12 Principles that Guide High-Performance Organizations

Powerhouse

Unlocking the Secrets of High-Performance

They may seem, at first glance, to have nothing in common—different industries, challenges, experiences, leaders, competition, you name it. But there is something about this group of organizations that drew attention and merited study.

And that was their performance. These businesses outperformed their competition. Consistently.

Brian MacNeice and James Bowen recently spoke with me about their research into these companies and their new book, Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. Brian and James are founders of the international Kotinos Partners consultancy. They are experts in high performance.

They outlined 12 principles that guide the organizations that outlast and outperform the competition.

 


“Engagement on its own is only a stepping stone to sustained high-performance.”

 

12 Characteristics

How did you arrive at the common characteristics of organizations achieving excellence?

Effectively these emerged gradually through the research. We studied each institution with an open mind and on its merits. Then we shortlisted, at the conclusion of our research in each case, what we thought were the fundamental drivers of that institution’s enduring outperformance. When we compared the lists we had created across several of the institutions, the common characteristics became evident.

Secondly, because our research process was quite extended, we had the opportunity to use some of the later studies to test and validate hypotheses emerging from the earlier ones.

Finally we used some of our client work, which was progressing in parallel, to further refine our thinking.

 

I often ask leadership experts whether leaders are made or born. You take on that question with regard to high-performance organizations and say that they are made, not born. What leads you to this conclusion?

Simply put, the leaders who we spoke to in the organizations we researched were consistent in articulating and reinforcing that view. Without exception they talked about how they viewed the enduring sources of their advantage as being their people and their organizations, and they each described their roles as being about setting direction and ambition and then facilitating and enabling their organizations to achieve and extend those ambitions over time.

Even more particularly, given that many of the organizations we researched could be reasonably described as “values-driven,” their leaders saw a fundamental aspect of their roles as being about defining, representing, facilitating and rewarding those values in their organizations. The Mayo Clinic, Tata, Doctors Without Borders (Médicins sans Frontières) and the US Marine Corps were particularly strong examples in this regard.

 


“Overengineered engagement initiatives can become impersonal and feel false.”

 

4 Pillars of High-Performance

Let’s talk about the four-pillars to delivering high-performance.

Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission Copyright Brian MacNeice and James Bowen, Used by permission

Every organization knows it needs a plan. Where do most go wrong?

There are lots of ways in which organizations go wrong when it comes to planning, but for this discussion we will highlight two that we observe again and again in our work.

First, we suggest that organizations go wrong by planning on a basis of “inside-out” rather than “outside-in.” That is to say, their leaders tend to look at last year’s model and last year’s performance and identify tweaks they can make with a view to delivering incremental performance improvements next year. This model of planning tends to be short-term and tactical in nature and anchored in a historic, likely outdated, view of the world.

 


High performance organizations plan from the outside-in, not inside-out.

 

High performance organizations come at planning from the outside-in, using a much more strategic, future-oriented approach. They start by looking outside their organizations to understand how the context within which they operate is changing. Sometimes they do this by looking at their organizations through a series of discrete “lenses” – for example industry, market, customer, competitor, technology, regulatory, people – to understand (a) what dynamics they observe, (b) what opportunities and/or challenges arise as a result of these dynamics, and (c) how these dynamics might play out over the course of their planning horizon. Armed with these insights – in particular a much deeper understanding of cause-and-effect – they are better positioned to create strategies that bridge from where they are now to where they want to be over time. Relative to the first approach we discussed, plans developed this way tend to be more ambitious, radical and lower risk all at the same time.

Second we would suggest that organizations go wrong because they view planning as a task rather than as a capability. They view it as a chore to be endured once a year to fill a template, and which brings with it a significant cost in terms of time away from the frontline. Their engagement and investment in planning reflects this attitude – for them it’s about getting to the end of the process as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The approaches we observe in high performance organizations, by contrast, are more consistent with Eisenhower’s famous mantra that, “Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” They understand that their organizations, and the worlds in which they are operating, are always changing, and as such they develop planning as a dynamic, enduring competence. They operate “with their heads up,” tracking changes in their context all the time, taking on board the lessons of their experience and factoring insights into their plans on an ongoing basis. Some of these organizations have moved away from a traditional, annual model of budget-based planning towards a more continuous, iterative model of strategy development and deployment.

 


“Plans are nothing, planning is everything.” -Dwight Einsenhower

Answer the Call to Exceptional Leadership

answer call

Leading the Unleadable

Taking a management job is not the same as answering the call to exceptional leadership. That’s what Alan Willett’s new book is all about: how to create a culture where people are able to perform in an extraordinary way.

Often new managers think that those following them are unengaged, cynical, or otherwise difficult. And that can be true, but many of these symptoms are a result of the manager not knowing how to lead, how to challenge, how to create team-wide expectations.

Alan Willett offers practical ways for managers to take on these challenges. Alan is the president of Oxseeker, a leadership consultancy with clients ranging from Oracle to NASA. His new book is Leading the Unleadable. I recently asked him about his work on exceptional leadership.

