Author Archives: Ishan Galapathy

5 Leadership Lessons I Learnt From My Family Driving Holiday

The summer holidays are almost over and most of us are slowly getting back to work with resolutions, goals and a rejuvenated personal drive to make 2017 a great year.   As leaders, we try do this by inspiring the workforce, engaging the teams and setting clear objectives/ milestones.  After one of the family holidays involving a long drive, I realised that there were five distinct steps that got us to the destination safely and on time.  The same five steps could be used to develop a great road-map (pun intended) to successfully navigate any business to a great position.

These five steps form the acronym DRIVE (Destination, Route, Individual Alignment, Verification checks, Endurance) and you may feel that you have all or some of these elements in your business already.  However,  the effectiveness and the detail to which these steps are embedded in the business make a significant difference to whether you have a team performing at their peak or not.

“If you can successfully organise and DRIVE your family to a holiday destination, you can set goals and easily DRIVE  your business to a great position.”


Let’s explore the five steps of the DRIVE process:

  1. Destination: Planning the destination before you drive-off on a holiday with your family can remove a lot of stress, frustration and headaches  – especially with young children.  You need to plan out exactly where you want to go taking into account your family’s liking, budget, distance the kids can tolerate in the car etc.  Unsurprisingly, a trip with a well-planned destination is more likely to succeed, though you can sometime get lucky without much planning.

Similarly, at the core of leading a business successfully requires having clear goals.  This is not a new discovery at all.  However, there are two common traps that businesses tend to fall into when setting goals – not communicating widely enough across the business and setting goals that are difficult to track/measure.  Having a set of clear goals for the next 3 years that are communicated and displayed in pictorial format with a catch-cry that describes the end point well, is a proven format that has worked for many businesses.


  1. Route: Once the business goals (destination) have been finalised, we need to explore how to get there.  It is one thing knowing where you want to go, but if you haven’t explored all  the options you have, your journey may not be the most efficient one.  This is the case both from a business point of view as well as for our family holiday.  It is important that you lay out a roadmap with milestones to achieve at various stages.  Breakdown the 3 year goals into strategic macro steps which helps employees understand how you are planning to arrive at your destination.  This is similar to getting your family to agree on (in advance) the route you are planning to take which can sometimes eliminate the need to defend your decision later on.


  1. Individual Alignment: This is the critical step where you get the individuals of your business engaged and involved. The idea of this step is to align tactical tasks for each individual in such a way that they could relate their contribution towards each of the strategic macro steps developed in the second step above.  This will help you get buy-in from many employees.  Continuing with our family holiday example, would you pack the car, get the snacks organised, select all the toys/books, fold the clothes & pack the suitcases for everyone all by yourself, or would you rather allocate tasks to each family member?  Lessen your load and  get everyone to contribute.  You don’t have to be the one doing all the work!


  1. Verification Checks: So far you have got yourself ready for a fantastic holiday.  There are certain things you can verify to ensure that your trip is as smooth as possible and importantly, that you actually arrive at the destination safely and on time.  For example, ensuring the car is serviced prior to the trip; re-fuelling the day before; checking the spare tyre etc.  While driving you regularly glance at the dashboard to ensure the vehicle is performing as expected – the engine temperature and fuel level.  You might wash the windscreen to get a clearer view of the road  ahead, check the mirrors to see what’s around you including the blind spots to ensure that there are no nasty surprises.  In business, all of this is applicable – metaphorically.  Do you have an up-to-date business dashboard that tells you exactly how your  business is running?  Do you check your blind spots?  Do you have a process in place that systemises all this so that all the critical checks get done at the right time?


  1. Endurance: Your best laid plans and preparation may not get you to your destination on time if there’s a major accident on the way. You may experience a flat tyre or someone may suddenly need to answer a nature’s call.  How major or trivial these unexpected challenges may be, your task as a leader is to face these challenges and get to your planned destination with minimal disruption.  How well are you and your team prepared to deal with business situations that might get you off-track?  Developing  capabilities within the business to effectively solve problems (root cause analysis)  will increase your success rate.


Even if you don’t have any unexpected issues, do you have a way of reducing the burden (i.e. costs) in a strategic way to identify initiatives to make your journey lighter?  You need a process to continually question and challenge the status quo and implement a few key trasnforamational initiatives effectively with the limited resources you have.  This will help you to arrive at the destination ahead of time – no one got hurt, you didn’t forget anything, everyone is happy about the journey and the destination, you used less fuel and you are not stressed!  Now you have enough time to enjoy your holiday.


