Category Archives: Blogs

Is your business delivering real outcomes, or is it a slave to your procedures…?

I was at a restaurant with some friends this past weekend. Upon arrival, our table was not yet ready, so we were invited to wait in the bar whilst the table was turned over. So, we go to order a few drinks. Amongst the array of tap beers on offer was a pre-mixed spirit… So, we ordered one, however my mate wanted it served without ice… “No can do” says the bar staff, “it must be served with ice.” What? Why? we ask. “Not sure” says the staff member, “however we have been told that we are not allowed to serve this drink without ice.” Astounded at this response, my friend cancelled that order, walked around the bar to the other side and ordered the same mixed spirit measured and poured from a bottle, without ice, and predictably, received his wish, no questions asked.

Now, I’ll admit that this scenario is by no means high stakes in comparison to others that may come to mind, however it is intensely frustrating to experience and does illustrate a common and fundamental problem with business and process design and execution… the over-emphasis on procedural compliance and the resulting degradation of value and outcomes for the customer.

When you reflect on a business rule and procedure such as this one, there are only a limited number of reasons one can think of that would drive such a policy…
1. The manufacturer has arbitrarily determined the serving method to be enforced by the retailer at the point of sale,
2. The retailer benefits from mandating the serving method, ie: higher profit margin, or
3. The retailer has simply not thought about the impacts of their process/policy… and the staff are not empowered to intervene to deliver a better experience.

Any which way you look at it however, it is a poor outcome. And to me, this extends far deeper than ineffective process and procedure design. To remain relevant, businesses must get smarter about how they deliver upon their strategies. Whether inadvertent or otherwise, businesses approaching their operations in the manner described above can expect to suffer a long and slow, self-inflicted death by a thousand cuts, brought on by a lack of focus on the outcomes generated for their customers.

“…For customers to receive full value and optimal outcomes, the traditional process design paradigm must be shifted. Enabling the best outcome for every customer must become the primary driver of the process. Policy boundaries must be considered as enablers of value, rather than just as risk controls and constraints, and staff must have the delegations and empowerment to work within these policy boundaries to deliver the best result possible…”

The whole point of process design is to deliver better outcomes… but whether it’s the search for consistency of service delivery, lack of management trust in employees to make good decisions, or a workplace culture that values procedural compliance ahead of the customer outcome, process design, in many cases, has ironically become the reason why customers receive poor experiences. Additionally, process and procedure design phases are often implemented prior to, or in lieu of, interpretation and integration of strategy with the execution layer of the business. This has the effect of further de-prioritising outcomes and value, as the mode of operational execution is determined prior to the business gaining a consistent understanding of the desired outcomes and the best way to deliver their products, services or value proposition.

To date, the most common definition of a ‘process’ I’ve come across is… “a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular outcome.” It is important to remember that the critical purpose of any process is to achieve an outcome. The actions or steps taken throughout the process should therefore be driven by the intended outcome… not the other way around. Too often however, outcomes are overlooked, and the emphasis of process design is placed on carrying out the series of specified tasks or steps. Compounding this, many businesses then monitor procedural compliance as a measure of the performance of their people. For many processes, this level of compliance assurance is appropriate, however for a great deal of processes, this drives the wrong delivery behaviours, and when the customer outcome required does not perfectly align with the pre-determined process or procedure, there is little chance of a satisfactory result.

For customers to receive full value and optimal outcomes, the traditional process design paradigm must be shifted. Enabling the best outcome for every customer must become the primary driver of the process. Policy boundaries must be considered as enablers of value, rather than risk controls and constraints, and staff must have the delegations and empowerment to work within these policy boundaries to deliver the best result possible. Finally, the process design must be flexible enough to allow adaptations to be made when required so that all customer scenarios can be addressed appropriately. This may mean that the same process could be delivered differently to many different customers. Remember, if the ultimate aim is to deliver the best outcome, then the elements that must change to enable that are the tasks and steps executed in the process… a concept foreign to the majority of process modelling and workflow execution toolsets currently available.

In response to the need for more adaptive and empowering ways to deliver value, I have partnered with Inventec Australia to assist the design and development of SENCILO, an adaptive, outcome-led, value delivery platform. SENCILO enables the deployment of flexible business processes that allow real time adaptations of the process flow based on each individual scenario encountered and the established business policy boundaries. This platform is a shift away from traditional process design and workflow solutions, not only because it allows the user to configure multiple delivery path options for every process, but also allows for the sequence and ordering of tasks to be adapted to the scenario at hand, in real time. SENCILO is a 100% cloud-based platform, and combines business-friendly, low-code configuration, detachable and modular componentry, and multiple, flexible subscription pricing options.

