Rhetoric to Results, How the States are Getting Down to Business and Rediscovering the Promise of America chronicles practical, best-practice approaches to leadership and management that are transforming the country, one state at a time.

Never in its history has the United States of America been more stuck. As this nation stands still and chokes on its own rhetoric, China moves boldly forward with the stated intention of becoming the world’s economic, political, and military superpower in what its leaders openly call the “Post-American Era.”

While the facts prove that we as a nation are rapidly slipping out of the #1 position, our nation’s political system has turned into a glacial river incapable of generating the flow of ingenuity desperately needed to rekindle the promise of America. The rhetorical black hole has never been more conspicuous as the 112th Congress passed the fewest laws in a century.

0884C0FA-1F9F-4170-8185-AC0C75BD57ACFortunately, many states – pushed by sparse budgets – are shifting from circular policy debates to fact-driven, evidence-based management. Results-driven activists in more than a dozen states are reengineering education, transforming health care and overcoming energy and environmental challenges, while modernizing their infrastructure, and increasing public safety.

Scorecards are popping up on state websites with increasing frequency as governors courageously make their progress transparent. In addition, legislatures are passing performance accountability laws and state agencies are holding formal frequent and open business reviews that cause transparency and accountability. Business leaders are joining in to share their experience building high-engagement, results-driven cultures and utilizing Lean tools and methods to eliminate process waste. Meanwhile citizens are running correlations of on-line government data to help spot specific opportunities to improve government.

As the nation grows weary of the hollowness of hope and change rhetoric, a fact-based, results-focused movement is sweeping the states. In the states, concerned citizens, business leaders, governors, lawmakers, agency leaders and even lobbyists and journalists are sparking creative solutions. When the results-focused groundswell reaches critical mass, it will inspire our nation’s capitol and correct the course of this great nation.

Over the coming months I will be sharing some of what I am learning as I research the book. I expect it will be released late in 2014. Your comments and feedback are welcome.

(This is the first in a 3-part series on Risk Management)

RiskMgmt 1This is part one of a three-part series on Enterprise Risk Management.

Organizations exist to get things done. That’s why we craft mission statements, set goals and measure results. These strategic intentions provide meaning and direction for everyone in the organization.

Yet like all great plans, things change once we start executing our plans. Some of these changes are driven by the emergence of risks across the enterprise. Therefore, the answer to the question, “Why do we manage risk?” is quite simple. We do it in order to deliver on the promises we make to our customers, stakeholders, and employees.

Of course we work to avoid basic risks such as fraud, theft, and accidents. In addition, we must manage a whole range of risks from sexual harassment to improper hiring practices to those challenging information technology projects to something as dramatic as business failure. In other words, much of the critical risks in today’s complicated world have to do with ensuring that our resources and focus are not distracted from their intended purpose.

Management’s job it to manage numerous types of risk:

Strategic Risks: Are we making meaningful progress toward our goals and outcomes?
Operational Risks: Are we managing our processes in a way that ensures high quality, low cost, and timely delivery for our customers?
Reporting Risks: Are we routinely reporting how things are going, making clear the accountability for correcting when we get off course, and providing visibility into our operations that
is both necessary and sufficient to be considered “well managed?”
Compliance Risks: Are we complying with our own policies and the regulations and laws that govern our work?

While managing risk sounds like the work of risk experts and auditors, in reality managing risk is the most fundamental work that managers must own. Accepting this concept is key to every leader’s ability to understand and sponsor proper enterprise risk management policies and processes. The bottom line of risk management is the answer to the question, “Do we know what is happening in our organization early enough to manage risks?”

Interestingly, the single most powerful risk management tool is monitoring process measures. When we measure our routine work, assuming we do it frequently, then we know in real time how it is actually doing. The power of monitoring a measure as a means of control is that it has the ability to signal, “help is needed” when there’s an early shift in performance. In fact, a process measures variance from “good” to “poor” provides a clear sense of the severity of this shout out.

Having a measure is one form of control and is often referred to as an internal control. However, the ultimate control is when the people who conduct the actual process work have the full authority to take action to solve any problems associated with the measure’s decline. This combination of people and process measurement is the key to handling enterprise risk management in any organization.

In the end, no matter how sophisticated an organization’s system is to control risk, the bulk of real risk management takes place where the real work gets done. So installing an enterprise Management System to manage Enterprise Risk Management through process measurement is more than risk management, it can quickly become a competitive advantage.

