Thoughts shared from an interview with AJ Aronoff 2 – mapping the “typical day”
I posted Part One of this two part interview story on November 6, 2009 and have been planning on following through with the second half. Here it is, and in some respects this half is more important, at least as it relates to ongoing, day to day operational practice and its impact on the business as a whole.
I tend to think in terms of overall organizational structure and process, and of strategy and priorities, which in practice can be more of a top-down approach and perspective. That is important but it gains its relevance through the cumulative momentum of individual employee performance, both within the organization and as employees reach out and connect with clients and customers, suppliers and channel partners and others in their overall supply chains and business ecologies. The big picture approach is important but it is the details of individual action that bring that big picture into focus and meaning.
That is the level that AJ and I talked about in the second half of our meeting on November 4, 2009. And we focused on a very particular approach for both understanding and sharing best practices within the organization. And that was based on a couple of basic, simple questions.
• Who are your best employees?
• What do they do on a typical day?
The idea here is to identify who creates the greatest value to the organization and its customers, and what they do to achieve that performance level. True, it is also important to know what they do and how they do it when the unexpected arises, and both as novel problem and opportunity. But most days, most effort goes into the more operational day to day and standard processes and priorities so that is where to start looking.
• What do new and less experienced/less effective employees do that is different?
This can be a matter of timing, emphasis or priority and it can include both what they do or do not so on their own, and what they turn for help on and to whom.
• What is the best approach to get the newer and less experienced/less effective employees up to speed with their best practice colleagues?
The answer there has to be based on what those best practice employees do. There, any accompanying underlying reasoning and process explanations need to be grounded in the practical application of these best practices identified as different for these groups. And getting the less effective employees to emulate their more effective colleagues in their day to day practices can make them more like the top performer employees too. (Yes, the bar rises, and no, unlike Garrison Keeler’s Lake Woebegone experience not all employees will be above average.)
I pick up on this to drive home a point I see as crucially important for any business or organization, for-profit or nonprofit, private or public sector. Strategy and the big picture perspective are important but they are only of value to the extent that they are grounded in hands-on, day to day, real employee decisions and actions. And one-off, and ad hoc exceptions aside, that means the replicable functions and processes that the organization is built around.
This, of course leaves us with some fundamental questions, key to making this work.
• How do you identify the best performing employees, and particularly for non-line positions where they may be performing crucially important roles but their activities are not readily measured by directly monetizable metrics?
Ideally, this approach would be applied across the organization, but it is certainly easier to do this for some types of positions than it is for others. That leaves me with three other questions.
• What metrics are used to performance-review these harder to monetizably quantify employees?
• How objective are those metrics and how can they be made more independently replicable and objective?
• How can these (perhaps updated) metrics be aligned with the more monetized metrics that would go into analyzing the business or organization as a whole? The idea there is to find as consistent an approach to determining and measuring value as possible, across the organization and for all employees (which may or may not mean some variation on the HR balanced scorecard).
AJ, you have really gotten me thinking and I am running with this, so sorry if I am discussing this more abstractly than you would recognize in your own day to day working model.
Basically, what I am doing is presenting a rationale if not a basis for a more bottom-up approach to quantitatively and qualitatively evaluating strategy and planning, and higher level prioritization. Those processes work best when grounded in actual experience and practice, and in best practices that are developed hand-on as providing greatest value.
So top-down and bottom-up analytical models and processes meet in the middle with hands-on employee performance and what they do to achieve that as the rounding reality check. Thank you AJ.
I will add as a final thought that AJ really argued the case that I should devote more of my consulting time to nonprofit marketing and fundraising, or at least to working with nonprofits help them develop better best-practices in these areas. I have not rebuilt my consulting practice but I will look more in that direction, and I have just added a new nonprofit category to this blog for future postings.