 

“Exceptional leaders have a personal, passionate mission that goes beyond results.” –Alan Willett

 

Set the Right Expectations

There are so many aspects of your book to discuss, but I want to focus on expectations. How important is the leader’s expectations?

It is amazing how even people that seem “defiant” are working to meet the expectations of the leader. When leaders are setting the wrong expectation it will have negative impacts – and the leader can do this without even knowing it.

I have seen many leaders consistently tell their teams that they want the “most aggressive schedule possible.”  Of course the projects with the most aggressive schedule possible are invariably late. Along with being late, there are many negative aspects that can include quality problems and morale issues since team members feel they are failing. Many leaders who set these expectations later ask me, “Why are my teams always late?”

What the leader really wants in these situations is for the team to have the “smartest” plan possible and a commitment that the team can definitively meet or beat that plan. Setting those expectations correctly will get leaders who they really want.

 

“Exceptional leaders are fearless in setting expectations in clear language.” –Alan Willett

 

How a Leader Sets Goals

It seems that you can set the bar too low and not challenge the team or be “so positive” that you demotivate everyone. What’s the best way to set the goal appropriately?

Set clear motivating goals for the team, but also leave out some specifics, leave them a little vague. Then challenge the team to make it more specific and meaningful to them. In doing this the team members almost always grumble about the lack of precision. They then get to work to make the goals better. The team then creates the goals that are that high bar you refer to. Since the team set those specific goals, they are committed to achieving them.

 

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” –Pablo Picasso

 

I have worked this method with leaders over 300 times, and it never fails to inspire the team ownership and commitment. Leaders are often stunned at what the teams can really accomplish.

 

Expect Excellence Every Day

Is Leadership a Passing Phenomenon?

Leadership is a fad

This is a guest post by Dr. Ichak Kalderon Adizes. Dr. Adizes is a leading management expert and author of over 20 books. He offers an interesting perspective below.

Leadership: Quo Vadis?

It is in vogue now to lecture, write and debate the subject of leadership. I claim it is a passing phenomenon, like the concepts of administration, executive action and management were before it.

All of those concepts deal with the same process: management of change, taking an organization from point A to point B.

At the beginning it was called administration.  That is why MBA stands for Master of Business Administration.

Over time “administration” was found to be too limiting as a concept. It was delegated to low level supervisory and bureaucratic positions, and the concept of management was born. Business Schools across the country changed their name from Graduate School of Business Administration to Graduate Schools of Management.

The concept of management was not yielding the right understanding of the process of transforming organizations, and the concept of Executive Action was born. Titles such as CEO, CIO, CMO etc. appeared like mushrooms after the rain, and executive programs emerged in the market place.

Still not good enough to explain how organizations should be transformed, the concept of leadership started dominating the literature.

What is going on here?

Administration, Management, and Leadership have a common purpose. They are theories that prescribe how organizations should be transformed and how to manage change. They are all based on the same paradigm of individualism, that a single individual is the driving force of this transformation, whether it is called Chief Administrator or Manager or CEO or Leader.

 

“The achievements of an organization are the results of the combined effort of each individual.” –Vince Lombardi

 

As long as we remain with the same paradigm, no concept will be satisfactory. We will continue to change titles, embellish concepts and continue to chase our own tails, reinventing the same wheel from administration to leadership. Leadership will be assigned its place in the annals of social sciences next to management and administration.

Passé.

Individuals cannot transform organizations. It is a team process.

No individual possesses all the ingredients in his or her personality that are necessary for successful management of change.


“Individuals cannot transform organizations. It is a team process.” -Dr. Adizes

 

Change the Paradigm

The Surprising Truth About the Power of #Now

Power of Now

 Are you overwhelmed and stressed?

Stuck?

Finding it difficult to make decisions?

Dr. Max McKeown is known as an author, a strategist, and a speaker. His new research is all about the power of now, outlining personal strategies to live better in the now. We can all learn to be more Nowist and increase our satisfaction even as we pursue our goals. No more endless worrying. No more feeling stuck.

I recently asked Max to share more about his newest book, #Now: The Surprising Truth About the Power of Now.

 

“Let go to get going.” -Max McKeown

 

The Power of #Now

This book is different from your previous work. What led to your study of the power of #Now?

All we’ve got is #Now! You, me, everyone. This is something we all have in common. Each moment of Now is about 3 seconds long, which means that your life is composed of about a billion moments. Our past is made of moments we can’t change; our future is made of moments that we can change. And Now is where you can make all the changes that will shape your life.

The Power of Now

You’ll see that the circles on the cover represent the past and future while the # represents Now. It’s when your life is experiences, and action can be taken or not taken. And the book is about finding joy in moving forward. And so the book is also about the psychology of motivating yourself because motivation means to be moved.

 

“Now is where you can make all the changes that will shape your life.” -Max McKeown

  

Lean Towards Action

What’s a Nowist mindset? What are some of the characteristics of a Nowist? 

