We have all heard the horror stories of change and continuous improvement efforts failing. But we need to ask ourselves What is driving us to challenge the status quo? What is it that we want to achieve? How can we gain alignment and build momentum throughout the entire company? How can we achieve more, faster? How can a fixation on the tools detract from what is important? Personally, will the legacy of our efforts leave us fulfilled with what we have achieved? And how do we avoid these same pitfalls? The key is to make the effort to build a culture for success as a cornerstone of your company so that you can more readily recognize when an alternative approach is necessary and respond more decisively.
There are many books available to help us answer these questions as we embark on our journey to achieve the highest level of operational performance possible. Each will illuminate the various methodologies, the relevant tools you should be aware of, their appropriate use, and which to pull from your kit when and under what circumstances.
The present book is a definitive work on the discipline of operational excellence. In it, Joseph Paris gives a retrospective on how management approaches to business operations came to exist as they are today and offers a definition and paints a picture of what operational excellence is and its strategic and tactical importance to your company. He offers insight as to why a culture of leadership and accelerated decision-making will be the competitive advantage for companies in the twenty-first century. He does a deep dive into the nuanced and often neglected soft skills of communication, debate, and motivation that establish teambuilding and foster alignment. He discusses the arsenal of tools available and how they should be used for maximum benefit. And he offers guidance and a framework for building an operational excellence program and illuminates the tell-tale signs as to whether your program is on the right track or not.
Having worked at BMW as the vice president of manufacturing for the Mini Cooper and now at SpaceX in their manufacturing operations, I have experienced how the differing cultures of the United Kingdom, the United States, and Germany, among others, can complement one another and become a force multiplier instead of a hindrance. What is necessary is the opportunity and desire to align the energies and efforts of all with a shared purpose and goal that is known and understood by everyone. Approaches will naturally differ, but people like to win. And when shared beliefs exist, effort, obstacles, sacrifice, and hardship are no longer measures of the challenge but, instead, rallying cries to come together and deliver as a high-performance team.
Now, you may be asking how I can possibly compare the achievements and approach of an automotive powerhouse like BMW, with its long history, with that of an impressive new entrant into the space industry like SpaceX? The one quality that is shared by the two—a competitive advantage in each of their respective industries—is that both companies have leadership cultures which create organizational alignment rarely experienced in most organizations. And they both have an inherent belief that people’s abilities are, more often than not, underestimated. SpaceX has the grand ambition of inaugurating interplanetary life as a reality, with plans to establish transport solutions to and from Mars. And although BMW’s transport goals are a lot closer to home, both companies harness more of the human potential within their organizations than most others. There is no shortage of challenges placed on the teams to resolve problems, as well as the natural pressure and sensitivity to the timeliness of results, but when walking the floor in either company, you feel a sense of purpose, camaraderie, and a desire to win.
So consider whether you really have an open culture for feedback. Do you allow a new intern to freely ask questions or make suggestions in the first meetings they attend? Do you actually provide adequate support and a role with immediate accountability, or do you have them “shadow” other team members through fear of their inexperience and potential failure? Is every meeting simply a matter of an agenda and minutes, or can someone’s great suggestion turn the agenda a full 180 degrees from its original intent?
If you want to inspire innovation at a pace that is unrivalled, then you need to encourage creativity, and this requires that organizational leaders at all levels and everywhere in the company be responsible and supportive, especially when lessons are inevitably learned by individuals seeking to achieve stretch goals. When mistakes are made, they must be shouldered by both the individual who made them (to prevent a repeat), and the leader, who assumes accountability for both the result and maintenance of the culture for change. The fear to stretch beyond your comfort zone and ability is born of a previous mistake that was punished. The result is that a culture of fear is the culture of the company. Don’t be that company.
Many organizations seeking to achieve operational excellence and become a high-performance organization fail at the fundamentals: to train and coach their leaders as to what real leadership is and to unlock and unleash the talents and full potential within their teams. Poor-performing organizations will focus their efforts on “building belts” and will concentrate their training efforts solely on the tools and how to view existing processes and value streams from the usual perspective. What if the team responsible for delivering the results was able to examine the challenges from an entirely different viewpoint and ensure all the leaders within the organization were constantly available as an extension to the team’s problem resolution process? How many more challenges would be resolved, and how empowered would the team feel with regard to making a difference? A sense of ownership and pride in a job well done matters.
So although the various methodologies and tools associated with continuous improvement are useful in their own right, there is much more required to achieving the high performance desired by so many. In this book, JP provides clarity on how to push beyond these methodologies and tools and to incrementally and deliberately progress toward the realization of your organizational potential.