Visit the link below or contact us for more information on how we can help you deliver real outcomes.

That which is tolerable in the short term, is rarely sustainable in the long term…

If you wanted your business to still be operational in 100 years, would you make different decisions today?

When discussing with business owners and senior managers, their sense of the state of their business, most can provide a very clear and concise answer.  As the conversation continues, invariably the discussion progresses to risks… and interestingly, but not surprisingly, the majority of discussions around risk are centred on more immediate risks, (present day to 2 years typically).  But when the question is then posed, “What is your sense of the ‘sustainability’ of the business?”, the immediate return question is most often, “…sustainable over what time period?”  And that is exactly the point.

What time frame do you actually envisage your business being around for?… 2 years, 5 years, 10, 50, 100 years?  And when you do identify that time frame, does it change your view of how you plan your strategy, or assess risk?  Does it change your view of how you plan and run your business every day?  Does it change your view on the outcomes and impacts your business generates?… And ultimately, is your business strategy and operating model contributing to the sustainability of the business over the expected time period, or is it only sustainable for the next few years?

Questioning whether a business model is appropriately sustainable, forces a much deeper consideration of a number of critical factors, so often left on the periphery of strategic planning discussions.

Factors such as health and safety, environmental impact, human resource stress, home and work balance, pressure and workloads, partnering arrangements, capability requirements, and community impacts are all examples of critical elements that must be considered as part of strategic planning in the context of the expected time period the business model is to be sustained.  Too often these factors are ignored during initial business planning, and overlayed later onto the pre-determined business strategy that has been developed with a focus on maximising profit, growth, market share and productivity.  The subsequent introduction of additional and peripheral human, societal and environmental elements, then leads to clunky or ineffective processes and unsustainable impacts that require continual remediation and reactive responses to resolve.  The consistently high failure rate of small businesses can, in part, be attributed to these impacts.  And at the other end of the scale, these impacts have brought down large corporate entities once considered too large to fail.  There are also countless examples of large companies forced to reshape flagship product lines due to lack of sustainability and entire industries forced to bow to external pressure to reinvent due to the impacts of their outputs, practises and business models.

“…whilst you must make money, your strategy and business model must also protect the resources on which your prosperity depends…”


As examples, many times I’ve heard, “…We need to do something about our Workplace Health and Safety culture.”, or, “…We need to be more flexible and promote work-life balance.”  Problem is, these proclamations are made as though they can simply be ‘turned on’ in isolation.  These organisations don’t have a health and safety or a life-balance problem, they have a business model problem.  Workplace Health and Safety and Work-Life Balance are products of the operating model in which they exist.  If not seamlessly woven into the business strategy and business model planning, they cannot exist independently as effective and harmonious cultures without conflicting with profit, growth and productivity-based plans, targets and priorities.  And history tells us it is rare for financial incentives and results to be deprioritised unless catastrophic or tragic events force such an outcome… usually after it is too late.

Business partners, customers, the wider community, and least of all, your staff have an increasingly low tolerance for unsustainability, especially where the impacts have a detrimental environmental and human effect.  Finding out too late that your profitable and growing business is causing harm is an awful place to be, as rectification and remediation of the issues usually demands that you accept and implement changes that will have a detrimental and longer term impact on profit and growth… a situation that for many, can be very hard to reconcile.  And whether it be social media backlash, a product recall, negative news coverage, the findings of a Royal Commission, lack of quality family time, or the fallout from an injury or a death, the longer term reputational damage can be extremely difficult to recover from.

Continually planning and strategising with a view to sustainability forces you to look further out and review the longer term implications of your operation and its impacts.  You will make more considered decisions, and ensure that the critical elements that can bring your business to its knees, are appropriately considered, designed, planned and incorporated into the very fabric of the business.

So, the question remains, “…How sustainable is your business?”  Are you in it for today, or for the long haul?  Whatever the time horizon for your business, your strategy and operating model must enable the operation to remain sustainable for that period… and whilst you must make money, your strategy and business model must also protect the resources on which your prosperity depends.

That which is tolerable in the short term, is rarely sustainable over the long term.

Building a house and transforming a business have more in common than you might think…

A case for organisational design principles…

Regardless of whether you are designing a house, a commercial building, starting a new business or transforming an existing operation, the cause of many substandard designs and implementations can very often be traced back to a common failing.

The following is an analogy, but one I have witnessed first hand, both in a personal and in many business contexts.  It resonates because the impacts of poor design have long lasting effects on those involved and invested, both financially and personally… and I would be surprised if you too hadn’t witnessed similar scenarios.


The vision…
You and your partner decide to build a house.
Your vision for your house is that it be the home of your dreams… the last place you will build, a place where you can live comfortably for the rest of your lives, and a place where your family always feel welcome and safe.

