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Balanced Business Performance
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work with many companies, helping them continue to reach higher levels
of business performance. These clients are outstanding organizations,
leaders in their industries, but something has happened that keeps them
from achieving the levels of performance they seek.
With few exceptions, we find one of the challenges
these companies face is they do not have a balanced approach to
developing and delivering results. Some focus on developing
sophisticated business or functional strategies. Others are intensely
process focused. Others focus on tools to help reduce cost or improve
productivity and efficiency, implementing complex ERP, SCM, CRM and
of the hot trends is to focus on “execution.” Managers focus on
activity, implementation, and action. Often, without having a real
direction in mind, often with real inefficiency and wasted effort, all
in the name of activity.
intense focus in any of these areas may produce short-term results and
benefits, our research indicates focusing in one area is insufficient
for sustained performance excellence.
Core Performance Elements:
performance requires a balanced approach to each of the key elements of
Strategy/Vision/Values: The visions
and strategies of the company provide the overall direction and
definition of markets, businesses, customers and opportunities
the organization wants to address; the goals that should be
achieved; and the road map of how to achieve them. The visions
and strategies provide the core directions and focus to the
Generally, this is one of the areas of
greatest imbalance that we find. We see many organizations rich
in strategy, often with many strategies. Strategies are the
stuff MBAs and consulting firms are made of. Developing
strategies is how many business executives have been trained.
Strategies speak to the future and stimulate creativity,
innovation, and optimism.
However, without the right people, leadership and processes, the
best strategies will do nothing. Without moving them into action,
they remain nothing but wishful thinking or expensive presentations
in leatherbound folders.
Unfortunately, we find many executives think that strategies are an
end in themselves. Once the strategy has been developed, all the
heavy lifting has been completed. Usually, these executives move on
to creating new strategies, displacing the strategies they just
developed, that have not been tested, tuned and revised in the
market place. We find the phenomena of “strategies du jour.”
We used to say that we seldom found organizations with really weak
business strategies, but the bubble changed that! During the
bubble, we saw hundreds of businesses that had fundamentally no
business strategy. These organizations had vaguely defined
opportunities, and burned millions of dollars in the aimless, but
fast pursuit of activity.
An element of the strategy and vision is the company value system.
These shape the way people think and behave in the organization.
They shape the types of strategies, business processes, and
execution tactics that are selected. They shape the types of people
and leaders that form the company. The value system is at the
foundation of each element we discuss.
The failure of many mergers is often the result of a clash in value
systems and culture. Value systems can change
Process: High performance organizations are process
focused. They develop strong processes to help achieve the
strategies they have selected. The processes focus on putting in
place the steps and defining the required actions to effectively and
efficiently achieve the goals established in the strategies.
Processes also provide us the waypoints to assure we are achieving
the goals we established. We have all seen outstanding
organizations that are very process focused, like GE, Walmart, IBM,
However, process has gotten a bad name. Too often, process is
equated with bureaucracy. Processes seem to be encumbered with
procedures and seem to “slow us down, keeping us from making things
happen.” In our experience, the aversion to processes is that they
are really tough work. They require people to understand how things
must work in great detail. They require people to ask tough
questions, to get answers with precision, and to design systems that
produce results consistently over time. Processes are the basic
“blocking and tackling,” of making a business work. However, when
everyone wants to be the quarterback, or at least a tight end or
fullback, much of the “blocking and tackling” never gets done.
We find many organizations having fantastic business strategies that
cannot be executed because they have failed to put the basic
business processes in place to enable the strategies to be
executed. Other organizations do not achieve the performance
levels possible because the processes are inefficient or
Sometimes, we find an opposite phenomena in place. These
organizations seem paralyzed by their processes and procedures.
They are so process focused, they tend to be unresponsive or miss
opportunities that do not fit cleanly into their existing
processes. Opportunities that require changes to their business
processes and procedures, are lost to these organizations. We
seldom find these organizations in the commercial sector, seeing
them more often in the public sector or some not for profits.