The Nowist mindset is about the ability and desire to always keep moving forward! And because it’s about a flexible mindset, rather than something fixed, we can all be a little bit more Nowist.

For most people, most of the time, it is better to lean towards action rather than inaction. It’s more productive and ultimately more enjoyable to listen to the voice telling you to keep moving rather than to slow down. And its healthier to embrace and use the spontaneous energy of life rather than complain, slow down or stop.

Nowists tend to take pleasure in the work itself; they don’t just wait until the job is finished. And that means they get more enjoyment out of everyday living and working, even when that includes disappointment or crisis. They are hard to stop and benefit from a powerful do-it-now energy. They roll with the punches and demonstrate what the book refers to as a ‘feisty spirit of survivorship’ even when faced with the worst that life has to offer.

 

“For most people, it is better to lean towards action rather than inaction.” -Max McKeown

 

Contrast that with a Thenist mindset.

We all have this amazing, really useful, ability to remember the past and imagine the future. The problem comes when you spend too much time and energy worrying about things rather than taking action to make things better. Some people try not to think about what they need to do next because they are too harsh on themselves. Other people think they are powerless, so they give up rather than figuring out useful next steps. And others forget to take joy in the day-to-day which means they are only kind of happy at the end of the task, for two seconds before worry or ambition sets in. Living as a Thenist can be very tiring and not much fun – you might miss out on living.

 

Believe You Can Make Good Things Happen 

How is this related to optimism?

In a way, a Nowist mindset is about active optimism. You don’t just passively pretend that good things will happen. Instead you believe that you can make good things happen. And then you take action that will lead to a better future.

We need the ability to consider the past and the future, and we benefit when we can see our actions as connected with what happens to us. The best things are likely to happen when we combine the ability to look back and look ahead with the willingness to leap into action. We look while leaping, and leap while looking.

Let go to get going

Of all of the studies you cite in your research, what surprised you most? 

How to Achieve Execution Excellence

Balanced Scorecard

What’s the best way to drive individual performance?

How does a leader assure enterprise success?

Is it possible to close performance gaps to improve execution?

 

Making Strategy Work

In Execution Excellence: Making Strategy Work Using the Balanced Scorecard  Sanjiv Anand answers these and other questions.

Sanjiv Anand has 30 years of global experience in consulting, helping CEOs and boards develop transformational strategies. Currently the Chairman of Cedar Management Consulting International, his book is full of his operational and strategic insight on how to manage human capital. He is an expert on the Balanced Scorecard.

I recently asked Sanjiv to share some of his experience about what does and doesn’t work in implementing strategy.

 

“If you can’t execute the strategy, it’s not worth having.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

Why is strategy more relevant than ever before?

While the world continues to provide opportunities to grow, it is not without challenges. First, customer expectations around product, relationship, and brand have risen over years driven by extremely high levels of competitiveness. This has resulted in the need for firms to develop multiple strategies that address different customer segments. Additionally, competition is now local, regional, national, and global. This requires a more nuanced and complex competitive strategy. All of this also drives complexity in process and people. Global organizations or markets require processes to work well in a centralized and decentralized manner. Lastly organizations have become complex as even medium-sized enterprises can have employees across the world. All of this has made strategy, and more importantly the execution of strategy, more relevant than ever before.

 

“Strategy is about execution.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

What are the elements of a strategy that works?

Never build a strategy that can’t be executed. The problem starts there. Most organizations build strategies that are complex, difficult to understand, and hard to execute. A strategy that works needs to be balanced. It needs to focus on the drivers of financial performance rather than just the financial outcome. People and technology help drive process excellence. Process excellence helps meet or exceed customer expectations. And meeting customer expectations delivers financial performance. Therefore, all of these elements are critical for strategy that works—combined with a clear sense of ownership across the leadership team, a set of performance measures that are lead indicators to performance, and a set of targets that focus performance and don’t overwhelm. Focus, balance, ownership, measurement, and the right targets are the elements that make strategy work.

 

“Parallel processing is key to a successful strategy.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

Understand Cultural Differences

What are the cultural differences to be aware of in terms of measurement?

Execution Excellence by Sanjiv AnandIn the U.S., measurement motivates. In many parts of the world, measurement scares. Why? The U.S. has a culture that celebrates individual performance. This is also reflected in how organizations assess and reward people. Drive individual performance to drive enterprise performance is the typical formula; therefore, most executives in U.S. corporations are used to the idea of being measured and being held accountable individually.

Many parts of the world are different. In Japan it’s about team performance, and therefore team measurement is more important. In many parts of Asia, especially India, measurement is generally not part of the culture. Individual performance, or rather lack of it, is not something for public display or discussion. In Europe, the role of the corporation transcends the objective of only meeting shareholder expectations to also focusing on the greater good of society, so measurement of individual performance gets more complicated.

The broader point here is not to suggest that measurement should not be attempted, but the approach to measurement needs to be customized to motivate, not demotivate’ which is the objective in the first place.

 

“A positive strategy should focus on innovation.” –Sanjiv Anand

 

Don’t Make these Mistakes In Setting Targets