To achieve your vision, you agree on a strategy to:

  • Find a block of land with city views with a rundown house on it,
  • Clear the block and build a new, energy efficient house,
  • Design the house yourselves and engage a draftsman to complete the technical drawings, (saving money to be redirected towards energy efficient features),
  • Use sustainable building products,
  • Be energy self-sufficient within 5 years.

Whilst you search for a suitable block, you commence your house design. You split up the various sections of the house between you and your partner, and design each space around your specialities and preferences…ie: you design the kitchen, your partner designs the bedrooms and so on…
You come together periodically to discuss the progress you are making and the major issues you are thinking through, room by room… and by the end of the design phase, you are both happy with the spaces you’ve designed and the functionality of each.

You find a suitable block, make the purchase and engage your draftsman to turn the design into a plan. The draftsman works as directed, and compiles the design into a working plan. You tweak your designs slightly as the draftsman points out obvious issues, but on the whole, each room and space retains its design elements and you are ready to get final building approvals and engage a builder.

Your builder starts construction.
The build progresses well, but as with all builds, there are inevitable, small issues encountered in a number of spaces by the builder. Some he resolves using his own experience, some he refers to you to decide on. Most of the resolutions are minor with small adjustments to dimensions, alignment with frames and trusses etc, but the plan for each of the affected spaces only require minor amendments.

The build is completed, and as you and your partner stand in your new home for the first time, you are both are ecstatic with the result.

A few weeks pass. You move in and start to inhabit and live in the space. A few things catch your eye.
Whilst standing in the kitchen, cooking, you glance to your left and find that you have a clear line of sight straight through the master bedroom door, through to the ensuite and the exposed toilet.
You look straight ahead and notice that the lighting in the living space is annoyingly off centre from the lighting alignment in both the kitchen and the outdoor extension of the living area.
You hear your children playing outside, but you have to move out of the kitchen/living area, where you spend the majority of your time, to be able to keep an eye on them.

In the upstairs bedroom, the laundry shoot in the wardrobe, that had to be moved just 50mm to avoid the underfloor structures, now drops the clothes further away from the laundry wall beneath, meaning the basket needs to be placed annoyingly out in the walkway that leads to the outside door of the laundry, to ensure the clothes aren’t dropped in the middle of the floor.

The solar panel system purchased does not generate enough power to run both the house and the pool, due to an upgrade deal you were able to negotiate on the size of the pool. And, under the house, the planned water tanks have had to be downsized, due to a budget decision made during the cut and fill stage of the build, meaning that the water storage capacity will not allow you to produce a self-sufficient water supply.

As you look closer, you continue to notice other issues over time. The deficiencies in the way the house performs become more frustrating, but over time you adjust to living with them, albeit that your satisfaction is greatly diminished, your dream has been tarnished and plan of self-sufficiency now seems unachievable without significant additional investment.

The point is…
The vision and strategy were sound. Each partner understood the strategy and vision, and each space was designed in accordance with that vision and strategy, however…

  • Each space was designed, planned and built to operate as a singular space.
  • Decisions relating to each space were taken in isolation and based on the design priorities of that space and its designer.
  • Discussions at the planning stage, between the designers of each space, regarding the achievement of the strategy and the vision, were high level, and whilst productive, did not draw out the inter-linkages between each space and the impacts of each design element.
  • As time wore on, these discussions became more and more about the detail of each individual space, and the tie-back to the original intent was discussed less and less.
  • There was no clear, definitive set of design principles on which to base and validate every design decision, amendment decision and budget decision.
  • As such, there was no way to validate that each element of the design and build was actually going to achieve the strategy and vision… There was a large “grey-space” between the strategy and vision, and the execution of the plan.

Execution of the plan was done with the best of intentions, but the result was a disconnected and sub-optimal result, with long lasting impacts on owner satisfaction and usability, inability to achieve the core objectives, inflexible design and ongoing costs exceeding budget.

Of course, the house being built is a metaphor for the development of a new business, an organisational transformation, or large program of work. Regardless of whether we are talking about house designs or execution of organisational strategy, people remain at the heart of all decisions, and as such, the implications of not setting up an environment where sound and confident decision making is possible, are likely to be long lasting and destructive.

Now, let’s revisit these issues in a business context… Do any of these sound familiar?…

  • Each division/department was designed, planned and built to operate as a singular operation.
  • Decisions relating to each division/department were taken in isolation and based on the design priorities of that division and its Manager/s.
  • Discussions at the planning stage, between the Managers of each division/department, regarding the achievement of the strategy and the vision, were high level, and whilst productive, did not draw out the inter-linkages between each division/department and the impacts of each department’s outputs.
  • As time wore on, these discussions became more and more about the detail of each individual division, and the tie-back to the original organisational intent was discussed less and less.
  • There was no clear, definitive set of design principles on which to base and validate every design decision, amendment decision and budget decision.
  • As such, there was no way to validate that the collective outputs of each division were actually going to achieve the strategy and vision… There was a large “grey-space” between the strategy and vision, and the execution of the business plan.