Execution is an interesting challenge. Many companies are action or
activity oriented, but the activities lack strong direction, focus,
or consistency over time. Implicit in Bossidy’s definition of
execution are strong business strategies and processes. Without
this, execution becomes meaningless activities.
Much of the challenge we see in execution is the activity is not
closely tied to the business strategies and processes. Many
organizations seem to take a Ready, Fire, Aim approach, believing
almost any activity has merit.
As consultants, we have gotten cynical. We see many organizations
where one’s stature seems to be measured by how many back-to-back
meetings we can schedule, how many emails and voicemails we get each
day, how much we can multitask, how many meetings we can conduct
simultaneously. In one organization we worked with, it was not
uncommon for the top executives to schedule 2-3 meetings
simultaneously, booking their agendas from early in the morning to
the early evening.
People/Talent: Organizations are built of people, building
the highest level of performance requires having “A players” in each
job in the company. Clearly defining the roles, responsibilities,
and performance expectations required to support the other elements
is the only way to achieve the goals of the organization.
There are some important nuances to having “A players” in each job.
While it may be heresy, we don’t subscribe to the approach of
getting the “smartest” people you can get and defining the jobs
around them. There are countless disaster stories of outstanding
executives in the wrong job with the wrong company at the wrong
time. Getting the best “right” people is critical. Developing a
detailed profile of the ideal person for each position, then
rigorously interviewing to find the perfect fit to this profile is
the only way to achieve this level of fit.
As important to recruiting the right people, developing them to
continue to be A players allows continued high performance. As the
business strategies, processes, culture and execution priorities
change, it is important to develop the skills and capabilities of
the people so they still fit the evolved and new roles required to
support the changes. If they can’t, the people need to be changed,
either moved into the right jobs, moved out of the company, and new
A players need to be put in place.
am not advocating ruthless firing and hiring of people as the
business changes, in fact, this approach is short sighted and
usually fails. The real and opportunity costs generally offset any
performance gains that might be achieved. The way top performing
companies achieve this is making major commitments to developing
their people. This is through rich and appropriate training,
disciplined coaching and mentoring, strong performance management
and a drive for continued performance improvement. This commitment
to developing people must be a core element of the company value
systems and culture.
Leadership/Culture: The leadership team of the organization
pulls together these elements guiding the organization in achieving
its objectives. This paper is not intended to be an examination of
leadership, so we will highlight key characteristics required for
successfully leading the balanced performance of the organization.
key element of effective leadership is the commitment leaders
display to the strategies, processes, and people in the
organization. In the face of uncertainty, complexity, and rapid
change, it is sometimes difficult to maintain that commitment.
However, we see many organizations fail to achieve superior levels
of performance because executive management is constantly shifting
priorities, strategies, and focus.
Leaders set examples for their people. They constantly demonstrate
the behaviors and attitudes that are critical for success. Leaders
understand the impact of their behavior on the organization and
leverage that to motivate correct behaviors within the
organization. “Do as I say, not as I do” is unacceptable in high
Leaders know the power of coaching, mentoring and developing their
people. Leaders know the only way they can achieve the
organizational goals is through the people. They focus on
Leaders resist the temptation of being seduced by the status quo or
business as usual. In organizations where significant change is
required, sometimes it is easy to be seduced by the current inertia
of the organization. To drive change, leaders resist this. Leaders
resist the temptation of being seduced by what is popular or
fashionable, focusing on what is right for the organization.
Leaders understand the power of the organization’s culture and value
system, leveraging these, where appropriate to help drive change.
Enablers: Enablers support the core performance elements.
Enablers can be tools like ERP, CRM and other IT systems. Training
can be an enabler. The manner in which the organization
communicates with its people, customers, and stakeholders can be an
enabler. Innovation can be an enabler. Speed or velocity is really
an enabler, as well. Contrary to many popular views, speed in
execution is insufficient without strong and focused strategies and
business processes, executed by the right people. Enablers
fundamentally address effectiveness and efficiency issues. They
help organizations become best of breed and world class.
