Learning to Get the Most from a Performance Chain
By Chris LaVictoire Mahai
In the animal world, the food chain is the most critical driving force. In the business world, it’s the performance chain—defined as allthe tangibleand intangibleelements that have to move from the moment you trigger demand until you have cash in the bank; allthe ins and outs that have to work together and align to your target customer experience to drive the outcomes you want.
“ROAR: Strengthening business performance through speed, predictability, flexibility, and leverage,” a new book for business leaders, uses the animal kingdom as a metaphor for building peak performance.
The idea for the book was sparked by a training exercise called “Taming the Performance Chain,” which hundreds of leaders have participated in at sites across the country. During the three-hour simulation, participants conduct a real-time diagnostic on the fitness of a performance chain. They actually become part of a performance chain, and see from the inside what’s working, and what isn’t. The approach outlined in both the training simulation and the book—seeing the whole performance chain through the lenses of speed, predictability, flexibility, and leverage, and tying better operating performance to better customer outcomes—has been instrumental in helping organizations of all sizes from global giants to family‐owned businesses and start‐ups drive world‐class performance.
Here’s an excerpt from “ROAR,” which looks at an organization’s performance challenges through four lenses: speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage:
What can a business learn from a cheetah about applying speed to an opportunity? We all like to go fast, don’t we? It is way more fun than plodding along. Speed can be a core capability that distinguishes your organization from others. Speed that is well balanced across the performance chain, that is.
Speed is the cheetah’s strength. It allows them to live an independent life. It is their security when in danger. It is their source of food. It gives them a unique position in the animal kingdom. Experienced cheetahs know when to race full speed and when to use their speed at critical moments. In your business you have to know how to assess whether the conditions warrant running hard, expending the energy to win, or whether you’re better off pacing yourself and using your speed capabilities at just the right moments to push you to success.
Improving speed—moving everything through the system as swiftly as possible or achieving a steady, maybe even patient pace—is really about aligning the velocity of all core processes to your business objectives and customer requirements.
Predictability is grounded in known behavior. How does elephant behavior—memory—translate to business?
Let’s start with the obvious: consistency. Elephants are nothing if not consistent. Is your operation consistent? If good things happened yesterday in your operation, can you expect the same good things to happen today? If you produced 1,000 widgets yesterday, can you produce at least 1,000 widgets today? Assuming call volumes in your service center have peaks and valleys, are you prepared to answer each call with the same level of precision—without wasting or taxing resources? As demand grows (thinking good thoughts for your business), can you predictably adjust to fulfill it? As demand changes, can you predictably adjust to accommodate new requirements?
Consistency comes from clear operating practices, processes, well-oiled machines (in the real and metaphor sense) and consistent behaviors. Baby elephants learn consistency in their first year and then walk it the rest of their lives unless interrupted.
Creating and reinforcing predictability drives quality and output. If you want to gain the benefits of a high-functioning performance chain, internal and external processes need a consistent and repeatable path. That rumble in the distance is likely our elephant colleague heading out for her daily walk. Join her and find out where predictability can take you in your business.
How many businesses have coyote-level flexibility to adapt and thrive? Coyotes do as well in East L.A. as they do in a remote rainforest. As conditions change, they learn to adapt through problem-solving. Customers and demand, even if well researched and measured, can be unpredictable and changing. Flexible performance chains have more ability to adapt as demand evolves, ebbs, and flows.
Like the coyote, business flexibility can come in many forms. It can come from physical assets that are designed to easily adjust as demand flows in. It can come from smart processes that can observe or take in information as demand moves through the line and adjust as needed. It can come from a mix of fixed and variable elements, such as fixed workstations with variable staffing, or fixed skill sets with variable capacity. Together, the mix creates the adaptable system. Flexibility enables problem-solving before there is a problem.
Flexibility is hard to establish properly and even harder to evolve and adapt. That is why it is so important and so valuable. Rather than see our coyote comrade as a sneaky, willful pest, steal a few of his abilities, just as he would steal them from you!
Everyone contributes and everything is used in the ant world. Nothing goes to waste. Leverage across the performance chain is about making more or doing more with existing resources and capital assets. Think of it as the productivity of fixed capital, working capital, and labor. It can also mean additional financing or leveraging the balance sheet to fund growth, but for our conversation here, let’s stick to doing more with what we have. Let’s make sure we get the most out of the capacity we have and the investment decisions we’ve already made—people, supply and distribution networks, raw materials, plants or branch facilities and equipment—before we decide to spend or borrow more money. As someone once told me, “Assume there is no new money and see what you can do.”
In the ant colony, leverage comes from every ant lifting and carrying many times its own weight, doing its assigned job with the resources in front of it. In business, it is constantly finding ways to make the work more productive across the entire company. Certainly at points there is a good case to be made for more investment, more new or outside capital. When those points occur, it’s important to know you’re taking full advantage of the resources you already own.
Next time you see your highly leveraged friend the ant at a picnic, stop to admire his strength and selfless contributions to the greater good before you sweep him away.
Everyone can understand the basic needs for speed, flexibility, predictability, and leverage. Getting teams within or across work groups to agree on the priorities, mix, and the balance required for successcan movethemout ofanyfunctional concernsorlensesinto broader performance chain value creation.
Excerpt from “ROAR” by Chris LaVictoire Mahai, which looks at an organization’s performance challenges through four lenses: speed, predictability, flexibility, and leverage.