To avoid these issues…
Following the Vision and Strategy setting stage… but before the design and build phase, a set of overarching design principles and use cases are required to be developed, to turn the vision into a tangible set of actionable principles that could be used for all decision making, problem solving, prioritisation and planning.
The process of defining Design Principles commences by focussing thinking and energy towards the core “outcomes” desired, and ensuring that the important aspects of the vision and strategy are articulated in a way that can be related to and understood unambiguously.

Next stage is to refine and adapt each principle in more detail, exploring interconnections and more operational impacts and implications. This is achieved by asking detailed questions as to how the desired outcomes will be achieved, end to end…
Questions such as, “…What experience will the user have when operating in the kitchen…?”, “What are the mandatory aspects that should be hidden from view…?”, “What will the user see from each core work space…?”, “How will key usability features interact and operate throughout the entire lifecycle of each use case…?”, What are the limitations of the solar system, and how much future flexibility is built in to allow for expansion…?”.

In a business context, these principles will span seven core categories, describing how decisions and priorities are to be made regarding People/Customers, Products & Services, Channels of Access, Processes, Information & Data, Technology, and Capability. Questions driving the formulation of these principles might sound like, “…What experience will the customer have when accessing services that cut across multiple divisions or departments of the business…?”, “…How will captured data be reused throughout the lifecycle of the customer…?”, “…What are the core ‘outcomes’ that MUST be delivered for the business to achieve its vision…?”, and so on.

Once finalised, the answers are converted into principles. The result is a decision making and prioritisation validation reference that can be used to ensure that each element of the finished product, and every decision required to be made, every day, always contributes and remains linked to the achievement of the overarching vision and strategic intent.

Disagreements that arise, cease to become arguments of whether one person was right or wrong… but become far more rational discussions of the merits of the principle on which the decision was based. The resolution of these discussions then is either, a). the principle is still considered valid, and the decision stands, or b). the principle needs to be amended.

The sequencing is critical…
Building an effective operating model is an iterative process…

1. Organisational Vision and Strategies are validated,
2. Organisational Level Design Principles are defined and agreed (CEO and SLT level),
3. Divisional level principles are defined next, as extensions of the level above,
4. Manager/Department/Team level principles are then defined, as the next level of detail, utilising the principles from above,
5. Project/Process level principles can also be developed, ensuring alignment at the most operational levels of the business,
6. Design Principles are actively utilised and referenced for decision making and prioritisation across the business, and critically, referred to and reviewed in all ongoing decision making forums.

To achieve the optimal “outcomes” through organisational change when applying this methodology, it is imperative that implementation of the Operating Model follows the following sequence:
1). Design Principles first… 2). Optimal Process Designs or Changes required to deliver the principles come next… 3). The Structure and Capabilities required to achieve these come last.

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‘Negative splitting’ your project plans… critical lessons from the world of athletic performance.

The concept of ‘negative splitting’ is nothing new to those in the world of athletics and endurance sports. Put simply, it means you plan the effort and intensity of a training session or race such that the second half is executed faster and stronger than the first.

Any athlete will tell you countless stories of starting a race too fast, and either trudging slowly and painfully through the back half and falling across the finish line exhausted, or worse, failing to finish. Either way, the pain of unfulfilled potential outlives the physical discomfort, and for some, this can be demotivating and demoralising.

Sadly however, many of the same athletes racing on a Sunday, fail to apply these lessons learned on Monday in their business or project. Whether you are planning a small-scale project or a large transformation program, human performance remains the cornerstone of success, and therefore incorporating the following four key concepts can help you to build sustainable, progressive and winning program plans.

Clarity of purpose and goals

Like an athlete embarking on their preparation to run in a marathon, the formation of any large business project or transformation program naturally brings with it an increased level of excitement and enthusiasm. Often at this stage, the goals and intended outcomes exist only at a high level. Visions of the finish line are formulated and communicated, and the possibilities seem endless. It is at this stage that time must be spent clarifying, in detail, the program’s intent and the principles that will underpin the development and delivery. Without this clarity, the realities and overlay of timeframes, schedules and the need to start delivering ‘something’ leads to self-interpretation, divergent streams of activity, contradictory direction and unnecessary intensity. Each and every person involved must know exactly what the goals are, but more importantly, the phases of the program, the philosophy and design principles underpinning each phase, and the expected progression of intensity. Taking the time early to mentally prepare your people for the road ahead is critical in building the right expectations, reducing anxiety and ensuring that the program understands and can sustain the effort required, right to the end.