Organizational performance suffers when the five elements are not
balanced. We commonly encounter organizations that have invested
significantly in developing strong business strategies. Typically
the strategies are rich in content, identifying tremendous
opportunities for growth. However, very often, these strategies
neither define the business processes required to support the
implementation, nor provide a sufficiently detailed roadmap to
execute the strategies, yet fail to execute them. Our experience is
many of these companies move from strategy to strategy, never
achieving their objectives or full potential because they never
execute the strategies (for a number of reasons including the wrong
people, bad leadership, insufficient processes, and generally weak
execution). This doesn’t mean these companies are not successful,
we do see they are not achieving the same levels of success that
peer companies having a more balanced approach achieve.
Through the bubble, even somewhat into these times, we have seen
companies focused purely on speed or activity create a lot of hype.
During the bubble, literally hundreds of companies started, burned
through billions (cumulatively), and failed spectacularly. The
mantras during these times were “speed,” and “execution.” However,
in examining those companies, most had flawed or no business
strategy. Or they had poorly defined and executed business
processes, saddling them with expensive or inefficient operations.
Or they had the wrong people/leadership/values. Many of these
companies were made of people focused primarily on increasing their
own net worth, not building a business that created value for their
Companies, focusing too much on strategy and not the other elements
will not perform as well as possible. Likewise, organizations
focusing on execution, with weak strategies, processes, people or
bad leadership will not achieve their potential.
It is also important the balance is maintained over time. At any
point, focus on one or two of the elements may be greater than the
others, but over time, high performance organizations maintain a
relatively balanced focus on all areas.
Where do you start?
Well actually, you can start at almost any place. The process of
driving organizational excellence is an interactive process.
Generally, you start in one place, then look at the
interrelationships with the other elements. For example, if you
start with building your business and functional strategy, an
element of the strategic planning is the people fit, another element
is the set of processes required to support the sharp execution of
the strategy. Assessing the role of leaders in managing these
processes and driving the execution is ongoing.
However, depending on the circumstances of the organization, you may
be driven to focus on a certain area. For example in industries and
markets that are going through radical changes and restructuring,
focusing on the business and market strategies may be the most
important starting point. Companies having strong strategies but
are not producing the desired results may want to focus on improving
their business processes.
Customers, markets, competition, the environment, current
performance or many other things will require shifts in focus from
one element to another. However, our point is that focusing
exclusively on one element without integrating the others,
particularly over a long period of time, will keep the organization
from performing at its full potential.
Where do you start? No I’m not repeating myself, but how does an
organization start to implement this approach? This does not have
to be driven at a corporate level. It is not unreasonable to drive
this at a functional or departmental level. The perspective is
different, the ultimate impact may be different, but this approach
can be driven within a functional or departmental level. For
example, a marketing organization can focus on their functional
strategies, people, leadership, processes, execution and the
enablers that help them excel. A product development group, sales
group or almost any other group can start this effort. Again, the
benefit may not be as great as a corporate wide approach, but teams
of managers and leaders can start.
Another way might be a special project team. This team may focus on
one market or product area. They may focus on a certain set of
problems the organization is having. Building their approach around
the five elements outlined will help them in building a strong
approach to addressing the business issues of their project.
After the organization has iterated through all five elements
balancing the approach, then the organization can look at the
enablers to improving the efficiency and effectiveness of the plan.
Finally, on an ongoing basis, each element is tuned as the real
world experiences and results are posted.
A balanced approach should eliminate the
“strategy du jour” phenomena.
A balanced approach will should eliminate the
bureaucracy sometimes associated with process.
A balanced approach will insure execution is
focused and purposeful, creating results, not just activity.
A balanced approach will insure the right
people are executing the right strategies as effectively and
efficiently as possible.
A balanced approach requires strong,
committed and consistent leadership. Without this, it is
impossible for the organization to achieve its goals.
Execution, The Discipline of Getting Things Done, Larry
Bossidy and Ram Charan, 2002, Crown Business Press.
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