People become very anxious with the thought of change— not to mention transformational change. Even when faced with great peril or opportunity, human nature is to resist change. Too often, they wait too long, and their control of the circumstances diminishes; the result is a negative impact on the outcomes. It is therefore important to invest the time and effort upfront and to communicate with clarity the form, substance, and intent of the change so that this fear is minimized.
State of Readiness provides meaningful guidance for creating a culture of leadership and innovation within your company. It shows how to accelerate the decision-making process so that iterative progress toward company objectives occurs faster and the missteps are less costly, how to build high-performance individuals and how to form high-performance teams from these individuals, and how to ensure that all the efforts and resources across your value chain are aligned for the pursuit of your company’s strategies.
If you want to be the next greatest disruptor within your industry, to gain the maximum marketshare, to increase profitability, or to simply remain relevant and prevent bankruptcy, then this strength of purpose has to be shared within and across your organization. JP helps you with his experiences globally and offers an approach and framework to eliminate the bureaucracy that stifles creativity, to transcend cultural differences and make diversity an asset, to focus everyone’s efforts toward what is important, to have a superior understating of your company’s capabilities and situational awareness, and to individually and collectively make a lasting positive and indelible difference within your organization.
I am excited that this book provides the substance and context, which has eluded so many other works in the past. I am certain that those who read it will be better prepared to enable their business and leaders to accomplish much more in less time than can be accomplished by simply having knowledge of tools and techniques. Leadership, the understanding of what motivates people, their native knowledge and culture, an understanding of their circumstances in context, and a clear vision for the future that is unmistakably communicated will result in an environment where true transformational change is the norm and not the exception.
I gained some keen insights from this book on what it takes to build a successful operational excellence program and become a high-performance organization, and I am sure you will too.
Andrew Lambert, FIET
Vice President, Production & Supply Chain SpaceX
“Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” —Vince Lombardi
The ways and means of businesses operating around the world have been increasingly optimized over time, even while supply chains and finance have become more complex and stretch further around the globe—in pace with advances in transportation and technology. Today, we think nothing of going to the grocery store and purchasing a pint of fresh strawberries, regardless of the season. But what has really changed in business—and even in our own lives—is the incremental, relentless compression of time. More specifically, we and our companies need to accomplish more in order to remain competitive and relevant—even viable—in a continually decreasing amount of time.
How does a company accomplish more in less time and not spin out of control? The challenge is increasing efficiency while also increasing effectiveness. We have to manage multiple (often competing) priorities. We need to recognize opportunities and threats to our strategies, and we must formulate and deploy effective countermeasures to maintain control over our own narrative. We need to make sound decisions quickly. And we need to do all of this in real time.
This is the nature of operational excellence and the essence of its importance: The organizations that pursue operational excellence will achieve a state of readiness to quickly identify and decisively engage opportunities and threats and more rapidly develop and execute their strategies. In doing so, they will become a high-performance organization.
I have had the opportunity to work with countless companies and people within those companies all around the world. Even with two sets of additional pages, my passport is almost full, with a full four years before it expires. Most of my experiences have been very positive. I consider the relatively few experiences that were not positive as paying tuition to the University of Life.
Who might be interested in, and benefit from, reading this book?
You are an executive in a company—perhaps even in the C-Suite—who needs to accelerate the realization of your vision for the company and recognize you need the help of others to accomplish this. And you could do this, if only . . .
Or . . .
You are in operations or part of the continuous improvement efforts within your organization and feel you are not getting the proper attention and support from the executive leadership. And you could do so much more, if only . . .
If only what?
The answers to that are why I wrote this book—to share my observations and experiences, developed over more than thirty years, of how things are, how they could be, and what it takes to get from where you are to where you want to be. We’ll discuss things to avoid, things to embrace, and how to see the signals within your organization that foreshadow its future state. I want to share what I have learned with you so you might not have to pay as much tuition to the University of Life as I have.
I am not going to say it’s easy. There is no button to push or pill you can swallow that will make it easier or faster. It’s damn hard work, and it’s going to take time, effort, investment, gumption, and perseverance. And if you think it can be otherwise, you need to put this book down right now and walk away—because it’s definitely not for you.
But if you want your company to become a high-performance organization and believe in moving the ball down the field in a deliberate, continual, pragmatic, and measured manner—day by day, week by week, month by month, and year by year—then this book will offer some keen insights that will help you on your journey and may even prove invaluable.
When a company reaches a state of readiness, it attains a situational awareness and command of its capabilities—the ability to see and anticipate opportunities and threats. Along with it comes the ability to react in a meaningful and expeditious manner to any such challenges that may present themselves—keeping in mind this awareness will never be perfect and will need to be perpetually refined. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth.” That is to say, even though you are talented, trained, professional, and on the offensive pursuing your plan, the business that is better prepared to identify and engage an unforeseen challenge more quickly than its competition has a strategic and tactical advantage.
The efforts throughout the enterprise—from the vendor’s vendor to the customer’s customer, every calorie expended and every bit of treasure invested, from inception through execution and even after action, all activities from all resources and assets in any capacity—must be dedicated to these endeavors.
The business needs to practice transparency and communicate its ambitions and vision of the future in a clear and concise manner so that all of this energy, efforts, and available assets reach a state of alignment—a unity of purpose and action throughout the enterprise—for pursuing its strategies.
There should demonstrably exist—through its effective leadership, stewardship, mentorship, and followership—an ethos throughout the enterprise where the corporate culture is committed and everyone is unreservedly devoted to the effort.
When the highest level of alignment and commitment is achieved, the enterprise is prepared for action and for the continuous—meaning never-ending—engagements it needs to perform to become and remain best in class. But the enterprise is not only continuously moving, it is also moving in an intentional, calculated, engineered, and deliberate manner with not only a sense of purpose but purpose itself. Operational excellence can only be achieved by design and implemented in an engineered manner—not by accident or coincidence.
The improvement of company performance simply means to improve profit in a sustainable manner—the bottom line, EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation, and Amortization), shareholder value, and whatever metric you might use to measure performance. There are many ways to facilitate increased profits, but make no mistake, businesses exist to make profits, and their improvement efforts must yield greater profits. And not just by engaging in the pursuit of short term opportunities but also by keeping an eye on the long term, so the viability of the enterprise is ensured for the ages.
The efforts to improve company performance should ensure the company is always innovative and competitively positioned in its value proposition to its present and future customers to drive both short- and long-term value. These efforts include the following (but by no means should this list be considered exhaustive):
>> Being the innovation company—the company that creates demand and marketplaces and not a company that just satisfies a preexisting need
>> Aligning the company’s offerings to the desires of the marketplace and ensuring the messaging and sales efforts are effective
>> Making sure the finance and equity structure are optimal for supporting the strategies of the company
>> Validating the efficiency and effectiveness of the supply chain
>> Considering all other influences, including those involving operations, such as Lean Six Sigma3 (LSS), the Theory of Constraints (ToC), Total Quality Management (TQM), Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), and the entire alphabet soup of management methodologies— yes, even flow
In addition to improvements in company performance, the circumstances of those who work there, who are instrumental in making the company successful, must be equally considered. I don’t necessarily mean pay or compensation, because it’s been my experience that what is important varies with each individual. Most people will not leave a company over a 5 or 10 percent increase in pay, but they will leave if they feel disenchanted, disrespected, detached, undervalued, or have no potential for personal or professional growth. They want a sense of pride in ownership. They want their lives to be more joyous, and they want to look at their job as a means to that joy. Company leaders who understand this will reap great rewards, both professionally and personally.
It is a colossal mistake for companies to believe they can improve company performance just by heaping more and more on the backs of their employees. It’s unsustainable, and a breaking point will eventually be reached. You need to set the company’s pace for a marathon, not a sprint, and there needs to be enough energy in reserve for a kick when it is needed.
All of this is a precursor to becoming a high-performance organization, which is the ultimate goal. Your company cannot become a high-performance organization without alignment, commitment, and effort—a lot of effort—or without improvements in performance and in the lives of the people who work there, or with a culture that is not committed to achieving a state of readiness. Your company cannot become a high-performance organization without operational excellence.
Becoming a high-performance organization is the ultimate goal—a business that is best in its class and is more innovative and successful than its competitors in areas such as strategy development and execution. It should be an efficient and effective organization with clear roles and accountability, delivering superior customer service and maintaining the best vendor relationships, utilizing and maintaining its assets so they reliably produce more, and consistently and sustainably generating more profits.
This is a never-ending race without a finish line.
Continued in book…
“The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived, and dishonest, but the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” —John F. Kennedy
It seems at every conference, symposium, or other gathering of thought leaders for higher learning where the topic is Lean Six Sigma, many of the attendees—and almost all of the speakers— glorify the supposedly unmatched performance of Japanese companies and their management techniques as enshrined in the most revered of holy scrolls, the TPS. And when followers of this scripture speak, they declare the virtues of all things Japanese and cast aside, as heretics, the nonbelievers.
However, when I attend similar gatherings at locations around the world where the audience is business leaders and the topic is business strategy and finance (e.g., events organized by the Association for Corporate Growth, symposia for Private Equity and finance, the various economic forums and congresses, and conferences on business strategy), there is rarely (if ever) any mention of Japanese companies nor reference to their styles of management.
This has always given me cause for pause. How can something that is supposedly an absolute truism and necessary for success in one circle be almost completely ignored in another—particularly when both circles purportedly share the same aspiration of improving business performance and accelerating success?
Continued in book…