Training and conditioning.

Preparing to unleash a winning performance in endurance sport is a process of gradually building both physical and mental capacity and capability. Attempting to perform at ‘race pace’ too early leads to flatlined or reducing performance gains and physical and mental breakdown. Large business projects are no different. We’ve all seen projects that had the potential to deliver huge wins, start off at a sprint, but fail to maintain the early intensity. Sub-standard deliverables, missed milestones, unrealistic expectations, and stressed and burned out staff are the hallmarks of programs that fail to conserve energy for the back half. The program must identify the capabilities required early, so that staff have enough time to build the strengths and capabilities required to get the work done. Working out that key skills are missing during delivery phases is not good enough, and points to failures in defining purpose and intent.

Your staff also need to be conditioned for the pressures and expectations of the journey ahead. This phase is not about slowing to a walk, but about consciously putting in place an environment where the program collectively builds its capacity and capability to remain strong and stay healthy for an extended time.

“…Programs that are crystal clear on their intent, purpose and design principles, have been paced correctly, and have nurtured the health and mental wellbeing of their staff, can expect surges of energy and positivity at the times when they need it most…”

Physical and mental nutrition.

Whilst it seems obvious that a healthy body and mind are key to delivering high performance, sadly in both endurance sport and transformation programs, this principle is forgotten a surprisingly high proportion of the time. Worse still, is a lack of recognition or planning for the health of the participants throughout the program. Whether it is the deadlines set, the need to make profit, the expectation of stakeholders or simply poor planning, the health of the program staff is often neglected in the name of the success of the deliverables. High performance over extended periods requires food, rest, sleep, and validation. Staff irritability, lapses in judgement, reducing levels of collaboration and communication, flagging energy, impulsive decision making, introversion and irrational and emotional reactions are all indicators of a person struggling under the pressure. As program managers, you have a duty of care to identify these signs early, and better still, plan the program to reduce the risk of these symptoms occurring.

Personal development of program staff is yet another aspect of program life that too often falls by the wayside. Lured by the promise of career changing development opportunities, acquisition of market leading skills, unique experiences or exposure to new age thinking, your staff give a lot, and often give up a lot, to join a large project, with the expectation that those promises are fulfilled. The excuse that looming deadlines, tight schedules, or program changes and issues are the reason why staff fail to receive personal or professional development during programs is simply a cover for lack of adequate planning. And simply saying, “just being on this program is a development opportunity” is a cop-out. Your program is nothing without your people, and without growing your people, they will disengage, ensuring that this program, and those that come after it, will not reach their potential.

Building intensity and getting to the finish line to win.

Once the first three principles are embedded, the program plan can safely be structured with a natural and gradual increase in intensity, pace and pressure, backed by prepared, conditioned and engaged staff. The back half of a large project will always require increased intensity of effort. There will always be surprises, issues, challenges and last minute pushes to get it all across the line. This is where the planning of the first half of the program pays off. Programs that are crystal clear on their intent, purpose and design principles, have been paced correctly, and have nurtured the health and mental wellbeing of their staff, can expect surges of energy and positivity at the times when they need it most. In addition, you will retain motivated staff that will push toward the finish line relentlessly, making the finish line the euphoric experience it deserves to be, rather than the all too familiar feeling of: “so glad that’s over, I’ll never run a marathon again”.

Decision Shock… and how you can eliminate it from your business

Decisions made and disregarded or overturned… Decision paralysis… Over-escalation of decision making to management… Disagreement and conflict over impacts… Reducing engagement levels.

Sound familiar? We call this ‘decision shock’ and it is all too common a phenomenon.  And considering that most businesses are now operating in markets and environments that punish indecision, rework and inertia, it is a phenomenon that necessitates a re-think about how decisions are guided, made and communicated within organisations.

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of decisions encountered in most businesses…
Strategic decisions – These decisions are reasonably infrequent, but significantly impact the direction of the organisation, have major and long-term implications to how the business operates every day, and once made, are not easily undone.
Operational decisions – These decisions require leaders and staff to interpret a scenario or inputs, contextualise and take a position in order to maintain operational momentum… often in response to unforeseen scenarios, or changes in the environment. Decisions around product design, pricing, purchasing, marketing, project planning, campaigns and promotions or risk management are all examples of operational decisions. These decisions are far more frequent and are critical in ensuring the organisation stays true to its strategic intent.
Cumulative BAU decisions – These decisions are most often based upon pre-determined policies, procedures and delegations. In theory, the sum total of every one of these smaller scale decisions should reflect a broader policy direction or strategic position.

