The erosion of business foundations: an inconvenient reality


For many organisations, experience has taught them that even when best business practices are employed one cannot be comfortable in the front seat. Continuous organisational improvement, most times doing more with less, is therefore not only a business imperative but a necessity to be competitive, sustainable and lean.

Leaders in lean organisations need to relentlessly drive continuous improvement and transformation within organisations, directed by committed, routine and attentive leadership. This was the focus at the seventh Lean Summit Africa, a conference designed for senior and mid-level managers who want to aspire towards Lean Leadership - more proactive, purposeful leadership in their organisations. Lean applies to every business and every process, it is a way of thinking and acting for an entire organisation.

Management consultants are often tasked with bringing about this change – realignment of strategic direction, design and deployment of a performance scorecard, assisting with insourcing and outsourcing decisions, tweaking organisational design to improve performance or making the production engine more efficient and effective.

The decision to bring in management consulting expertise is often necessitated by an unknown or invisible problem which has caused a decline in competitiveness or market position; or an increase of unhappy stakeholders, clients and customers.

So what has happened at these organisations? Despite great systems, strategies and processes; what sits behind the need to improve? Have things suddenly gone backwards or does the need to become better at delivery require a total revamp of the organisational design?

Although many reasons exist, it is inevitable that the common problem will often be the inability to engage the heads, hands and hearts of the people who make the organisation work – those individuals at the frontline of the organisation. Ultimately, these are the people who will run and improve processes.

Three global benchmark assessments that MAC Consulting has been involved in over the last two years have proven that, although the strategies and methodologies required to enable these basic practises were known to the leadership and often of the highest quality, they were not in place. This disconnects the management and frontline of the business which negatively impacts morale, costs, quality, delivery and safety performance.

There are three fundamentals to this problem:

  1. Leadership and the ability to affect change:

Ensuring that messages from the minds of the managers get to the hands of the workers on the front line takes a lot of effort – emails, printed posters, discussions in meetings, town hall meetings. However, the question should be how to get to the messages from the minds of the frontline workers to the hands of the managers. It, often means that managers must get out of their offices in order to see with their feet and touch the work with their eyes.

  1. Visual Management:

It is almost impossible to manage something you cannot see. Expectations must be known, measured and acted-on to run and improve processes optimally. Frontline teams cannot deliver without a clear idea of what is expected of them, goals agreed and measures to show them if they are on the right track. This lack of direction can disempower up to 80% of the workforce, and load all the responsibility onto the shoulders of management. Good and effective leadership is about giving direction, identify what matters, measuring on a short intervals and identifying and closing the gaps.

  1. Teamwork:

Departments and functions that do not talk to, or support, each other to achieve a common goal will be destructive. Unfortunately, measurement and reward systems often drive the wrong behaviour by rewarding the individual. In this way, the heroes take all the glory and destroy the system. To get this right the importance of the team must trump the importance of the individual. Give the teams the power and incentivise them to work together. A high performance culture is now within reach.

These three fundamental items are as elusive today as when they were 50 years ago. Although the science of leadership has evolved, organisations around the world still battle to unlock their true potential as a large portion of the organisation is disconnected from the intellectual capacity required to operate and improve.

Although the solution seems simple, it is important not to underestimate how hard it will be to change leadership behaviour so that the fundamental basics to improve are recognised. Hard work will ensure you reap the rewards of being lean.


Photo Caption: Matt van Wyk, Associate Director of MAC Consulting. Photo: Supplied.