Pragmatic advice from the world of Operations Management Consulting
Have you ever had the experience of being in an unfamiliar building trying to find your intended destination by looking at a posted building map…only to discover that there is no “You Are Here” indication? How can you get to your destination if you don’t know where you are now? Very frustrating! Familiar territory for a Consulting COO.
And yet, all too often, that is exactly what happens when business leaders set a course for some future objective and launch the effort before truly understanding the starting situation. Lots of resources, and tempers, can burn quickly in the rush to “…make progress toward our Goals!” without actually knowing the direction and distance between “We Are Here” and we want to get “There”. Only by understanding our actual business strategy starting point, can we accurately measure the distance and direction the business needs to go in order to arrive at our intended objective.
With these simple truths in mind, the best place to begin is….at the beginning!
An unbiased and objective analysis of the “Current State” of the business is exactly that starting point. This situational datum corresponds to the “You Are Here” point on our hypothetical map. Without it, we are, quite literally, lost. However, by wisely equipping ourselves and our Team with this critical truth, we can be confident and maintain our proper bearings for the rest of our business goal journey.
Surprisingly enough, the achievement of having an accurate and balanced understanding of the Current State of any business is far rarer than most stakeholders realize. There is always this sense; “of course we know where we are and where we’re going!”, and it’s generally wrong. The simple truth of the matter is that we’re so preoccupied with all the moving targets in our business environment that we never take a moment to step out of frame and look at the situation in its entirety. We see everything in their component pieces and relative motions – obscuring the overall state in the process. We often observe this occurring in our Operations Management Consulting engagements.
So how can we step out into the observer’s position to see the whole picture – well, as isolated individuals, we can’t, sorry. That’s because the Current State includes us within it. We need to get some external perspective to begin forming the broader frame of reference. Then we need to “borrow some eyes” from around the firm to paint in the whole image of our Current State from MANY perspectives as we develop the composite image that it actually represents.
Fear not; the process of perceiving and capturing the true Current State is neither unattainable, nor complex. But it does take attention, participation, and a dose of persistence to bring it all into focus. This is where experienced facilitation comes in handy. The time and penchant for being able to bring together a cross section of the organization and ensure that a well-choreographed set of their directed activities will yield a trustworthy picture of the Current State of the business don’t come naturally for most goal-driven leaders.
The temptation to turn the quest for an objective characterization of the Current State into a series of proofs for preconceived notions of ones own is strong, almost irresistible. One of the enduring values of external facilitation is the Voice-of-Reason and amplification of any of the perspectives that may be squelched by hierarchy, conflicting agendas, persuasive personas, company culture, hidden bias, etc. The wise business stakeholder will recognize the risks inherent in attempting to plan the path forward without finding ways to extract out these sorts of factors across their team. Effective facilitation from a professional with “no dog in the fight” (no internal stake at risk or in need of defense, no personal or other agenda to cloud judgment and collaboration, etc.) is centrally valuable to the achievement of an accurate Current State Analysis.
Over decades and many different organizational contexts, we’ve created techniques through which to conduct and effectively distill out a concise and actionable Current State Analysis which reflects the true composite picture of the firm under evaluation. The canvas and colors vary greatly by reason of the very individual nature of each organization. However, the resulting understanding of the way things are now, at the start of the next transformational journey, is invaluable to the probability of success on the road forward.
Here are some examples of the most commonly overlooked dimensions of insight that really do need to be surfaced via a beneficial and shamelessly honest Current State Analysis:
- Organizational Cohesion
– does the Team ‘stick together in the clinch’?
– How are Decisions arrived at? Cascaded / Disseminated? Received?
- Perceived Capability / Capacity vs. Calculated Capability / Capacity
– what are we really capable of vs. our planning models?
- New Ideas: Vector, Velocity & Viscosity
– In which directions do ideas flow? Why? (or why not?)
– What is the propagation time of new ideas/improvements, etc.?
– How ‘thick or thin’ is the net resistance to ideas (Hint: code for power & change)
- Process Optics
– What are the Opaque Processes & who are their Actors?
– What are the Invisible Processes & who are their Actors?
- Technology Enablement and Effectiveness
– Where & Why is Technology being applied most effectively? Least effectively?
– Internal vs External effectiveness?
– To what degree is Technology contributing to (or detracting from) Customer Success?
So how long should this sort of collaborative and properly facilitated Current State Analysis process take? You’re waiting for the classic “…well, it depends” here, right? Well, it really doesn’t.
The best way to wade through the noise of the daily working life of the organization is to set the timeline and make it happen. For most SMBs this should be a 2-3 week process. Spending any significant time beyond that just to “collect and digest all the available inputs” quickly becomes counterproductive. A compact Consulting COO engagement can help ensure a tight timeline and measurable results by professionally facilitating this crucial management activity.
Which raises another common mistake made at this point (generally due to lake of participation form an experienced facilitator – a role well-served by a Consulting COO): Don’t turn this into a spreadsheet and numbers reporting exercise. Your current numbers are the result of your Current State, but they are NOT the Current State itself. If you attempt to equate the real composite picture of your business to a batch of billed down reports, you’ve already revealed a massive Achille’s Heel in your Current State – you forgot about the People, the Technology, the Infrastructure, and the Processes through which they all come together to form your actual business! Do not make this classic mistake. Current State ≠ Current Output.
- Recognize that no strategy or substantial initiative (like Digitalization) stands a chance of success without first conducting and documenting an unbiased, full 360-view Current State Analysis.
- No Fear: It doesn’t need to be extraordinarily time consuming for the cross-functional participants around the firm. You just need some experienced facilitation and a willingness to ‘see the warts’ along the way.
- Pay attention to the dimensions of insight that really matter most while leading, inspiring, measuring and course correcting the Team once you know where “You Are Here” is.
Tech-Azur’s Operations Management Consulting services are available to help you make that happen.