Whilst Strategic decisions invariably receive the greatest amount of consideration and thought, a lack of relatable context and linkage of these decisions to the operational layers of the business often contribute to decision shock that stalls the understanding and adoption of change, delays progress and halts momentum.

When viewed in isolation, the impact of each smaller Cumulative BAU decision can seem less significant, but given the high volumes, the cumulative effect of these decisions can dramatically alter the outcomes for the organisation. In theory, these decisions should be simple… follow the policy and the end result should line up as you planned, right?.  However, often businesses find themselves way off course due to minor deviations from policy and discretionary exceptions that seem perfectly legitimate in isolation, but when combined with every other exception made, drive the operation miles away from the intended destination. The results of this phenomenon often only become apparent when reviewing quarterly or annual results long after the damage is done.  A death by a thousand painless cuts.

“…In many cases, the right decision will be plainly obvious as the operating model principles paint a clear picture of what success looks like for the decision maker…”

Arguably the most difficult decisions however, are the Operational decisions.  More often than not, your operational staff and their leaders are expected to take responsibility for these decisions.  The reality is however that most leaders and staff are simply not equipped with adequate strategic context and therefore lack the confidence to make the critical decisions expected of them, leading to the types of issues I mentioned at the top of this post.  Worse still, many experience damaging blowback when their decisions are perceived to be incorrect or ill-conceived.  The negative impacts to self-confidence, performance appraisal and engagement can be long lasting, and sadly the real cause of the issue is seldom recognised.

Getting any of these decisions right, relies on those making the decisions to:

  • have a clear understanding of how to interpret and operationalise the business strategy and vision,
  • be in perfect alignment with all other linked or impacted areas of the business, and
  • formulate the decision based on the insights and information available.

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Without operating model principles, your strategy and vision are just words on a page…

“To be the provider of choice for…” “To offer a superior service to our chosen markets…” “To be the market leader in…” The vision sounds fantastic. But what now? What does it really mean to the way your business operates, and how do your people align what they are doing every minute of every day to deliver on that vision?

There’s no question in our minds, vision statements are critical. They set the direction and tone for an organisation, focus attention, and make great mouse pads. But underneath that is an even more critical level of information – your operating model principles. When defined well, a clear operating model makes everyday decision making simple for every team member, provides unambiguous clarity of purpose, and gives every stakeholder a tangible understanding of exactly how the vision and strategy will come to life through every interaction and every process. Even with the clearest of visions, organisations that fail to define their operating model principles can experience misinterpretation of their strategy, inconsistent decision making, failed deliverables, confused customers and even more confused staff.

Whether you’ve defined your strategy and vision for your company, your system transformation program, or for the next five years of growth, to truly bring your people along with you and help them create a tangible identity with what they are employed to achieve, your staff also need a tangible, clear and unambiguous set of principles with which they can make predictable and consistent decisions, think and create safely, work autonomously, and act with confidence. A well defined operating model will enable all of that.

In return, you will receive greater empowerment and ownership from your people; the volume of everyday decisions required to be made by your managers and leaders will reduce; and your business will work more harmoniously and efficiently and with less conflict and friction.

“…Even with the clearest of visions, organisations that fail to define their operating model principles experience misinterpretation of their strategy, inconsistent decision making, failed deliverables, confused customers and even more confused staff…”


The operating models we develop address the following seven key principle categories. The examples below are of course, not exhaustive, but illustrate the type of thinking we use to bring your strategy and vision to life. Not only do these principles articulate what your business will be, but also, where applicable, what it will not be.

Customers and People – these principles describe exactly what customers and industry segments you want to do business with; how your customers will/should/must experience their journey or interaction with your business; how your staff will treat them; and what the customer can expect from you if things don’t go to plan. These principles also describe how it will feel for your staff to work within your organisation.

Products and Services – what are the products and/or services you will offer (and avoid offering); how should they be designed to behave; how should your customers experience them; how should they compliment each other; how will they compete with your competitors; how will you achieve growth; and how will you win?

Channels of delivery – how will your customers interact with you; what options will be available to them; how will you keep up with emerging trends and technology; and how will your multiple channels integrate with each other?

Processes – how will your people execute their functions; what will be their role in decision making; how much automation do you require/desire; how will you ensure efficiency; how should processes be designed; how should your staff and customers experience those processes; and what is your approach to continuous improvement?

Information and Data – what information do you need to deliver your strategy and vision; how will you store and use the information and data you have gathered; what role will it play in delivering superior products and services; and can your customer benefit from the information and insights you have collected?

