Less-Is-More: A Reality-Based Alignment Process
by Dr. William T. Lybarger, Ph.D., Healthcare and Business Management Consultant

Adversity Is Often Accompanied By Opportunity:

Most organizations will eventually face hard times. I am suggesting that organizational leaders see this event as an opportunity rather than a trauma. First, managers can make changes during hard times that would not be possible during normal conditions. Second, most executive managers are human and therefore will not initiate actions that result in pain. Third, adversity is often accompanied by opportunity. Fourth, in reality, this is an opportunity to create the organizational alignment that will serve as the foundation for achieving long term competitive advantage. Fifth, operating a "lean" organization is a good thing. The fastest way to make a profit is to stop doing things that don't make a profit. Sixth, a great way to boost morale is to ask employees to identify redundant work and then empower them do discontinue that work. So suck it up, and do what you get paid for doing. I like what Gordon Bethune said, "I am an executive, I execute."

A good place to start is two or three days away from work. I suggest that part of that time be spent with a person who has insights into the Less-Is-More concept. Part of the need for this physical separation is the fact that you were in charge during the evolution of the problem needing correction. It is unrealistic to think that you can repose at the local Starbucks and the necessary organizational interventions will evolve out of your mocha. I suggest that you read four books and one chapter of another. I prescribe [1] chapter five of "Good To Great" by Jim Collins, [2] "Direct From Dell" by Michael Dell, [3] "From Worst To First" by Gordon Bethune, [4] "Plain Talk" by Ken Iverson and [6] "Winning" by Jack Welch. Also, it is important that you, intellectually, disconnect from the executive management team with whom you spend most work time. Intellectual incest is a terminal disease of certainty and some of them may fit the "redundant employee" category. You might consider talking with other executive leaders in your profession. Additionally, you might talk to a few non-executive employees about their perception of your/their organization. Finally, if you don't get this right, you may be a "redundant employee."

Value Based Horizontal Alignment Analysis:

I believe in continuous-lean-management. That means you search for less rather than more in all portions of your organization except customer satisfaction, employee satisfaction, employee compensation and profit. This alignment analysis starts with identifying the most important success for your organization. For example, Gordon Bethune identified on time arrival as the most important success for Continental. Michael Dell prefered Return on Investment Capital and at Nucor Ken Iverson preferred cost-per-ton-of steel. Once that success has been identified, use the Lybarger Right-To-Left Management strategy to identify non-aligned organizational activities. This should be a three step process. First, identify your organizations most important (macro) success. Second, go through the organization and identify all activities, buildings, work and people that do not directly increase the probability of achieving your most important (macro) success. Place those items in the "Recycle Bin." Third, go through the "Recycle Bin" and identify items that, even though they don't add value directly, have indirect value and should be retained. Fourth, the organization must be rearranged to bring it into alignment with the macro success. The composition of the team completing this analysis deserves attention. I believe the concept upon which the 360 degree performance evaluation is based should be considered. This is an opportunity to open the organization by including employees at all levels in the process. To bring a more complete 360 process, you need participation and input from people outside the organization. A key concept here is that "all business problems are people problems." This effort should increase alignment between the organizations macro success and resource allocation.

Vertical Alignment:

You should be interested in two types of alignment; horizontal and vertical. Horizontal has more to do with operations and is micro. Vertical is macro and involves organizational strategy, organizational structure and the work culture. I think the information you need for this analysis resides in the books by Dell, Bethune and Iverson. Strategy has to do with differentiating your product or service from competitors, structure has to do with organizing things and people to get work done and culture relates to the more nebulas unwritten rules about how people behave in your organization. To me, there are four issues to be considered related to strategy formulation; [1] is organizational strategy aligned with your macro success, [2] who creates the strategy, [3] what is the process for determining whether or not the strategy is working and [4] how, when and who is responsible for revising the strategy? For structure, destroy the hierarchy. Gordon Bethune and Ken Iverson provided great insights into creating structure without creating rules. The work culture should be "people first" and give employees a reason to exert "discretionary" effort.

Generic Success Templates:

No matter what your macro success or strategy might be, I have concluded that there are success templates that represent generic organizational truths. These truths, I believe, are applicable in most all organizations. This is my list and is based on 30 years of management experience, ten years of teaching graduate courses in management and a recent infatuation with books written by people who have done something rather than people who have thought about doing something.

  1. Seventy-five percent of your employees will give a days work for a days pay if you remove demotivating factors from the work environment.
  2. Hire or create the 90 90 employee. This person does 90% of their work correctly 90% of the time with little or no supervision.
  3. Have the least number of supervisors possible.
  4. Hire slow and fire fast.
  5. Have the least number of employees possible and pay them as much as possible.
  6. Make every person a decision maker.
  7. Give people a stake in the business.
  8. Destroy the hierarchy.
  9. Stop doing traditional performance evaluations.
  10. Replace rules with structure.
  11. Change the role of HR from compliance to success support.
  12. Take the advice you receive from the CFO and attorneys with a grain of salt.
  13. Increase your connection with the people who do the work.
  14. Create a "people first culture."
  15. Retain the capacity to create "mega" change as incremental change usually makes people happy and results in no change.
  16. Plan less and do more.
  17. Move the decision making process as far down in the organization as possible.
  18. Be careful, just because something feels good to you does not mean it is good for you.
  19. You can delegate authority but you cannot delegate responsibility.
  20. Autonomy can be dangerous.
  21. If the people you spend most of your time with are telling how great you are, you may not be great.

An Alternative:

In closing, it seems only fair that I offer you an alternative to the preceding organizational interventions. I learned the following management strategy from Don Imus (Imus in the Morning). Gather the executive management team in the executive conference room, get in a circle and kiss your future goodbye.

Copyright 2009, All Rights Reserved.  Dr. William Lybarger