Imagine you are on an airplane and seated next to you is a congenial and engaging man or woman. You strike up a conversation and discover your seating companion works for the airline you are flying. At some point, you ask if they know how often their airline pulls its airplanes off-line to give their mechanical systems a thorough diagnostic review.
Your companion informs you there is no routine schedule specifying when such mechanical diagnostics should take place. You see, they explain, we believe this wastes a lot of money and needless downtime. These planes are designed to fly and are so well-built they need little serious maintenance baring a major mechanical problem. Our pilots and crews are fully capable of identifying when some system needs a check or maintenance work and we follow their lead. We save millions, they tell you, by avoiding unnecessary diagnostics on perfectly fit airplanes.
Do you intend to continue flying this airline?
There is something about services involving life and death that tells us safety, proactivity, and extra caution are well worth extra expense. We assume the extra cost is included in the charges for the service provided whether its airfare, medical expenses, or the cost of an ocean cruise.
In each of these examples, conducting routine diagnostic protocols lie at the center of determining everything is operating at peak efficiency. We trust these protocols implicitly since they are far better indicators all is well than human intuition or a hunch that something is or isn’t wrong. Most of us get a regular physical just to be sure, so why should airplanes be an exception?
Yet many managers fail to develop their own diagnostic protocols to determine if their organization is operating at peak efficiency. True, we are not talking about life and death matters in a human sense when the subject is management. However, when one’s organization is underperforming, disorganized, or in some way dysfunctional, we are often talking about poor customer service, competitive disadvantage and lost revenue.
That is why the best managers think of themselves as an organizational diagnostician and plan for regular deep-dives into the workings of the enterprise they oversee. At a minimum, these deep-dives should involve an assessment of the four core elements of any organization.
Begin with FOCUS. What is your business, service, or mission? Are you and everybody for whom you are responsible focusing attention on the correct things? Have you stopped doing things that are no longer relevant or supportive of your long-term goals? What if anything has changed since you last asked these questions and has your organization made the appropriate adjustments?
Next, look carefully at how you have matched your talent to the important tasks that make your enterprise work at peak efficiency. Humans change, situations change and what was working a few months ago may need some adjusting now. Individual levels of performance increase and decrease. Teams that were working perfectly may now need the infusion of new expertise or a reshuffling of roles and responsibilities. A recent increase in departures could represent an opportunity for hiring a few individuals with a different set of skills. Be satisfied the status quo still works before deciding to stand pat.
Then, take the temperature of your working environment. How is morale? Do you see smiles and hear laughter at work, or are frowns and a sense of soberness what you experience around you? Are there pressing problems that need addressing? Are there more complaints than usual? A working environment has a distinct feel. What is your sense of it and what if anything seems to need attention? Productivity, initiative, and creativity never flourish in a toxic environment.
Lastly, there are your customers and your product or service. Are customers happy and what are they saying? If there are complaints, who is doing what about them? Is anybody working on improvements or fixes previously identified? Is anybody pressing the envelope regarding new ideas or approaches? Long-term satisfied customers are hard to maintain and easily lost by degradations in product or service quality. Do not take these things for granted.
You get the picture. There are a hundred questions you can ask, all directed at gaining a sense of the current state of play in each of these four areas. Is your organization working at or near its peak capability of not? If not, what is to be done based on your diagnosis?
The best managers conduct the above or a similar exercise on a regular basis. They are never satisfied the status quo will last forever. Moreover, the best managers do not conduct this exercise alone. They involve the workforce in various ways because they understand those doing the daily work are the first to realize when something is wrong and will need to support and implement any changes that need to be made.