Technology – what system capabilities do you need to meet your goals; what is your appetite for emerging technology; what is your tolerance for multiple systems and interfaces; how will your systems and platforms integrate together; how do you protect your customers and your business; and how will you maintain and upgrade your technology?

Capabilities & Culture – How does your business need to be structured to succeed; what are the management and leadership capabilities required; what are the key skills required by your people in order to deliver your strategy and vision; what capabilities do you expect your customers to possess in order for them to succeed with your products/services; what mix of human talent and diversity do you aspire to; how will your staff experience being employed; what is the culture you require/expect within the business?

These operating model principles then become the foundation that supports the design or transformation of the organisation, layer by layer, and shape decision making across your entire business. Your managers, leaders and team members can all validate their thinking and everyday decisioning against an unambiguous set of principles that all drive action that compliments your intended vision and your strategy. Furthermore, these same principles can be used and adapted to the design of a project or program of work, a specific value chain or even a single operational process, ensuring that at both the macro and micro levels of your business, there is an agreed, understood and integrated operating model defining the way you do business every day, and elevating the strategy and vision from your page to your reality.

Why do my people ignore the process map? The role of policy in delivering superior outcomes…

It’s not laziness, and it’s certainly not because they don’t care. Your people, either consciously or intuitively, know when a process is ineffective or inefficient, and they also know when those processes are hurting your customers’ experience. People deviate from a defined business process, because the majority of the time, it’s either the best thing to do, or the right thing to do for the customer and the business.

Look around your workplace. Chances are 99% of your people take pride in their work and genuinely care about the result for their customers… hopefully more than 99%. If you ask them why they don’t follow a certain process, expect to hear “…that process doesn’t make sense”; “…it doesn’t work with that scenario”; “…the process is more about us doing business with ourselves, than with the customer”, “…it’s just not an efficient process” or variations thereof. They deviate because they care, and to make your business better.

Over the last 15 years I’ve polled countless people as to the reasons why the focus on process fails to resonate with them, and overwhelmingly they respond that:

  • processes are often designed in a way that stifles their ability to provide ‘the best outcome’ for the customer in front of them,
  • processes that consider only a single planned outcome can disempower staff, and poorly designed processes contribute significantly to disengagement, and
  • processes designed with “efficiency” in mind, often shut out autonomous decision making and discretion that could be applied to resolve process-customer conflict on the spot.

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Do you really need to make that decision? The path to empowerment and discretionary time.

As a leader or a manager, it’s your job to make decisions, right? Some, absolutely, but consider this… a large proportion of the decisions you are making may be holding your customers up, costing you valuable time, and ultimately contributing to staff disengagement.

Reflect for a moment on all the decisions you’ve made today, this week, this year. First, reflect on how many decisions you made around assessing, setting and validating your strategic direction, or your operating model in response to market changes, or where your growth will come from next year? These are certainly the decisions you should and must be engaged in – you should be living and breathing these. Now reflect on the rest… Were they related to interpreting policy, resolving a basic customer complaint, a price discount, positioning stock, designing a new product feature? If you’re a sole trader, you’re excused. For everyone else, ask yourself, how much time am I spending in this space? And if I am making these decisions, how are my staff feeling?… Is my intervention dis-empowering them from performing their roles end to end.

“…People who are empowered to make the decisions related to executing their roles, have higher job satisfaction, are more likely to stay with your organisation, are more fulfilled in their work, and more likely to deliver better outcomes for customers and your business…”

Chances are these operational decisions are not hard to determine, and most likely your staff know instinctively what the decision should be… if given the opportunity to think it through. Moreover, the vast majority of decisions referred to leaders and managers can easily be converted into a standard policy, discussed and trained with your staff, and utilised on demand by your people, on the spot with the customer.

There is overwhelming evidence suggesting that people who are empowered to make the decisions related to executing their roles, have higher job satisfaction, are more likely to stay with your organisation, are more fulfilled in their work, and more likely to deliver better outcomes for customers and your business.

The challenge for managers and leaders is to let go of the control, and trust that your people can, and will, make the decision you would make. This is where your policies are critical, not your processes or procedures. The time investment in developing and embedding coherent, end-to-end policies that capture the true intent and the boundaries around each customer interaction, process and decision point, will set your operation up to be a far more efficient, empowered and engaged work environment.

The payoff for leaders willing to implement this culture and capability, is reduced stress and precious time that can be reinvested into the forward thinking and critical directional and strategic decisions that keep the business competitive and ready for the next wave of change. You’ll also create time for the investment in development of your staff… so often overlooked or de-prioritised, but equally critical for your long-term viability.

It’s been said many times that “decisions are made by those who show up”. Just remember, you’re not the only one who showed up for work… your staff are already in position, and you’ve got other important things to do.