Next week in part two: Tone at the Top

This is the eighth in a Series on Organizational Culture, its role, how it is shaped, and how it can be changed.

Change, in its simplest meaning, is a response to an opportunity. And one thing for sure is we have lots of opportunity to respond to in our world – because it thrives on change.

When we hear the word change we often think of it as an event: we change from this to that. We change clothes. We change jobs. We change doctors. We change homes. Change is often seen as black and white.

Organizational change is often seen the same way. We have a culture of this and we instead want it to be that. For example, we have a long history of top-down management, and we want to move to decentralized decision-making and a high engagement culture such as the Now Management System creates.

When I think about organizational change, my mind goes back to a concept popularized in Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, published way back in 1990. According to Senge, rather than take an organization through a periodic overhaul, what really makes sense is to create a highly agile organization. What this means is that the DNA of a highly agile organization allows it to constantly reinvent itself.

In other words, learning organizations don’t see change as periodic they see it as continuous and as a way of life. Learning organizations thrive on improving everything and they love it when they have to achieve a breakthrough to transform its performance or add a new capability.

Learning organizations embrace change better if they have a system of management that enables it. Then change is not talk, it is built into everything they do. You can see the markers of such organizations because of their clear commitment and focus on learning how to improve. They learn how to define breakthroughs and they have a track record of doing the work it takes to deliver on their opportunities. These organizations measure what matters most and work to improve those measures.

Learning organizations have a stimulus/response way of seeing the world. Something shifts, so we shift too. Applying these best practices to managing our organizations is a stimulus/response approach to learning. Something shifts and we recognize the need to shift; because we are agile, we shift with it.

As leaders, if we want to create an organization that actively supports change, we have to create one that is designed for change. Organizations that thrive on learning are the ones that best embrace change.

Next week I’ll share some thinking on how changing your management system will change your culture.

Video Blog – Process Improvement | Supporting Change

Video Blog Link – http://youtu.be/yCDr5fBw4Uc

This is the seventh in a Series on Organizational Culture, its role, how it is shaped, and how it can be changed.

No single leadership factor is a more essential prerequisite to successful change than trust. Every new change raises the underlying question that leaders must answer which is “Why?” People who will be impacted by a given change need and deserve to understand the answer to that question. If trust is not present, much time and energy will be lost trying to figure out the real reason for the cultural shift.

If a change is well reasoned, it shouldn’t be that hard to explain the why behind it. But the test that determines how quickly the change gets underway is whether or not people believe the answer is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Employees may have good reasons not to trust their leaders. The trust challenge you face may have little or nothing to do with you. It may be based upon past experiences either inside or outside your organization.

We humans are often skeptical, and life sometimes has a way of giving us good reason to be so. So, as a leader you have to talk straight. Then, we have to demonstrate the truth through our actions.

Even if the reason for change is delicate, leaders who want their culture to change cannot ignore the reason for change. People will trust leaders who explain why the organization needs to get its costs down in order to stay competitive, or the fact that the budget is not growing as fast as the demand for services requires cost control.

Our people need and deserve the truth, and in my experience they’ll support the change if they understand it is the right and/or necessary thing to do.

With the truth on the table, people will likely find the change is for the better. And if it’s better, acceptance will help it move faster.

Next week I’ll explore the question, “What does it take to create a culture that actively supports change?”

Video Blog – Process Improvement | Telling The Truth

Link To Video Blog – http://youtu.be/gi3rQnGSrc4

This is the fourth in a Series on Organizational Culture, its role, how it is shaped, and how it can be changed.

Culture is changed when expectations and roles are changed. This is especially applicable to the role decision-making plays in a culture.

For example, if a team is having problems meeting expected work output, and an employee has an idea for how to solve that problem, in a hierarchical culture the team would not be able to make any changes without discussing it with their manager first. And their manager may need to discuss it with her manager. This cultural norm significantly slows down decisions and hampers (if not prevents) solving the problem even when viable solutions exist.

When you slow down decision making an unintended consequence is that you reduce the number of decisions that are made.

If we want to better meet customers’ unique needs, we need to alter processes, roles and routines and move decision-making down. In fact, to do this we must alter aspects of our organization’s management system. A management system is an organization’s underlying approach to setting priorities, communicating expectations, monitoring performance, and making adjustments to resources to achieve outcomes. The organization’s management system communicates beliefs and defines expected behaviors — and when we alter those two things we redefine important cultural dimensions.