Once rejuvenated we can plan for your next journey.  What is your desired next destination?

Operational Excellence- It Is Not The Tools That Make The Difference

In the world of Operational Excellence (OpEx), ‘The Toyota Way’ is considered the bible.  I recently read an article about the reasons why ‘The Toyota Way’ got developed in 2001 by then President and Chairman of Toyota, My Fujio Cho.  Reportedly, the main reason for codifying ‘The Toyota Way’ was to emphasize the less visible but equally important parts of the Toyota System.  During the time of Toyota’s global expansion, they had been concerned that only the ‘tools’ got replicated.  Often we try to understand how a ‘system’ works based on superficial observations, but, it is not as simple as that.

I came across a business where a production manager was sent on a four week trip to Japan to observe and learn the lean framework (Toyota System) and implement it at their company upon his return!  A more common scenario is where leaders and managers visit other businesses to ‘see’ continuous improvement programs with the hope of taking back one or two good ideas to be implemented back in their own businesses.   Whist it is a good practice to observe others and learn, there are pitfalls in this approach to be aware of. One could easily implement a number of processes/activities where the ‘dots don’t connect’.  This could lead to frustrating the employees as the changes could be seen as unproductive and time-wasting activities that don’t help the business to move forward – negating the sole purpose of OpEx.

This common situation led me to write this blog to explain that the magic is in the framework (e.g. The Toyota Way) and not in the individual tools/processes such as 5S, A3 Problem Solving, JIT, DMAIC, Poke-Yoke, Value Stream Mapping etc.  My sketch below depicts an OpEx framework I first came across when I visited the Pringles plant in USA a few years ago.  A highly efficient mega-factory with 40 acers under roof on 137 acres of land with extremely mature business processes, it was the only North American Proctor & Gamble plant to have received a Phase 5 maturity status at the time. (the highest maturity score).

The elements of the framework.Framework4

The Cart – the cart represents the manufacturing plant (business unit) where the main purpose is to carry the finished goods to deliver to the customers.  The size of the cart and the model is based on the business size, growth strategies and operating model.

Losses – unfortunately, we also carry some boulders on this cart, which limits the space allocated to carry the finished goods.  It also makes the cart less agile and harder for the workers move the cart.  These boulders that are present in any business (hidden losses) is what Continuous Improvement processes strive to remove or lessen.

Leadership – the purpose of the leadership team is to set the direction of the cart.  The Leadership team also decides the strategic journey and the path for the cart to travel – i.e. business strategy.

Engineering – paves the roadway to make it easier to push/pull the cart, ensuring that there are no pot holes in the road ahead where the cart may get stuck.  This is akin to major capital infrastructure activities and minor equipment improvement work undertaken by engineering.

HR (Human Resources) – will ensure that the required number and the right calibre of people are recruited to push/pull the cart.

PM (Planned Maintenance) / AM (Autonomous Maintenance) – the two main types of maintenance practices are represented by the two wheels.  It is important to make sure that PM and AM processes receive equal priority in a business (efforts and resources) similar to the critical need for the wheels of the cart to be of equal size.  Otherwise, the cart will move in circles!

Process Improvement Tools – continuous improvement (CI) teams will focus on removing some of the losses (boulders), making it easier for the workers to move the cart.  One of the other important roles that CI teams carry out is to educate teams on the existence of different tools that can be used based on the boulder type/size.  It is important to know the right tool to be used for a specific situation (different boulders) – the essence of effective problem solving.

Training & Development – will develop the capability to push the cart which will determine how fast the cart can travel.

Safety /Quality – ensure that the cart and the employees operate in a safe and a compliant environment.

So what is the role of OpEx? Well, it is to provide a framework and a methodology to continually improve all of the above elements with the introduction of appropriate strategies as well as tools to make the journey of the cart easy and efficient.  Typically, the entire framework consists of multiple levels/layers, providing depth for each of the elements (Leadership, AM, RM, Engineering, C.I. etc) to increase its maturity.  The aim of the game is to progress across all the elements in maturity in parallel, creating a highly capable, engaged and efficient business unit.

And if you are wondering “where does the road lead to?”, that’s another story….


An issue that is commonly raised and discussed at networking and OpEx industry events is how the support of senior leadership is vital for Operational Excellence roll-outs.  Without this support the rest of the organisation perceives OpEx as ‘extra’ work and the Continuous Improvement (CI) Managers are fighting the battle of resistance alone.

