By Richard Duve, Lecturer and Acting pro-vice chancellor ,Midlands State University
The proponents of results based change, Robert Schaffer and Harvey Thomson (1992) once said, “Most Corporate Change programs mistake means for ends, process for outcome. The solution: focus on results not activities”.
The performance improvement efforts of many companies have as much impact on operational and financial results as a ceremonial rain dance has on the weather. The rain dance instead of improving the weather which should trigger precipitation of rains it only improves the dance and contributes nothing to performance.
Companies introduce activities which parade under the buzz words of Total quality, continuous improvement (Kaizen), typically advance a managerial philosophy such as inter-functional collaboration, middle management empowerment, or employee environment.Some focus on measurement of performance such as competitive bench marking, customer satisfaction surveys or statistical process controls. These programs are introduced under false assumption that if they carry out enough of the “right” improvement activities, actual performance improvements will inevitably, materialize. At the heart of these programs, which we call activity centered, is a fundamentally flawed logic that confuses, ends with means, processes with outcomes. The proponents of this line of thinking further believe that once managers benchmark their companies’ performance against competitors, assess their customers’ expectations and train their employees in principles of creative problem solving ,sales will increase and quality improve but experts and consultants in this field are often ignored when they advise activity centered organizational heroes that they should focus on improving results because eventually results will take care of themselves.
It must be noted that the momentum for activity centered programs (ACP) continues to accelerate at a faster pace when there is no evidence to justify the flood of investment.
ACTIVITY CENTERED FALLACY
Several reasons emerge why activity centered improvement programs are no longer an appealing philosophy in this era of dynamic engagement:-
1) Not keyed to specific results. In ACP managers reform the way they work amongst themselves and the employees, they train people, they develop new measurement schemes, increase employee awareness regarding customer attitudes and these steps lead to better business performance. But the management rarely make explicit, how the activities are supposed to lead to the results.
2) Too large scale and diffused: choosing a vast array of activities simultaneously across the entire firm may prove difficult to synchronize them down to Gemba (frontline levels). This is like researching a cure for a disease by giving a group of patients ten different new drugs at the same time.
3) Results is a four letter word
When ACPs fail to produce improvement in financial and operational performance, managers never complain lest they be accused of preoccupation with short term achievements at the expense of the long term company performance. It is only a brave manager (organizational heroes or prima donas) who will insist on seeing a demonstrable link between the proposed investment and tangible pay offs in the short term.
4) Delusional measurement
Managers often make a mistake of equating measures of activities with the actual improvements in performance. They are not the same. You need to quantify performance in measurable terms.
5) People Driven
The biggest snag in propagating improvement programmes is that they are imposed and not people driven. So when staff experts and improvement gurus show up with their evangelistic enthusiasm and bright promises of TQM and continuous improvement, asking only for faith and funds, managers greet them with open arms. But the capacity of most of these improvement experts is limited to installing discrete, often generic packages of activities that are rarely aimed directly at specific results.
In contrast to ACP, results driven Improvements (RDI) by-pass lengthy preparation rituals and its focus is on attaining measurable results in a short space of time. This line of thinking illustrates four key benefits of results driven approach that ACPs generally miss:
1) Firms can introduce managerial on process innovations only as they are needed. Results driven projects require managers to prioritize carefully the creative innovations they want to employ to achieve desired goals. Managers introduce modifications in management styles, customer relations in a just in time mode where as with ACPs, the process is ritualistic and training is the “right” thing to do.
2) Empirical testing reveals what works. Becausemanagers introduce these innovations sequentially and links them to short term goals, they can discover quickly how this strategy yields results, and this can be achieved by constantly assessing how each improvement step contributes to meeting deadlines.
3) Frequent reinforcement energizes the improvement process.Pride in accomplishing tasks successfully is a powerful motivator (Katzenburg, 2002). Short term incremental projects that quickly yield tangible results can inculcate“worrior spirit” in employees as they enjoy psychological fruits of success.
4) A continuous learning scenario
The proponents of solution after next (SAN)principle of creative thinking postulate that whatever you do now must have a bearing in the future. For example if Zimglass is to buy a bottle manufacturing plantit has to consider future implications of the dynamic business environment and should incorporate the need for future modifications to the plant now based on the SAN and the betterment timeline principles of breakthrough thinking, should the need arises or they risk what is called strategic inflection points (SIP) which is the sudden changes in the business’s operating environment (Grove,1999).
Execution is the discipline of getting things done.
Taking advantage of the power of results-driven improvement calls for a profound paradigm shift in the mind set.Management identifies the performances that are more urgent and sets about at once to achieve desired measurable progressin a short space of time. Good ideas become useless unless implemented and execution is the art of getting things done.
Learning from the future
One of the learning theorists Alvin Toffler once said “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who can’t read or write, but those who can’t learn, unlearn or re-learn”. This means that learning is a critical concept to any individual or organisation. Consequently, the 1980s witnessed much talk in industry and commerce about learning and how to allow people to learn as much as possible.
In recent years, most organisations of diverse sizes and nature have embraced mentoring, coaching programmes as well as training and development in general to ensure that their staff is afforded opportunities to learn and grow. however they need to link this learning and knowledge gained to results not performance.
Schoemaker (1995) postulates that scenario planning is a disciplined method for imaging possible futures in which organizational decisions be played out. Scenarios are not visions or forecasts but indicate what can conceivably happen or what would happen if…?Managers who have the ability to predict accurately the future outcomes in terms of their successes will undoubtedly out maneuver competitors in the next century (Lindgren and Bandhold, 2003)
Starting with the end in mind
Professor Stephen R. Covey (1992 pp.98) says “To begin with the end in mind means to start with clear understanding of your destination, that is knowing where you are going so as to better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction……”, and ultimately attaining your desired goals.It”s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the “busy-ness” of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover its leaning against the wrong wall. Starting with your desired outcomes and cascade back to your plans is now the new normal .
Results based Management (RBM)
RBM is a management strategy by which all actors on the ground contributing directly or indirectly to achieving a set of development results, ensure that their processes, products and services contribute to the achievement of desired results. RBM rests on clearly defined accountability for results and requires monitoring and self assessment/audit of progress towards results, including reporting on performance (UNDG, 2009). Balanced score card your days are numbered.
Lessons for organizations of the future.
Will organisations of the future make mistakes of the past? Pfeffer (1997 p50) says “to avoid getting caught in the dilemma …of blindly following fads…”the following questions need to be seriously considered to keep the answers firmly in organisational leaders” minds:
• What is the key to our competitive success?
• What distinguishes our organisation from the growing crowd of look alikes?
• What are our core competences required in the firm’s competitive market place?
• Is the firm’s human resource base consistent with our core competences?
• What evaluation tools are in place to quantify our performance in terms of results