13 October 2005

Looking for an outbreak of common sense

Have you heard any of these questions in your workplace recently?
"Who's responsible for that?"
"Why didn't this happen?"
"I thought that we already decided to do that?"
"How could we miss that?"
"What do you mean we don't know?"

At the end of the day most companies are looking for amounts to this: an outbreak of common sense! How can you achieve an outbreak of common sense?

Companies often lack clarity on fundamental things. The larger the company the more likely this is the case. A lack of clarity causes a lack of structure, resulting in a fog of confusion. The fog of confusion means slackers can hide between the cracks, and hard-working people either don't get noticed, or they focus on the wrong things because they don't know what the right things are.

If you want to bring clarity to your work environment you need to focus on four things which we call the four cornerstones of clarity.

The first two cornerstones are roles and goals:

Roles: Define the functional work that needs to get done and divide it up into clear "accountability sets" that can be owned by individuals. Develop a "one-pager" for every role. A role description should include a summary of the accountabilities, a summary of the activities involved and skill-sets required, and succinctly define how success in the role is objectively measured.

Goals: Starting at the top, define clear, objective, measurable goals that can "roll down" through the org chart. Create a "scoreboard" where people can see how effectively the organization is performing against those goals. If the goals "roll down" effectively and roles are clearly defined, everyone's performance can be measured on the scoreboard.

The next pair of cornerstones is streams and teams:

Streams: These are the work streams connect the roles into functional flows; they define how the process works. To define your streams, you first need work with the people involved to depict the "as is" state; that is, how things functionally work today. It's very likely this will include many practical "workarounds" that are not defined anywhere in the company's manuals or documentation. Much of XPLANE's corporate work involves defining and visualizing such workstreams.

Teams: In this context, a team is a cross-functional group that can look at the organization as a whole, or view a work stream from end to end. Bring your teams together to look at the "as-is" state and map how it could be improved. It doesn't help to assemble a team until you have defined roles, goals and streams. Why? The team needs to have a clear starting point, clear objectives and clear building blocks to work with. The streams form the starting point, the roles are the building blocks and the goals form the objective.

Before you create your next grand strategy or install the next big technology, take a look at the four cornerstones of clarity and see if you can't engineer an outbreak of common sense.

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Graeme Watson said...

Hi Dave,

I love 'common sense' but what I have discovered in my career is that it is rarely common.

I worked for many years in South East Asia, in a company with a large multi national staff.

One thing I rapidly discovered is that the actual concept of common sense, is not a universaly held concept. Team members from some nations had no comparitive cultutal concept. It turns out that common sense is quite rare, and quite a Western belief.

In this environment the managment techniques of goals setting, enpowerment and teamwork were fairly ineffective becasue of the cultural context.

Anonymous said...

These questions have saved me migranes a few times:

- How did you get to this point?
- Where is it going to fit?
- Is there anything missing?
- Can we make it simpler?