While leadership support is crucial, there are two roles in particular where the support /commitment will make the difference between producing transformational results or just ordinary results – the GM and the CFO.  The following is an actual case study that I was involved with demonstrating how OpEx can be a powerful vehicle to deliver business strategy and extra-ordinary results.


Case study: FMCG Business (approx. $100M per annum turn-over)

This is a business that has been there for many years with a well established household brand.  The business was going through a huge growth phase – well at least in terms of the volume that went through the plant.  This growth was a strategic move to reduce the impact of depreciation costs of some major investments the business had made in recent years.  The business also had idle capacity not being utilised at the time.




While the growth strategy was well executed, the team lost sight of another key factor – net profit, which was rapidly declining.  Although this may seem like financial management 101, the disruption of a few key organisational changes distracted the executive leadership team leaving the business in this situation.

When the margins were examined, it was clear that gross-margin was the main contributing factor.  Operational margin was also in decline, but more or less it was parallel to the gross margin decline rate.  So, at least other operating costs within the business appeared to have maintained appropriate margin points.  The declining gross-margin was the root-cause and this business had a grave problem to solve – and they had to do it fast.

What would you do in this situation?

The Turnaround

A clear vision

In response the General Manager held multiple communication sessions, where the gravity of the situation was made clear to all employees.

The GM announced that the CI Manager would hold multiple sessions to identify improvement opportunities. This is not a ground-breaking strategy.  In fact, most would agree that this is the normal role of the CI manager.  What made this scenario different was the clear alignment between the GM and the CI Manager. The vision that these two came-up with was simple, “reduce the cost of goods sold” in order to increase the gross margins.  The caveat was that safety and quality standards should not be undermined.


“The CI Manager was in a pivotal position to help navigate this business out of the storm.  Executing the GM’s strategy and implementing a good financial governance framework with the CFO, the business managed to turn around swiftly, saving the livelihood of nearly 1000 employees.”


I remember reading about a similar case study where the head of exploration for British Petroleum in 1989 challenged the oil-well drilling team to increase their 20% success rate, which was considered to be the industry best benchmark at the time.  By year 2000, they had increased it to 66%.  He achieved this by creating a simple and clear vision called “No Dry Holes” [i].

Defining a governance framework

The CI Manger then worked with the CFO to define a governance framework.  It is easy to improve processes where the benefits are either: theoretical; serves as a cost avoidance strategy; or increases capacity to increase future sales.  The issue with these improvement initiatives is that none of them reduces the P&L costs immediately.  So the CI Manger and CFO identified specific gates where they would assess each initiative based on one major criterion – must provide immediate P&L relief.

I am happy to report that this story has a happy ending.  The site made significant improvements and managed to secure the jobs of many employees.

I’ve seen many instances where the CI manager has to plead for resources and time.  However, CI managers are in a pivotal position to deliver exceptional results.  My advice to GM’s and CFO’s…make sure you get the most of your CI manager.

If you haven’t partnered with the CI manager of your site, maybe you should buy a coffee and have chat.  Let me know how you go…

If you’re ready to harness the full potential of your organisation, let’s have a chat.  Contact me at [email protected]

[i] Source: Chip Heath & Dan Heath, The Switch, Crown Publishing Group, 2010, pp. 87-93


Do you know if your business is winning or losing?

The grand-finals are on this weekend! Can you imagine watching the game without a scoreboard? You watch the entire match at the edge of your seat, with your mates, a beer in your hand, waiting for the referee to blow the full-time whistle and everyone asks “who won?” Seems absurd right? The same is true when it comes to tracking business performance with visual scoreboards. However, many businesses seem to operate without one, relying only on the month-end results to inform if the business is winning or losing!

“You wouldn’t watch a game without a scoreboard, right?  Yet, businesses operate without one, not knowing if it is winning or losing until the month-end financial report”

So what are the benefits of having a visual scoreboard?

  • Provides the right focus – as the saying goes, what gets measured, gets done. With the right metrics displayed correctly, the entire team will know the baseline expectations of the business. It also provides an opportunity to celebrate team successes at regular intervals.
  • Drives team engagement – if the boards are just up on the wall, then it is one way communication. It is certainly better than not having one at all. However, teams are more engaged with a daily ritual around these boards, discussing continually if the business is winning or losing. Generally these are 15-20min standing only meeting where results are discussed by exception. The discussion should focus more about what needs to happen moving forward to improve performance.
  • Opportunity to act before it is too late – if you only review the results at the end of the month, then it is too late change anything – like driving forward looking at the rear-view mirror. The scoreboard should display trends and if it is heading in the wrong direction, then you have a chance to correct it before it is too late. This forms the basis for structured problem solving. Specific actions need to be captured with one person held accountable with a specific date. Do not get into solving the issue during this meeting – a trap that many fall into making the 15min meeting extending beyond an hour.