Every organization has a management system, even if it does not call it that. So whether the system is loosely structured or completely unconscious, a management system communicates culture through the expectations it sets (or does not set) and the behaviors it expects (or does not expect).

Most experts agree that you cannot change culture by simply declaring a new set of behaviors or values as the new norm. Instead, my experience has been that the most effective way to change culture is to change the management system. When you do that you change the routines and the roles. That shift then creates a shift in what’s normal, and that begins shaping new cultural norms. All this, of course, takes time.

One of the best methods for changing expectations through the Now Management System® is created by effectively designed and well-run quarterly business reviews. For example, when measures are in place for a team, and those measures are in “red” or “yellow” at the time of the business review, the team is then expected to report on their progress in using our 7-Step Problem Solving process (or whatever process improvement methodology the organization has selected) to turn that measure to “green.” This quarterly business review routine communicates clear ownership of the problem, the expectation of transparent and focused action, and use of the organization’s methodology for improvement.

Bottom line is that these business reviews create a new pattern of behavior, and that behavior will alter cultural norms as it redefines processes, routines, and roles.

Can resetting expectations and changing culture be done quickly? Compared to interventions other than the NOW Management System, the answer is ”Yes!” Of course it takes time and focus to build the system, create sustainable new routines, and teach people their new roles and behaviors, especially regarding problem solving and decision-making. However, in our experience there are certain techniques and best practices that speed the process of cultural change and move decision-making down to the front line.

“You can see the culture shifting from one quarterly review to the next,” is a sentiment we often hear from leaders. “Our people are learning it’s safe to show that there are problems.”

Does the NOW Management System work? Does it change the culture? Absolutely. Does it take time to make real shifts in culture? Absolutely. Is it compelling and rewarding work? Absolutely!

Coming Up Next: What creates a in an organization to change? Next week I’ll share some thinking I have been doing on that topic.

Video Blog – Process Improvement | Can Culture Change Quickly

I grew up in a small family business. As in any business, momentum is its biggest ally and simultaneously its greatest threat. The challenge is we don’t often realize that the way we do something may in fact not be working.

Our family business, Bernard’s Garage in Milwaukie, Oregon, was started in 1925 and my brother Jim owns it today.

When I was 17 or 18 and my father was running the business with 12-15 employees I got my first appreciation for processes. Dad, like his father before him, was in charge of scheduling customers. If a customer wanted to get a tune-up on Thursday we would go to dad and say, “Mr. Fisher wants to get his Rambler tuned on Thursday, can we do it?” Dad would then say “yes” or “no” and we would go back to the office phone and tell the customer.

The problem with this process was that not only did we have to find Dad to get approval to commit to the customer, but Dad also had the schedule in his head and no one else knew who or what was going to show up on Thursday.

But this was the way we had always done it.

One day I had this idea and I walked over to the local stationery store and bought a stack of blue 8×5 notecards. I wrote “Weekly Schedule” on top of the blue cards and then created five columns, one for each day of the workweek. I put it on a clipboard and set it on the counter next the phone. The approach somehow got adopted and before long Dad was no longer the bottleneck for scheduling.

At that point in my life I had no idea that I would become passionate about this kind of work and even write a book about it (Business at the Speed on Now). As I now know, what I had done at the garage was a bit of process improvement. But more importantly, it was my first experience in systems thinking in a business environment.

Many of us work inside systems that are no longer capable of accomplishing what we need them to accomplish. And, our most common response is to simply push harder and try to go faster. That might work if you are running a 10k, but if your business processes are continually falling short it won’t work.

Creating new and better capability requires us to stop what we are comfortable doing, and find a better way to do it. Like the scheduling system at Bernard’s Garage, there was no need to fear or avoid the change because it actually made things easier for everyone.

If it isn’t working, stop and look hard at why. The solution is not as far away as you might think.



Employee engagement is the Holy Grail because when it improves so does the customer experience, productivity and revenue. Also when it moves up, costs, absenteeism, turnover, theft, accidents, and defects go down. In the search to drive up employee engagement there have been many alluring paths to explore. Over the years most organizations have jumped at dozens of programs to boost the degree to which people, their most valuable asset, take initiative and go the extra mile to make improvements.

However, not only has employee engagement NOT improved in the past 25 years, it has actually declined according to research by Gallup. Today in the typical company less than 30 percent of employees do anything more than the minimum required.

