So you want your organization to get strong today and build for the future using “operational excellence?” Here are three critical things for Boards, CEO’s and COO’s (Chief Operating Officers) to keep top of mind.

A good starting point is to consider the principle that the organization undertaking operational excellence is a complex adaptive human system. People are the complex factors that make technology, processes and policy actually productive. Keep in mind the very things that are foundational to your people management strategy as also underpinning your drive to operational excellence.

  • Have a clear definition

A clear, specific, actionable definition that drives accountability and performance can be hard to find. Of course, you will begin with a strategy, mission, objectives and organizational expectations in terms of principles and executional guidelines.

There are not that many technical definitions of operational excellence, though models like the DuPont System or any number of Capability Maturity Models from CMMI, Operational Excellence Society or others, could give you a starting point for a rubric to help you define what makes most sense for your operational needs and goals.

Your model must be able to specify both the “horizontal” and “vertical” definitions of what good looks like. On the vertical are the specific accountabilities at each layer of management. And on the horizontal are the clarifications of what poor, better, good, very good and great operational excellence practices look like at each layer of management.

This will help you define key areas of the business to focus on, goals, what success looks like, and a road-map to get there with a useful set of standards of practice to follow.

  • Develop a robust Management System

Connecting strategy, structure, and culture requires a system of standards for how work and people are managed – a management system. This is not the same as governance, yet closely related. There are roles, authorities and processes to follow to guide operational excellence. The management system formalizes, or at least makes very explicit what is needed to build and keep improving operational excellence:

      • Integrating all dimensions of operational performance linked to objectives
      • Structures and processes fostered by leaders to ensure consistent delivery of work
      • Accepted procedures and processes
      • Selecting the appropriate people for positions
      • Systematic monitoring by leaders

The management system is also the set of explicit ways of working that, when practiced consistently by all leaders, drive the trust needed to have operational excellence.

  • Propagate effective collaboration

Do not take collaboration and communication skills among groups for granted.

If you put a bunch of smart, committed people in a room with a common objective, they will NOT just figure it out naturally. Skills, experience, and ability to work together are not yet natural for new groups. And even harder for folks who have worked together for a long time and gotten used to each other, perhaps having become successful in working around each other, not with each other.

Having a set of robust principles and definitions to share and apply in the course of doing the work helps a lot. Clarifying roles, accountabilities, authorities, cross-boundary relationships, and decision-rights contributes to all of this. And it can be done together. In fact, it is more efficient to do it collectively rather than individually, serially in small sub-sets or other creative means of not actually working together to win together.  Three layers at a time is a good option.

Principles, techniques and skills that drive collaboration can remove potentially demotivating conditions and free up people to do their work. The added clarity will allow your people to focus on value-adding work, waste less time on managing the politics and misaligned working relationships, and spend more times on getting things done right.

To recap:

      • Have a clear, actionable definition;
      • Design a management system; and
      • Specify ways to communicate and collaborate.

And the ONE BIG THING is that this is entirely about designing a human organizational system in which to get work done.

Use a system designer’s mindset to get it done well.

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