How do you get started?

Well there are some basic categories and metrics that can be used as a starting point, to design a scoreboard.  These are;

1.      Safety – covers occupational health and safety aspects. Any safety incidents, near misses or safety observations made by the team.

2.      Environment – any incidents that impacts the environmental regulatory aspects.

3.      Quality – consumer complaints, internal quality metrics and internal audit results.

4.      Productivity – metrics that measure productivity for your team; number of items produced per hour, number of orders fulfilled per day etc.

5.      Delivery – on time delivery metrics measuring actual performance versus customer promises.

6.      Cost – cost per item or any other factors such as waste, overtime etc.

7.      Morale – absenteeism is one of the common metrics for morale, but engagement survey scores, improvement suggestions per employee etc. can also be used.

All these categories are not required when you start – keeping in mind that less is more. Identify a few critical metrics that engages your team to start with. As the process matures overtime, the team would naturally want to know more.

Making the most of your visual scoreboard

  • Ensure that the entire team can easily understand scoreboard. Display self-explanatory graphs, and visuals. Green and red indicators do make a big impact.
  • The scoreboard should be accessible to all team members during their normal periods of work.
  • The board should not be updated by one person. Hold different team members accountable to update various data points.

Should it be an electronic or a manual board?

I prefer a manual process with a whiteboard and marker pen over an automated display. The thinking is simple – if the teams have to manually place a data point on a graph, they have to have a good understanding of the measure first. It also helps to communicate a certain message when one data point is placed in the red-zone – the business is losing. So these manual systems definitely have an edge over automated systems. Once during a visit to a European luxury car manufacturing plant South Africa, I noticed how they used a simple laminated sheet and a whiteboard marker to update data on each machine. It was updated to the hour and even I could see if each manufacturing cell was winning or losing as a glance. And if they weren’t, there were comments as well. Make it effective first and then think about efficiency.

Get your team to know if the business is winning or losing today!

What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There!

I often see businesses struggling with rapid growth.  It’s a ‘champagne problem’, but a serious one.

How can growth be a problem? For many businesses growth occurs so quickly that various systems or processes give way as they are not capable of dealing with increased number of users or transactions.  These processes burst at the seams, staff get frustrated and customers are let down.

A loyal and hardworking team got you to this point.  Staff were highly engaged with a ‘make it happen’ attitude.  However, as the business grows, putting out spot-fires on a daily basis and coming in on Saturdays to catch-up with the extra workload doesn’t seem like so much fun, and certainly not a sustainable approach.  Without robust systems and processes, something’s gotta give. Many businesses plug the gaps with short-term fixes in order to stay afloat, but it won’t get you where you want to go.

“You got to this point with blood sweat and possibly tears;
now it’s time to work more systematically to improve business processes”

The symptoms of poor business processes are many and varied:

Overtime: Only a small number of individuals understand how the business works.  The work keeps piling up and it seems that there’s only one logical solution – get the team to work an extra few hours.  This may get you out of trouble in the short-term, but it is definitely not a sustainable solution.

Cash-flow:  As the business grows your expenses increase more quickly than your revenue.  You are keeping higher-stocks of most items as you don’t want to disappoint customers, but cash is tied-up and bills are overdue.

Problem solving: The teams operate in crisis mode. Every issue is urgent and everyone seems to get involved in solving problems. There are plenty of ‘band-aid solutions’ keeping things together and everyday feels like groundhog day.

Low morale: The employees feel that this is not the company they once enjoyed working for.  Most are stressed juggling too many activities and may not have had the opportunity to build new skills.  Capable employees start to leave in frustration.

While growth was always the goal, now it feels like this business is built on very shaky ground.


A system for growth

There is a light at the end of the tunnel, you just need to approach things in a systematic way.  Here’s some simple things you could do to ensure that your business is growth ready.


What’s the Score?  Do they know? Imagine watching your favourite sports team play a critical game without a scoreboard?  The same is true when it comes to business performance.  Ask your employees if the business is winning or losing.  Let your team know whether the business is winning or losing. Share metrics and performance indicators that make sense to each team on a regular basis. They will be more engaged, and more aligned with the needs of your customers.

Improve constraint points: There’s no point improving just any problem that you can find. You want to improve the business performance.  As such, you need to work on the most constrained part of your business, and put all your efforts into improving this point first.  Where are the most number of files piling up?  Who is working the most overtime and why?  Which products are in back order and why?  Ask similar questions and you will find the right constraints to work on.

Problem solving: Problem solving needs to be done in a structured way.  There are many problem solving tools that can be utilised.  It is not the tool but developing capability within teams to use these effectively that makes the difference.  The most important points to remember when solving problems are i) knowing which ones to solve and which to let go and ii) identifying root causes.  Prioritised problems are best solved in small teams.

Grow the team:  Your team needs new skills and capabilities.  These could be technical skills or soft skills such as leading a team.  Do the key individuals in your business know how to lead their teams? Can they have a coaching conversation with their direct reports?  Are you having coaching conversations with your direct reports to talk about ‘how’ they are performing and not ‘what’ results they are achieving? Developing your team’s soft skills will underpin everything else.  This is an area that is often overlooked but essential.


Rapid growth can be both exciting, and tricky to navigate. You got to this point with blood sweat and possibly tears; now it’s time to work more systematically to improve business processes.  As you do, you will free up valuable resources to solve other problems or grow the business further, entering a perpetual and virtuous cycle of growth and efficiency.


So if you’re ready to harness the full potential of your organisation, contact me at [email protected] and let’s start a conversation.

OpEx 3.0 – Are You Chasing A Mirage With Your Operational Excellence Efforts?

Whenever I attend industry events related to Operational Excellence (OpEx), I listen to the questions being asked, and the questions not being asked. Usually the real question being asked is ‘how do I get real OpEx traction in my organisation’?


I answer that question using a framework which describes the three maturity levels of an OpEx journey.  The objective is to get to OpEx 3.0, but this takes time and a steady hand.  The higher the maturity level, the more agile, customer focused and capable the organisation becomes.

OpEx Model

OpEx 1.0 – The Situational Level

A workplace at this maturity level will have a few key people who can rattle off all the lean tools off the top of their head.  Don’t be surprised if they speak in past tense such as “we have implemented lean”.  The implementation approach appears haphazard with many tools being used.  Leaders occasionally walk the floor to observe waste or to spot faults. The improvement journey probably feels like a burden on the organisation, with very little to demonstrate in terms of ROI. ‘Sustaining’ is not yet part of the vocabulary. Customers would appreciate the efforts if they knew about them, but they are not willing to pay for it.

TIP:  Contain implementation to a small critical area. Win the hearts and minds of the employees in this area by asking employees “Why can’t we get 100% everyday?”.  Categorise responses into themes and introduce solutions to address them.


OpEx 2.0 – The Systemic Level

You are starting to master improvement in one business area and now want to widen the impact. The main challenge is constrained resources – you only have a few individuals who really understand the process. You might have to take several steps back as you learn how to juggle multiple balls.  As you get better within this level the organisation will have a clear vision for the next few years and the activities launched are directly linked to this vision.  This is the transition point, where Operational Excellence starts becoming a way of life rather than a project. It feels like a harmonised choir, but you do hear a flat note every now and then – which is quite alright.  You certainly cannot take the foot off the accelerator and if a few key individuals leave the organisation, the sustainability will be challenged. Employees feel that the processes are becoming more effective and customers start to acknowledge your accomplishments, potentially earning you more business.

Tip: Ensure the leadership team understands the full process – from vision, to strategies, to execution from the outset.  The OpEx journey should be transitioning from being managed by a few individuals to the entire leadership team.  It should start to feel like “this is the way thing are done around here”.


OpEx 3.0 – The Strategic Level

You are now working on end-to-end value chain improvements.  The entire organisation is re-inventing itself based on the tools, processes and concepts mastered in the previous level. A critical mass has been reached and sustainability is not at risk if individuals leave the organisation.  Team members continually work on improving the efficiency of their processes.  Customers are recognising you as an industry leader and enjoying the advantages of working with you. You have earned the right to lead!

At this level, the OpEx team is a potential revenue centre, as opposed to a cost centre.

TIP: Innovation is the key at this level as continuous improvement is well embedded.  Your processes now focus on how to get closer to the customer’s needs and wants.  Process improvement is happening across the end to end value chain, including in all service functions. The line between improvement and innovation is blurring as you create new products and services.


Are you getting traction from your OpEx journey?  Have you unconsciously skipped levels and wondered why things are going backwards?

If you’re ready to harness the full potential of your organisation, contact me at [email protected]



Stay Focused but Watch Your Back: Part 2 of 2

In my last post, Get Your Blinkers On and Stay Focused, I wrote about the need for organisations to stay focused ahead while being aware of the dangers around.  In that post, we analysed the first point – staying focused, and in this post, I’d like to discuss the other point – how to be aware of the dangers around you.

In the context of the driving analogy mentioned in the previous post, this is similar to staying focused on the road ahead while regularly checking the rear-view mirror, side mirrors and checking the blind spot when needed.  However, you don’t have to take action for everything you notice around you unless it is going to have an impact to your journey.

When it comes to business performance the concept still holds true.  To get this concept to work effectively for your business, you need to get the following three things right;

  1. Visual Scoreboard – with the right performance metrics
  2. Update Frequency – the metrics need to be updated at appropriate intervals
  3. Baseline and Triggers – the baseline measures and trigger points for the metrics

As a rule of thumb, you know that the above processes are working effectively if any employee can tell if the organisation is winning or losing at any given point.  So let’s explore the above three points individually.

Visual Scoreboard – there are many organisations that operate without visual scoreboards. Can you imagine watching a match of your favourite sport without a scoreboard?  You watch the entire match at the edge of your seat, waiting for the referee to blow the full-time whistle and you ask your friend or yourself “who won?”.  It is the same to operate a business without a visual scoreboard.  You shouldn’t have to wait until the end of the month/quarter/year to figure out if the business has won or lost, if you have visual scoreboard.  When designing one, it needs to be holistic/balanced, simple/intuitive and easy to maintain/update.  There are several categories that you can use to make it holistic/balanced.  Some common categories are;

  1. Safety– covers occupational health and safety aspects. Any safety incidents, near misses or safety observations made by your team.
  2. Environment– any incidents that impacts the environmental regulatory aspects.
  3. Quality– any consumer complaints, internal quality metrics and internal audit results.
  4. Productivity– metrics that measure productivity for your team; number of items produced per hour, number of orders fulfilled per day etc.
  5. Delivery– on time delivery metrics measuring actual performance vs customer promises.
  6. Cost – you could monitor cost per item/service metrics or any other factors such as waste, overtime etc.
  7. Morale– absenteeism is one of the common metrics for morale, but you could also include engagement survey scores, improvement suggestions per employee etc.

You certainly don’t need all of the above when you start.  Identify a few critical metrics that engages your team.  As the process/concept matures overtime, the team would naturally want to know more and you can incorporate the other factors then.

The display of the metrics need to be simple and intuitive.  If you have to pause and look at the metrics with squinted eyes or a frowned forehead, then you haven’t got this right.  The display need to effortlessly communicate the message (winning or losing) in less than three seconds.

Update Frequency – You don’t need to monitor every metric at every frequency and it may not be even practical to do so. Certain metrics may need further internal processing before the final figure is available.  There are other metrics that are not available on a daily basis such as consumer feedback/complaints or finance figures, you could find a related metric that can be measured in the interim.  It is also important track overall business performance at various milestones such as year-to-date, month-to-date, week-to-date, and at a daily level.  Updating and maintaining the scoreboard needs to be a team effort.   It helps to get the team buy-in and engaged.  If the ownership is on one-person it just becomes that person’s story, interest and burden.  If the team is involved it becomes everyone’s story.

Baseline and Triggers – this is the most important aspect of the visual scoreboard. This is where it informs if the team is winning or losing and if an intervention is required or not.  The baseline informs you the normal expected result for that particular metric.  For example, it could be the desirable consumer complaints number or the budgeted cost for each item.  Unless this baseline line (reference point) is indicated, the metric itself wouldn’t make any sense.  Once you have the baseline, you could determine if each metric is winning or losing. Similarly, when you look at the entire scoreboard it becomes clearer if the business is winning or losing.

Trigger points are slightly different and not commonly practised.  However, they do serve a very important role.  Just because a metric may seem like it is off the baseline, you wouldn’t want to intervene immediately as it could be just a one-off incident.  If you had trigger points, you know when to step in and intervene.  The gap between the baseline and trigger point is your allowable threshold for variation for each metric.  The triggers help you prioritise a few from the many for which you need to take action on.

A team scoreboard set-up with the above concepts will act as a thermostat – where it will help you take action when it is off the desirable conditions/settings.  Otherwise, a scoreboard can merely be a thermometer – it is just one-way information.  One last tip, when discussing the business performance get each team member to present the scoreboard to the team.  That way, they all get understand the full scoreboard and increases the buy-in.  Hope this would help your team and the business to stay focused ahead and to be aware of the dangers around you.

Most companies have a vision for the next 2-3 years, but the strategic path to get there may not be well articulated.  Due to this lack of clarity, it is easy to get distracted and before you blink, the course of the ship could be changed without your knowledge.  So, how do you stay focused and get to your intended destination (vision) without getting distracted?

I had just arrived near the Wynyard station a few days ago around 9:40am when I noticed a number of emergency response vehicles and a police motorcycle – certainly drawing attention of people.  A crowd was gathering around to see what was going on.  A bus was stopped in the middle of the bus lane on York street and the police officer was talking to the driver.  I then noticed that it was an accident scene involving two busses and a silver service taxi.  The taxi was between the two busses, with both the front and the back severely damaged.  Fortunately, it didn’t look like anyone had been injured.  So, what does this got to do with companies and staying focused, I hear you ask?

I’m not sure who was at fault with that incident.  However, as I was walking down Martin Place, I thought that this incident (metaphorically & literally) highlights two points: one has to stay focused ahead; at the same time, need to be aware of the dangers around.  Isn’t this similar to leading an organisation?  So, let’s analyse the first point – stay focused.


Stay Focused – the two components within the first point, stay focused, are vision and strategic path.


As mentioned at the beginning of this article, most companies have a 2-3yr vision.  However, when was the last time you stopped to think if this vision is well understood within the company?   I have seen companies spend an enormous amount of time and effort to get this message across to the workforce, not realising that the leadership team is not aligned to begin with.  Sometimes it can happen easily as one could assume that the leadership team is naturally on board.  True, they could be on board, but not necessarily aligned.  Tip: just take turns in leadership meetings to get each member to try and explain the vision in his/her own words in 1min or less, without a script.  Also, if you are developing a vision, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why TED talk will certainly give you some ideas on how to structure it.

Strategic Path

So we have a vision – great!  Where to from here?  This is where the rubber hits road.  The concept of having to breakdown your vision into annual strategies and then to develop a tactical roadmap for the immediate 12 months is certainly not going to raise any heads in this day and age.  One would say that it is almost common sense.  What’s surprising though is how this well accepted common sense concept is not a common practice!  The strategy and the road map provides two distinctive advantages (amongst many). Firstly, it helps to engage the workforce based on the fact that there is plan to achieve the vision and that the vision is not something that has been stringed together in single 30min meeting.  Secondly, it helps you to prioritise your actives, which is probably the part that is not well practiced.  This is important as it helps to sort out what “not to do” which is sometimes more important than trying to figure out what to do.  This is what helps you to stay focused.  Tip: check with your team on what tactics they are working on right now and how they are aligned to the current strategies.  Ask them, what activities have been filtered out and why.  Can your team members explain how the initiatives they are executing are related to the current strategies?  If not, they are working on the wrong priorities.

These two strategies will ensure that you stay focused.  The modern world we live is clearly full of distractions.  I’m sure you’ve been tempted to watch yet another short cat-video before you started that important task; or perhaps check for messages on your phone, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. before asking yourself where did the day go?  Similar to personally getting distracted, it is just as easy to get distracted with the company activities.

So, as an organisation if you put the blinkers on (i.e. setting the boundaries of strategies & tactics) it is much easier for everyone in the organisation to focus their efforts.  You would have an aligned and an engaged workforce that not only know what they must do, but why they are doing it…..

There are tools and processes that can be implemented to systemise all this within an organisation, that keeps everything in check at different intervals – i.e. 30day, 90day annual etc.  However, the two points mentioned above, vision and strategic path is the starting point.

Now that we’ve explored how to stay focused, in the next article I will explore the second point – how to be aware of the dangers around you.  Stay tuned.


About Ishan

Ishan is passionate about helping organisations to improve productivity/efficiency and build high performing teams/individuals.  Ishan has a distinct advantage to deliver transformational change with his experience in multi-national companies, working with teams in six different countries,  productivity improvement for nearly two decades.  His expertise is in the following areas:

  • Strategy:  aligning vision, strategies and tactics, all the way to individual initiatives.
  • Workplace Culture:  leadership coaching to bring out the best in individuals/teams.
  • Productivity: processes/capability to effectively harness the most from your team (limited resources) to deliver extraordinary results.

The above is achieved by applying change management principles, lean/sigma methodologies and working closely with your team to deliver transformational change.   Contact Ishan at [email protected] to find out more.

Why Not Do Less In 2016 And Achieve More?

As we get back into our normal routines with the end of the holiday season, no doubt one of the tasks for many of us would be to create/review business plan for 2016.  It is also a good time to pause and reflect on the following questions before you think about the 2016 plan:

  1. How many productivity initiatives did you execute in 2015? Well, Congratulations if the answer is greater than one!
  2. Have you got more or less resources to deliver the same service or manufacture the same products compared to same time last year?
  3. How many initiatives you started, actually made an impact (i.e. actually got some traction) to move the organisation towards its strategic direction/vision?

I’m going to generalise the picture for the above three questions based on my observations.  Most have less resources compared to 2015 or they are required to provide/produce more with the same resource team.  They have executed many productivity initiatives, but can’t quite say that they have moved the organisation towards its strategic direction (vision).

Clearly making any improvement in any area is better than the alternative.  However, if there is no strategy and the initiatives are executed in a piece-meal fashion, your team members could get burnt-out.  Worse, they can lose inspiration as they cannot connect the dots between the many initiatives and the strategic importance.

A better approach is to actually execute a fewer number of strategically aligned initiatives and mobilise all available resources towards them.  It is far important to decide what you are NOT going to do and prioritise a few key intiatives.  It is about the quality, not the quantity.  This approach will simplify the focus for your team members and give them a very high chance of succeeding. This should move the organization few steps closer towards its goals and vision.  Below are three points to consider before finalising the business plan for 2016.

  • Prioritisation: are the most important initiatives prioritised?
  • Alignment: are these initiatives strategically aligned?
  • Definition: are the initiatives well defined and resourced to exceed expectations?

Let the acronym PAD guide you in setting your business plans with a difference.  I wish you a very successful 2016 and hope that you will be able to achieve more this year by working smarter, not harder.

The Defining Moment Where Productivity Projects Fail

A couple of days ago, I watched a documentary with my sons about the “space race” between the Americans and the Russians that started just after the Second World War. Both nations were going head for head to be the pioneers of space exploration. In many fronts, it seemed that the Russians were leaps ahead until one particular day – 25th May 1961. On that day President Kennedy announced before a special session of the Congress an ambitious goal. He stated, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing man on the moon and returning him safely to earth”. This is what defined the rules of the game for the “space race”. You see, up until then, it was an open game without boundaries and scope. Although the Russians were ahead at that time, by setting a clearly defined goal and a scope, the Americans accelerated their run and we all know how this story ended.

So what has that got to do with productivity initiatives in the 21st century? Well, I have seen many individuals starting productivity initiatives without clearly defining the scope. It is so easy to get off the starting-blocks without actually defining the initiative. In my view, this is a common reason for failure. If you don’t know the scope, the boundaries, the starting point and the end point, how will you know if you have accomplished the task? I use a very simple formula to define productivity initiatives – “from X to Y by when”. Let’s briefly explore the elements and I will use a hypothetical example of reducing the processing time of a customer order to explain the components.

From X (the starting point): The starting point is usually the snapshot of the current performance. This is usually picked-up from the average of last 12 months or the current year-to-date (YTD) result of the task/process in question. In our example let’s assume that this is 10 working days, which could be the current “promise” to our customers. There’s really not a lot more to be done here other than capturing this starting point. For more complex scenarios, you may need to calculate this based on some raw data – just look at the last 6 to 12 months.

To Y (the finish line or the goal): This is where you want to end up – the finish line. There is an issue with setting this goal. Often, due to our past experiences of failures, many tend to make the goal easily achievable. I get the concept of under-promising and over-delivering, but unless we are prepared to stretch our thinking, the ideas to improve the process are not going to be thought outside the box. I always say, that is best to aim at Pluto and hit Saturn than to aim at the moon and hit the moon (no pun intended with the JFK story above). The opposite can also happen by setting audacious goals. I remember once being coached by a leader to make the goal fantastic, not fantasy. If you make the finish-line far too ambitious, your team may not be able to join you in thought and the goal may scare them. If it is somewhat challenging yet inspirational, then your team will join you for the challenge. So think carefully when setting goals. In our example, let’s aim to reduce the delivery time to 7 working days.

By when (completion date): Without this, it is difficult to understand how long we should persevere with our efforts. It also provides us a guide as to how soon we need to implement the solutions. We can easily measure the outcome by this given date to calculate the actual accomplishment. For our example it could be the end of the year.

So, if someone asks you what your initiative is about, you could say, I’m aiming at reducing the processing time of customer orders from 10 to 7 working days by the end of this year.
Using the above formula, I have been pleasantly surprised over and over again as to how teams rally around the goals and really shift performance in truly transformational ways. I’d like to hear about your success stories using this formula. Write to me at: [email protected]