Assessing Organisational Identity… and why staff engagement surveys are missing the mark.

It’s been a year. Time once again to roll out the organisational engagement levels survey. All the Managers action-planned following last year’s survey… surely there’s been an improvement? Time to call the teams together and prepare them properly for the questions they’ll be answering… their interpretations of the questions varied widely last time… Did you notice the collective eye-roll from the staff? Wonder why the energy just dissipated from the room?

A common problem faced by many organisations when testing the “engagement” of their staff is that 1.) their surveys focus primarily on lag indicators, with little attention paid to the drivers of the engagement levels; and 2.) too often the surveys are centred more around the success of the business and management, than those the survey is supposed to be focussed on. It is little wonder that many staff look upon the surveying of their engagement with cynicism, and sometimes downright disdain.

If that sounds familiar, ask yourself… As a Business Owner, Manager or Leader, why are you really testing the engagement of your staff?… What questions are you asking?… And are you using the engagement levels of your staff as a key measure of your own success?

Let’s look at the behaviours exhibited by those who are truly engaged. Commitment, Enthusiasm, Dedication, Perseverance, Allegiance, Loyalty, Advocacy. In a business context, these behaviours are the holy grail, but it is also important to recognise that they are simply outcomes of a far more critical element. Whilst many engagement surveys ask questions about all of those behaviours, most of the questions only address the outcome, and tend to sound like, “How likely are you to stay in your current role?”, “how likely are you to recommend this company to your friends or social network?”, “how effectively have the senior leaders communicated”, “how well is under-performance managed in this organisation?”. The answers to these questions do not provide a clear indication of engagement, as there are more critical personal drivers influencing these answers, that if not understood, can lead to false-positives, false-negatives and misinterpreted engagement results.

“…People will ride out the storms and they will give more of themselves than they or you can imagine, when they can truly see their identity in the results delivered…”


An example of this can be found in the answers provided to the question, “How likely are you to stay in your current role?”. In the absence of other critical context, results indicating that staff intend only to stay a short time could indicate that staff are disengaged… but it could also indicate that staff are in fact perfectly engaged, but have a career path, supported by the development offered to them by their current leader or employer, that sees them moving on to a new challenge. This is not necessarily a negative result. It could also indicate that whilst the employees are happy and engaged, the nature or intensity of the work being performed is more suited to shorter stints before the employee needs to move on and refresh. Misinterpretation of these results can lead to organisations placing greater effort into fruitless retention activities that could be directed elsewhere.

On the flip side, results indicating that staff intend to stay for long periods may in fact indicate engagement… but could also be masking fear, lack of development opportunities, or personal circumstances that leave employees desperate for certainty and continuity of employment. Employees facing these challenges don’t need to be engaged to respond this way. The point is, many engagement surveys and the subsequent action planning sessions that follow, stop short of providing insights into the true drivers of these responses, and as such, employees often leave the engagement survey process feeling sceptical about the use of the information, and less engaged than when they began.

Reflect for a moment on the other aspects of your life that you are truly engaged with… Regardless of whether these are related to sporting, community involvement, volunteering or personal challenges, true engagement is the by-product of the “identity” you have with that particular pursuit or activity. Your identity with an activity is what keeps you returning day after day, week after week. It’s what keeps you motivated to put the effort in when things are difficult. It’s the reason you refer your friends, and it’s the reason that your personal pride in the result does not allow a substandard result. Chances are, you’ve never actually qualified, let alone quantified, your level of ‘engagement’ in these pursuits… but if asked, you will be able to articulate with clarity what it means to you personally, why you care enough to deliver the best result, and how you as a human are a better, more fulfilled person for giving that activity everything you have.

Engagement in a professional workplace is no different. It is the outcome of a team or individual that has an identity and a sense of belonging, can truly relate to their work, can relate to their peers and can relate to the vision of what their value is contributing to.

Creating and fostering identity is however, not a once a year activity. Every day, the entire leadership team must create an environment where your people can relate to how the result is to be achieved, provide each person with a clear view of how their input and effort makes a difference, how their skills are best utilised, how their contribution is valued and understood, how they will be supported, and how their personal development will be enhanced through their work.

These are the aspects that “Organisational Identity Assessments” focus on and are far superior to traditional engagement surveys. These assessments survey the true drivers of human behaviour, provide insight into the values and identity your people aspire to, and ensure that the action planning that is driven from the assessment results is truly focussed on improving the quality of each staff member’s experience. The resulting engagement benefits to the organisation follow naturally… and as an added benefit, you no longer have to manufacture engagement.

People will ride out the storms and they will give more of themselves than they or you can imagine, to ensure the ship stays afloat, when they can truly see their identity in the results delivered.