Our hunger to engage people creates an unrelenting appetite for anything and everything that might help. We hope the Balanced Scorecard will transform engagement. Maybe if we just emulate the Good to Great companies we can pull it off. Or if we can get past the Five Dysfunctions of a Team or if we all just practice The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People our employees would finally be more fully engaged. Then there is the promise that lean, six sigma, Kaizen, the whole world of process improvement, certainly must be the path to true engagement. Right?

Unfortunately, programs and tools like these do NOT transform employee engagement. Every one of the great books I mentioned and the very powerful world of process improvement all support engaging employees. Yet, supporting employee engagement does not create transformation.

Take lean as an example. You can engage employees in a project to take the waste out of a given process. But projects of this nature are almost always special sanctuaries where the over-riding norms of the organization are temporarily set aside. What that means is the improvement effort is a special event during which employees actually have a voice and are highly engaged.

For these reasons, there is no doubt that lean is a good thing. But the problem is we hope that if we just keep repeating these projects we will transform the underlying behaviors, expectations and routines of the organization in such a way that results in a highly engaged workforce. It’s like remodeling a 1,200 square foot track home one room at a time and hoping when you are done you have a 8,000 square foot mansion.

Repeating a good practice, no matter how much we hope it does, can’t transform an organization. As Einstein put it, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.”

In reality, employee engagement is driven by the underlying system of management, the logic that organizes and runs the business. That logic is often unseen and unconscious, and it is that logic that creates organizational culture and behaviors.

Learn about our exciting results by reading Business at the Speed of Now.

We live in a complex world and we work in complex organizations. Whether your organization is small, medium, large or huge, understanding how it all works is no small task. Regardless of its size, the simple reality is the performance of any organization is largely driven by its management system. Ironically, it is rare to see an organization even acknowledge it has a management system. However, this is the “mother of all processes” and until an organization takes conscious control of that system, it will have little control over its performance.

A management system is a collection of processes understood by every employee that focuses the organization and drives it to achieve specific desired results. It creates the priorities, establishes targets, clarifies accountability, allocates and aligns all resources, reviews progress, initiates adjustments and interventions when performance is below target, and drives improvement in all routine work. An effective and disciplined management system ensures the routine work of the organization is delivered with increasing quality and decreasing costs, and that strategic initiatives are effectively executed so they deliver the expected results.

Download the full article, The Mother of All Processes: Part One to learn more about this important key to the NOW System of Management.

John  Moore’s recent article (The Social Ecosystem) is of great interest to all of us at The Periscope Group. Is a concept such as a “social ecosystem”  ready for prime time? In our opinion the answer is yes. Here’s an excerpt from John’s article:

“Organizations of all types have struggled to come to grips with terms like Government 2.0, Social Business, Social Media, and a long list of others that are floating around book stores, universities, and blogs.

I have spent a lot of time speaking with businesses and government agencies, exploring what is working, what is failing, and seeking to understand where confusion and hype are preventing these organizations from achieving full value from their efforts. The Social Ecosystem is the result of these efforts and is meant to reduce confusion and offer guidance for organizations across the world.

Lofty goals? Perhaps, but the Social Ecosystem is not being defined in a vacuum, it will fully leverage many ideas that are already available and will evolve, as needed, as we continue to learn more.

For this post I will discuss, at a high level, the major components of the Social Ecosystem as well as some key definitions. Over time I plan to create a table of contents, a section for terms, and break this down into a book-like format. Please be patient as it will take time and we’ll all work through this together.”  Read More

John, thank you for getting the conversation rolling. We very much like the “social ecosystem” concept and the 3 key components. Over the last 2 years we’ve talked to a lot of leaders in private and public sectors. To a person they have asked for clarification and some sort of threaded language to wrap their heads (and strategies and budgets) around. Trying to explain things in an unthreaded system was and continues to be very difficult. It steals cycles that need to be focused on development. A “social ecosystem” would have made a huge difference in achieving clarity of purpose, alignment of strategies and ultimately allocation of resources. We’re looking forward to the evolution of these conversations and the “social ecosystem.” We will bring several people who are building a “system of management” into this conversation as well. Ultimately, that system and this ecosystem will be closely tied together.

via The Social Ecosystem

Processes are a series of steps or actions that transform inputs into well-defined outcomes or outputs. Well-managed organizations understand that everything they do is a series of integrated processes: purchasing, building, product development, technical support, customer service, hiring, accounting, finance, etc. These organizations also know that their processes and related impacts extend beyond the walls of the organization to include suppliers, partners and customers. (more…)