"It is impossible for ideas to
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Thomas Mann, 1896
The Business Forum
How to Improve
By David J.
Some things never seem to change.
About thirty years ago, James Treybig,
the president of Tandem Computers, called a meeting with the engineering
leadership team. He opined that when there were about 20 people in
engineering, the team regularly performed miracles. 3 years later, he
observed that with 300 people in engineering, it seemed like nothing was
getting done. He was puzzled by this and wanted to know why. How many
executives are feeling the same frustration today?
Too many executives know that business
execution, collaboration and productivity are not what they could or should
be. While there are certainly fewer people employed in most companies today,
the employees that remain are not accomplishing more. There is plenty of
gridlock, angst, frustration and unhappiness to go around.
improved business execution
improved collaboration amongst individuals and teams
doing more with less (people, resources, time, etc.)
What executives crave really has not
changed much. Jimmy had posed a great question with no simple answer. The
problem had multiple dimensions:
There were too many
meetings -- there was little time to do the actual work
Decisions were made by consensus -- there was a lack of direction about
how to negotiate a consensus climate
Roles and responsibilities were not well defined -- when everyone is
responsible, no one is responsible
There did not appear to be a sense of urgency -- did you see our record
financial results last quarter? The quarter before that?
There were a number of sacred cow projects, some with dubious projected
For the vast majority of companies and
departments, the challenges we discussed in that meeting 30 years ago
prevail today. What needs to be done? Understand -- from your
employee’s perspective -- critical areas that likely are undermining your
Have meetings simply become a way of life?
Are meetings contributing to your organization's effectiveness or
Is being double- and triple-booked for meetings a badge of honor?
Are your people aware of the best practices for running meetings based
on the meeting type?
Are meetings the best way to collaborate based on a specific need or are
Are decisions really made only at the top?
Do employees feel that they play an important role?
Is the decision-making process enhancing or undermining relationships?
execution within critical business processes--priority must be given to
personally use a 2 x 2 matrix contrasting strategy with execution to
understand vulnerabilities and opportunities for improvement.
select a topic such as your own company, a competitor, a critical company
function such as product development, customer service, operations, etc.,
meetings, decision-making, etc., and rate strategy (how effective is our
strategy) versus execution (how well are we executing).
worthwhile examining the same topic from multiple perspectives, e.g.,
internal customers, external customers, the marketplace, etc., to
develop a more comprehensive understanding.
As Marshall Goldsmith offers, "what got you here,
won't get you there." If the areas identified above were easy to
improve, companies would not continue to be plagued by them all these years.
Most executives are too close to the problems to see what can be done about
Is not it time you took a closer look?
Gardner, has held senior management positions in Product Development,
Manufacturing, Sales, Marketing, and Customer Service, and
Product Management. He joined Tandem Computers in 1979 where
he was responsible for Corporate Documentation Standards for
Tandem's highly configurable and expandable computer
systems. In 1983, he designed and implemented a
Configuration Guide for Dialogic Systems instituting a
process that greatly simplified a complex, modular product
such that the field sales organization and international OEM
customers could easily define their order requirements. This
methodology satisfied the product definition needs of sales,
marketing, engineering, manufacturing, customer service and
finance. David founded his consulting practice in 1991. He
is a graduate of San Jose State University (BA) and Santa
Clara University (MBA). David is a member of the Society for
the Advancement of Consulting (SAC) and has been Board
Approved in the Area of Configurable Product & Services
Strategy and Implementation. In 2010, he was inducted in the
Million Dollar Consultant® Hall of Fame. Out of
over 1,000 consultants who have completed Alan Weiss’s
mentoring program, only 26 have been inducted in the Hall of
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