensions of machines, objects to be manipulated, nor costs to be controlled. Instead, leadership sees employees as thinking and feeling human beings who bring enormous energy, creativity, and talent to their work. Most people want meaningful jobs that allow them autonomy to make decisions and contribute to the company in significant ways.

Effective organizations move beyond attempting to control people to trusting and empowering them with the resources, information, tools, skills, and support to manage their work processes and create products and services of unprecedented quality. Moreover, they cross-organizational schisms to make it happen.

Of course, many companies espouse a philosophy that values people and yet are not experiencing the kinds of performance described at the start of this article. That is because they are not designed to do so. Only a holistic, systemic view of the organization in which all aspects of the organization are aligned behind that philosophy will realize the actual value of their people.

In High-Performance organizations, people understand the business, are committed to getting results and are organized into self-contained, multi-functional, and customer-focused business units or teams. They take full responsibility for making decisions, solving problems, and continuously improving the quality of their work. Everyone involved with a particular core process is a member of the same team and empowered with full authority for the success of a whole product, service, or significant segment of work. Roles and responsibilities are much broader and more meaningful in scope than in a traditional organization. The team is responsible for setting goals, coordinating and scheduling work, interfacing with the customer, training, making problem-solving decisions, monitoring quality, measuring performance, and hiring and selecting decisions.

The management role moves from controlling workers and solving day-to-day problems to facilitators and coaches. They define outcomes, manage boundaries, interface with other departments, and, in general, ensure that the team has the resources, training, information, and support they need to carry out the job.

Perhaps this movement could be summarized by four basic principles:

  1. People are the organization's most excellent resource and must be trusted and empowered.
  2. Work must be designed so that people can do "whole and meaningful" tasks that integrate all work aspects into a singular and total system.
  3. Cross-functional teams are the natural work units of High-Performance companies. They are responsible for managing all tasks and processes to accomplish business goals.
  4. The role of management must change from controlling workers to providing resources and training and managing the environment so teams of workers can be most effective.

If you keep doing what you've been doing...

Research and experience indicate that companies organized by principles of High performance consistently outperform their more-traditional counterparts. A recent review of 100 companies that have recently redesigned their work environments consistent with these principles showed an average improvement in productivity of 37%. Pretty remarkable!

There is an old truism: "if you do what you've always done, you'll get what you always got." Most leaders, owners, or managers have yet to tap the full potential of their workforce. They will only do so by doing more or even better than they've done in the past. Only through a redesign of work and the organization's structure can outstanding productivity and quality improvements be realized. Only when we recognize the value of mid-level managers will this happen?

The good news is that over the last several years, a proven methodology has evolved to assist businesses in transitioning from a traditional to a High-Performance paradigm. It is known as "socio-technical systems theory." It is used in all organizations – manufacturing and service, large and small, whole companies, or sub-units.

The High-Performance Model on page 8 shows the programs we use to create a high-performance organization. As you can see, there are four distinct but interrelated paths to get there: organizational assessment and design, strategy development, leadership and personal development training, and implementation of teams. We provide eight programs related to the four paths to help companies become high performing. Some companies elect to implement all eight programs within their organizations. Others focus on one, two, or three programs to help them transition. Based on their needs and resources, a company's leaders can choose the pathway and programs they will take to move them toward high performance.

How to make it happen

The good news is that we have developed programs to assist businesses in transitioning to high performance. The mission of Black Diamond Leadership is to introduce companies to principles of high performance and, thereby, dramatically improve their productivity, profits, employee performance, and employee morale. All types of organizations – manufacturing and service, large and small, whole companies or sub-units—can use these programs to become high performing.

A Black Diamond Leadership consultant can help you develop a plan to become high performing. Contact Black Diamond Leadership at (818) 231-5238 to learn how you can embark on this exciting and productive endeavor.

Empowering Leaders, Synergizing Teams: Cultivating Satisfied, Motivated, and High-Performing Teams

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