Leading with Process Excellence

I think that any organization hoping to grow rapidly must develop its ability to lead with process excellence (PE). These concepts when applied properly can create organizations with fantastic operational rigor & relentless improvement.

There are some stone-simple concepts that underlie all PE tools, approaches, etc. These ideas can be applied very literally in a data-rich environment… but can also be applied conceptually in situations where there isn’t a rich amount of measureable data.

1. “Process” = a series of repeatable, sustainable steps that consistently produce a desired outcome.
2. Everything is a process (Well, almost everything).
3. Process can usually be expressed by the formula Y=f(x1, x2, x3…), where Y is a discrete output & the x’s represent the major (critical few) inputs & process steps.
4. Every process should have a single owner: the person who has authority to approve improvements to the process.

Which leads me to my next point. To be an effective process owner, you need to develop some specific skills… I will chunk these up into a few blog entries, coming soon.


Put The Plan In Writing!

So you have determined to inspire your team to greatness, harnessing their loyalty & belief in a common cause. Fantastic!   But… What exactly do you want your team to do?  And… How will you make sure they are all on the same page?

Answer: Do like Doc… Write it down!

Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers giving his team the plan

A former CEO of mine tells the story of his first GM role, running a “small” division of ~1,000 employees and ~$100M in revenue for GE. In an early discussion w/his boss, he explained his gameplan for the division… and then his boss asked him one simple question: “How in the [world] do you think you can get 1,000 employees headed in the same direction if you haven’t written down the plan?”

Practical. True. And sadly, often overlooked.

Every leader should have a written plan. The format of this plan is less important that the content. In the simplest form, your plan should include:

  • Long Term Vision: where are you going over the next 5-10 yrs?
  • This Year’s Objectives: what does success look like?
  • This Year’s Metrics & Targets: how will we measure ourselves against our objectives?
  • This Year’s Priorities: what are the few most important priorities/initiatives we must deliver in order to succeed?
  • If you go much beyond this, you get extra credit… but just get this far to start!

…So What? (What should I take away from reading this?)

What follows is common sense. But as Ben Franklin said “what is common sense is not common practice.”

For Leaders:

  • Write down the plan. Don’t worry about making it beautiful… just get the main ideas in writing, simple bullet points on a page or two should do it.
  • Share it with your team. Get their input… do they believe with the vision? Do they agree with the objectives? Do you have the right priorities/initiatives to move the needle? 

For Everyone: These concepts apply in both business & in life.

Have you ever thought about writing down the plan for the next 5 yrs of your life?  Try it… you will be surprised at the focus it provides you in your day-to-day life choices.

What is “leadership?”

Simply put, leadership is… influence.  The ability for person A to influence person B to do something.

So how do you influence others?   Influence comes from the application of power and can be used for “good or evil” as we’ve all seen.  There are several kinds of power that you’ve probably experienced.

Types of power leaders can use to influence others:

  • Positional power.  Also called “legitimate power” or “structural power,” it is the power of an individual because of their position/title and duties.  It’s when you do [a task] because your boss asked you to.  The military typifies this approach.
  • Coercive power.  It includes the ability to demote or to withhold rewards if the desired actions aren’t taken.  While highly motivating in the short-term, the downsides include increased stress, fear, uncertainty, etc on the part of the recipient.  Don’t recommend it.
  • Expert power.  Power someone has because of very specific skills or expertise.  This type of power is usually highly specific and limited to the particular area in which the expert is trained and qualified.  You all know someone like this – they are a technical genius in their field and when they speak, everyone listens.
  • Reward power.  Reward power depends on the power wielder’s ability to confer valued rewards (benefits, time off, desired gifts, promotions, increases in pay, responsibility, etc). This power is obvious but also ineffective if abused.
  • Referent power.  Ability of individuals to attract others and build loyalty, based on the relationship and interpersonal skills of the power holder.  This loyalty creates the opportunity for interpersonal influence.  Hopefully you’ve had the good fortune to work with someone like this – a boss you were proud to follow, a colleague that you could get you to run through a brick wall for them, or a team member that always inspired you to go the extra mile.

…So What?  (What should I take away from reading this?)

For Leaders:
◊ Take personal inventory. Which forms of power do you rely on most heavily? Is that effective in the short term? What about in the long term?
◊ What changes do you need to make in your personal approach to the use of power?

For Individual Contributors:  You’re leading every day… in fact you can be more powerful than people with “leadership titles!”
◊ Think about your spheres of influence… who do you influence on a regular basis?
◊  How are you consciously using your powers… for good & not evil?

For All Human Beings: 
These concepts apply in both business & in life.  Think about how you could change your use of these forms of power to enrich the personal relationships that mean the most to you.

%d bloggers like this: