Last weekend I watched Lewis Hamilton drive his McLaren right round Fernando Alonso on the outside of a bend (wonderful mastery) on his way to win the German Grand Prix. Behind him two dozen Formula 1 engines spent over 100 minutes each revving up to 18,000 rpm or more for the whole 60 laps – and yet only 3 cars retired for mechanical reasons. And Lewis drove better than he knew how!
It offered an penetrating insight to Thursday’s radio news when I listened to Kenneth Clarke, the Justice Secretary, vowing to end the "tickbox, bean-counting culture" of the probation service after MPs revealed that officers spend as much as 75% of their work time on administrative duties rather than dealing directly with offenders. The MP’s report said that micro-management is continuing. It said NOMS (National Offender Management Service) is currently attempting to detail every component of every aspect of prison and probation work, measuring the time it takes to complete and then costing it.
It is abundantly clear that the top team in NOMS certainly cannot even spell “Management” or “Service”. Even now, in the 21st century , we see a public sector leadership bogged down in the prehistoric “work study” management approach (and even making a mess of that). There has been a complete revolution in management knowledge and competence since the 1970’s – but not in
Every organisation is a machine – a mechanism for converting funds into outcomes. The job of operational management is to design a viable mechanism and then operate it effectively. The “Scientific Management” methodologies of the 1970’s understood this badly, teaching the type of approach that we see from NOMS. Systemisation, detailed tasking, tight targeting and intense measurement were to be the keys to successful operational performance – except they proved not to be. The approach ignored the uncomfortable fact that the mechanism of organisation contains some essential components that are neither mechanical nor systemised – people. It has taken us nearly 40 years to discover how to surmount this.
“What on earth has this to do with Formula 1 engines?”, you may ask.
Many years ago I met one of the leading engineers in Cosworth Racing, at the time when their engines dominated Formula 1. He told me something so amazing that I never forgot it. It should amaze you too. I guess we all assume that our car engines are great solid lumps of metal with bits whizzing around inside – and that the same is true of pretty much all the machines we come across. And so, we might assume, all the bits in these machines fit together much the same when they are stationary as when they are working. So, when managers think about organisations – the mechanisms for converting funds into outcomes – they may make the same assumption. And then specify all the components accordingly – wrong!
The Cosworth chief engineer told me that their race engine increased and contracted in height by 0.030 inches (1/32 inch, or 0.762 millimetres) during every single engine rotation and that this was at a different time for each of the 8 cylinders so the height varied along the cylinder block. Consequently every other component (piston, connecting rod, crankshaft etc) also stretched and compressed to match, and all of this happened at 18,000 rpm, so that the whole engine was in fact like a great elastic vibrating jelly. All of the components stretch and compress to work together perfectly. Wow! What an amazing and scary fact.
The difference between an engine and an organisation is that, in the organisational mechanism, a high proportion of the components are people – and unlike in the engine, these parts are intelligent, flexible and adaptable. Smart leaders and managers have learned how to combine robust operational systems with the best of human adaptability and flexibility. And, unlike machine parts, people can learn how to perform better all the time. That is how the very best companies massively outperform the average – they are not only built better, they think better too, from top to bottom. Winning mechanisms are flexible, champion organisations learn to be better all the time. Unlike the mechanism that NOMS is building which will be rigid, proscribed and of course will have eliminated “thinking” altogether. An approach that has been proven many times to fail .
It’s not just us saying this. There is a long line of research stretching back to the late 1980s that supports our conclusions. My partners and I are excited, and flattered, to see that McKinsey have just published research that once again confirms our own long held knowledge that peoples’ attitudes, behaviours and beliefs profoundly affect business performance – exactly as proved by Dr Vinod Singhal in 2001 and used as the basis for our Competitive Strength analysis published in 2003. McKinsey’s Scott Keller and Colin Price have coined the phrase “Organisational Health” to describe this; unfortunately, they offer no details of how it might be measured, but outline their strategy by which the necessary transformation may be achieved. Four years ago we launched our Competitive Strength Report to objectively measure exactly this dimension, and with a proven process to achieve the transformation needed. However, our approach will not compare with McKinsey’s as ours is incredibly rapid and very inexpensive.
So as I heard Kenneth Clarke, with the MP’s, railing at the incompetence of his management, I had an immediate mental picture of Lewis Hamilton exceeding his own expectations in front of all those extraordinary engine components.
Passing the competition round the outside of the bend – that is Beyond Excellence. You and your organisation can do it too, even the probation service might do it, but not with NOMS involved.
Exceeding Expectations is brought to you by Steve Goodman and Tony Ericson partners in Achievement Coaching Internationalwhere we help businesses to learn different thinking to enabledifferent actions that deliver the differentresults that Make a Big Difference.. It is one of our "Excellence Quartet" of blogs promoting the cause of Excellence as the key to prosperity. We publish regular articles using a recent business/financial topic to highlight different perspectives and conclusions to those obtained by conventional thinking and techniques. You can read the other three blogs at "Business Bloop Award", "You're having a laugh ... seriously?" and "Capitalism or ... Common Sense".