From So-So to Superstar: 7 Game-Changers to Tackle in the Drive Toward High Performance Organizations

Aug. 26, 2014

 Benchmarking process reveals consistent qualities that led to successful transformations




While there are busloads of articles, a bounty of blogs and books a plenty that detail the game plan for achieving true High Performance Organization status, there is undoubtedly no better way to learn how to “be it” than to “see it.” That’s exactly what ensued when an enterprising group of labor and management leaders at a 1,000-employee division of a maintenance and repair organization were not content to rest on the impressive gains made through a facility-wide Breakthrough Change Process that generated $500 million in cost savings and revenue generation in 18 months. Instead they asked, “What’s next? Has anyone put it all together, and if so, how did they do it?”

"Each of these facilities made the transition to high performance organizations not by “cherry-picking” a couple of initiatives, or uselessly hunting a silver bullet solution. Nor did they focus on low-hanging fruit to get quick but fleeting wins. Instead, they recognized the criticality of each of these qualities and dedicated themselves to them for the long-haul."

As the Overland Resource Group project leader consulting to this Joint Leadership Team, I was privileged to help plan and facilitate a benchmarking process based on site visits to facilities that had achieved game-changing turn-arounds and sustained high performance results. Our travels took us to a paper products manufacturer, a piston engines manufacturing and rebuilding plant, a tube-bending facility, and an aircraft components manufacturing and repair facility. In each of the companies, which ranged in size from 50 to 2,000 employees, we talked with those who had led and lived the transformation; sat in on problem solving work group meetings; heard operator-led presentations on continuous improvement projects; and toured production lines where hands-on involvement from employees had reinvented outmoded processes to yield unprecedented results.

Their mega-finding:  The team was impressed to learn that all the paths to high performance were remarkably similar, regardless of the nature of the business; size and age of the facility; whether or not the hourly work force was represented by organized labor  as it was in two of the four facilities; or whether the business was stand-alone or part of a large corporation. At each facility, seven elements stood out.

One:  That vision thing.  Can’t escape it.  Call it your value proposition, call it something else, but it’s vital and it consists of two parts.  One is the over-arching business goal, such as productivity improvements, return on investment, market share, sales increases, or revenue growth.  Part two is the vision for the workforce—engaged employees respected by management and committed to the company’s vision, educated about the business, and willing to utilize best practices such as lean manufacturing and team problem solving to continuously improve performance.

Two:  Metrics in the form of balanced score cards tied to the over-all vision and appropriate to each level of the business.  Metrics included safety (number one at all sites visited), quality (such as first-pass yield), on time delivery, equipment effectiveness, productivity, sales volumes, and response times.  The companies also measured employee commitment, using internally developed or purchased surveys.

Three:  Robust business communications focusing on the vision and performance metrics.  At each site, boards in or adjacent to work areas displayed up-to-date team performance measures and other information relevant to the team.  At shift start-up meetings, production requirements for the day were reviewed, safety issues were addressed, and issues were discussed and resolved or referred to the appropriate individual or team.  Metrics also drove the content of meetings up through higher levels of the organizations.  In periodic meetings, employees received performance results for their business unit and the company.

Four:  Leadership aligned with and passionately driving the vision.  Understanding, articulating, and supporting the vision and its implementation was a job performance requirement at all the companies.  Leaders who could not or would not support the vision were asked to find work elsewhere.  All parts of the organization were engaged in achieving the vision, and silos were broken as the whole organization changed together.  No part of the organization could opt out of the change process.  Where the work force was organized, the union supported and was deeply engaged in the change process.

Five:  Some version of continuous improvement or Lean.  Each of the companies embraced lean or continuous improvement and dedicated one or more employees for training and facilitating.  Each emphasized that CI or Lean cannot be separate from engagement.  Thus, not only leaders, but also hourly employees received CI and/or Lean training and were involved in planning, conducting, and implementing CI or Lean-driven improvements. (For more on effective Lean implementation, see prior “Common Ground” and Overland Resource Group blog posts on the topic.)

Six:  Engagement structures were integrated into the normal operations of the business rather than being seen as special initiatives.  Structures of teams and regular meetings facilitated and drove performance, team problem solving, business communications, and lean or continuous improvement.  Team structures roughly followed organizational structures, with hourly workers and supervisors comprising floor-level teams and next level up teams consisting of managers, staff, and in organized facilities, union leadership.  However, all teams utilized people from every level depending on needs for information and expertise.

Seven:  A Commitment to all six of these elements was the key to success.  At all the sites visited, our hosts emphasized that their transformation to high performance required leaders driving the vision and making sure that everyone understood it and was engaged in supporting it.  Lean and continuous improvement required solid metrics and engagement of committed, educated employees across the organization.  Structured meetings for teams at all levels invited commitment and were the forums in which business decisions were made and where employees and leaders were held accountable.

In summary, each of these facilities made the transition to high performance organizations not by “cherry-picking” a couple of initiatives, or uselessly hunting a silver bullet solution. Nor did they focus on low-hanging fruit to get quick but fleeting wins. Instead, they recognized the criticality of each of these qualities and dedicated themselves to them for the long-haul. In answer to the Joint Leadership Team’s initial question, they “put it all together” by doing just that: putting it ALL together.

David Young is a member of the Consulting Consortium at Overland Res
ource Group. He has helped organizations design and implement effective organizational change processes for more than 25 years. David can be reached at [email protected].

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