Joe Friel’s Blog: Excellence

Joe Friel’s Blog: Excellence.

I’m a couple of months late picking this up (it was published in September, and reported by Greg Eisenbach with the observation that “nothing is listed about talent.” ). But I think it is relevant here because Joe Freil’s predictors of excellence in an athlete translate directly to business performance. Only the context is different.

Motivation – do you want it? The key words are:

This goes well beyond lip service to goals.

Yet, all too often in business, lip service goals are what we get. But organizations that are truly successful and it it for the long haul are motivated by something intrinsic, something more than the platitudes of “creating shareholder value” or other committee-created “vision statements.”

Discipline – a rare commodity in business. The discipline to understand the long-term vision and work incrementally to get there vs. chasing after the short-term gains is the first thing I think of. Even tougher is to demonstrate discipline when times are good. It is easy to hire like mad and sacrifice sustainable margins for short-term sales. It takes discipline to develop a long-term steady growth plan and stick to it.

Confidence – Although this is speculation on my part, I have developed a sense over the years that what we deem “management resistance to change” is actually a lack of confidence. Leaders, and the organization, are simply not capable of performing any better than they believe they can. When I really listen to the language of resistance, the things I hear most often are how “we are different” (or how the examples of excellence are different) in some way that justifies not doing any better than they are now. I have even seen this internally when one part of the company starts to out-perform the others. Even more incredible is the response to turn against the outlier and tear it down.

Focus – I am going to quote Joe Friel here, because I can’t think of a better way to say it.

This could also be called purpose; the athlete knows where he or she wants to go in the sport. Daily training is a purposeful activity that will lead to excellence. Each workout (and accompanying recovery) is a small building block that eventually results in excellence. But you have to take it one step at a time, which brings us to the last predictor, patience.

There are a number of analogies here. Purpose is the obvious one. “Daily training” to the athlete is the process of building, and sustaining, capability. At the pinnacle of “lean” are companies that look at everything they do as training to do it better the next time. They evaluate how they carry out their activities, and evaluate the results. They focus on excellence and, more importantly, they do it on purpose and with purpose.

When there are changes, there are recovery periods which are required for the organization to adjust. Unlike athletes, however, organizations are not limited by the physiology of the human body for adjustment. They can improve on it since their adjustment is mostly psychological and learning, not recovery of damaged tissue.

PatienceOur kaizen blitz culture has created an expectation of instant results. But the purpose of the kaizen event is practice – it is a workout so that people can get better at making improvements as part of their daily work. Impatience is a symptom of poor focus and lack of discipline.

Though this list is great, I want to add one more thing:

Accountability. This word, unfortunately, has a negative “blame and punishment” connotation today as in “hold them accountable.” But I don’t mean it in that way at all. When I say “accountability” I mean that people take personal, internal ownership of their own results. It is actually impossible to impose accountability on someone else. Rewards and punishments may influence behavior a little bit (though I think they just improve people’s skills at concealing things), but they have nothing at all to do with accountability.

You can see accountability when things have gone to hell in a handcart. One organization blames external forces beyond their control, and expects someone else to rescue them since “it wasn’t their fault.”

The accountable organization says “Obviously we need to improve more” and embraces their results, even if they were they were caused by events outside their control.

The difference is between an organization that chooses to be in control of its destiny vs. one which relies on luck, and entitlement to survive.

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