The Performance Equation

by Maxime Cros on February 10, 2013

A few months ago, I met a friend who I had not seen for a long time. As you know, such meetings are often an opportunity to remember the good moments that we shared in the past, what we succeeded with, failures, and also to chat about our respective personal and professional current situations and our dreams for the future.

I perfectly remember this time for a special reason. My mind was very confused when I had to answer one of his questions about my job. An obvious but complex question. I was explaining my job as a Senior Consultant in Strategic Management and Managerial Relationships.

In few words I explained that I support companies in various industries to grow in business performances by implementation of tailored management projects. my friend was silent before asking: “Why do some Senior Managers succeed to make and manage the good decisions for their companies? Why not the others? Considering their education, their experience, their knowledge, the support of their business advisers, why do only some of them succeed in the management of their companies whereas others fail as far as to threaten its sustainability?

This is a relevant and very interesting question! Indeed why some companies succeed whereas others fail? Why some companies are always the most successful whereas others have various performances? After all, all the Senior Managers hold the same diplomas, from the same famous business schools. Besides they have the support of business advisers and staffs who also hold the same diplomas from the same schools.

So why do some companies or people always have a higher level of performance? Thanks to chance? Talent? Intuition? Genius? Magic? Environment opportunities?

Do you believe that Federer is a successful tennis player only because is talented? Do you think that FC Barcelona is a successful football club only because they bought the most skilled players? Do you believe that the Rolling Stones are a famous rock n’ roll group only because they seize the good opportunities in their business environment? Do you think that the Michelangelo’s perfection is only a question of genius? And Apple… is it only a question of financial and marketing means?

If I had to answer my friend’s question now, I would probably say that some Senior Managers sometimes forget to apply the performance equation:

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P as PERFORMANCE

First let us define the notion of performance. We can define performance as the capability of an individual or a system to achieve his objectives thanks to the mobilization of the appropriate means.

However we have to make the distinction between performance and exploit. Performance is enduring whereas exploit is occasional. I mean that I associate the notion of exploit to the picture of comet: it comes very fast, it’s impressive when it’s coming, it leaves us as faster as it came, and sometimes it comes back. For example, we can consider that there is a difference between the French rugby team and the New Zealand rugby team. Although “Les Bleus” can play an excellence of game never seen and beat any teams on 1 or 2 rugby matches, they are not able to keep this quality of game every time. Consequently they don’t succeed to win on a regular basis when they play against the best teams, and even they sometimes lose against teams reputed to be weak.

Please note that I don’t only consider the notion of performance in term of result but also in term of capability to apply an efficient method. If an individual or a system has the capability to use the good method every time, he increases his chances to achieve his objectives every time. Sometimes he can fail but the risks of failure are limited. For example, “All Blacks” sometimes lose but they limit this risk in using every time the efficient method guaranteeing a high quality of game.

I consider enduring performance as quaternary, for a system but also for an individual. I believe that the company capability to have an enduring performance depends on its capability to satisfy 4 conflicting interests at the same time, as a win-win relationship:

  • The shareholder and investor interests (characters who invest their own money to finance the development of the company),
  • The client / consumer interests (characters who buy and use our products and services),
  • The staff interests (characters working for our company, who concretize the company dreams in building and selling our products, and in serving our customers)
  • The global environment interests (government, the environment, everybody).

Finally, it’s “easy” to make money. If a company decides to sell an asset or relocate a part of its production tool to produce cheaper, there will be a quick impact on profit… however it also could impact the quality of products, and consequently the level of customer satisfaction. Finally if the level of customer satisfaction declines, it could impact the volume of sales and so the corporate financial results.

Making a decision that consists to favor one interest to the detriment to the others often involves good results at short term but bad results at long term. It’s really interesting to observe that in crisis period, some companies make decisions favoring shareholders at short term, for example in killing all the innovation or marketing investments… and that probably is one of the reasons of their level of short term profit but their final failure at long term. Making a decision to favor only the shareholders at short term could finally be disastrous for them at long term.

So being a successful company is more complex than having a satisfying EBITDA at a T time.

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M as Motivation

We could define motivation as energy, that is to say the difference between the level of confidence and the level of doubts that people have at a T time.

I make a distinction between the notions of “motivation” and “will”. Indeed I believe these are 2 distinct things. I associate “will” to the brain whereas I associate “motivation” to the heart. I mean that “will” is cerebral and rational whereas “motivation” is more emotional, beyond reason.

Let us illustrate our thought with an example. Let us imagine 2 professional sportsmen qualifying in Olympic games final, regardless of the sport. We could imagine that both want to win the final. Indeed they probably work for a lot of years to achieve this objective and they have the opportunity to do it. In this case, “they want” means “they have the will to achieve that”, that is to say they need/have the obligation to reach their objective to be rewarded for their involvement. However it’s not sure that they are motivated, I mean that they have a deep desire to do it. In other words, maybe they don’t have a real pleasure to do that. We can imagine that the one who will win is the most motivated and not and the one with the greatest will.

The famous tennis player Andre Agassi case is really interesting to understand that. He won a lot of famous competitions, as 8 Slams. However he explains in his biography that he didn’t like tennis, even he hated tennis, for the main part of his career.

It’s really interesting to analyze the evolution of his career: a succession of tops and downs. I don’t deny his talent. On the contrary, I would have enjoyed having the same tennis winners’ list. However he explains that during some parts of his career, he was very doubtful for personal or professional reasons, resulting in even some depressions and drug consumption. While these times he didn’t have pleasure enough for trainings, energy enough to focus his attention on small but very important details during competition, energy enough to keep his calm during stressful situations,… you know, all these small things that make a huge difference between winners and losers. These times meet the periods when Agassi was less successful. He lost against less talented and skilled tennis players than him during these periods. Bad luck or coincidence? I don’t know but let’s suppose it’s curious. He still wanted to be the best, I mean he had the will to be the best, but he couldn’t because he didn’t have the motivation/energy to achieve that.

We could oppose the Agassi explanations to the Federer statements. Federer explains during interviews that although he’s being old, he continues to have a lot pleasure every morning when he trains, when he plays in competition, when he travels for competitions. So although some sport journalists thought 2 years ago that Federer was finished and close to his retirement, he won 1 slam last year, was at the 1st ATP rank for few weeks,… and announced his probable involvement for the next Olympic games in 4 years.

We can draw the parallel in a classic work situation. Let us imagine 2 people working for a company as the same position. They have exactly the same job: position, responsibility, work time, pressure,… They also have the same education, the same knowledge and skills. How to explain that they don’t have the same level of performance in their jobs?

Let us focus on their levels of motivation. Both need to work in order to make some money to live. And we can suppose that both want to do a good job, in other words they have the will to do a good job. However it’s really interesting to observe that the first one doesn’t like his job; he works only because he needs money and if he had an opportunity to change of job, he would do it quickly. It’s also interesting to observe that he has some difficulties to wake up every morning in order to go to work, and that he is tired at the end of his workday. At the same time, the other person likes his job, he’s happy when he goes to work every morning and he could start another workday immediately at the end of the day.

Maybe their difference of performance follows from their difference of pleasure at work, in other words their difference of motivation.

Will” follows tiredness, stress, mistakes, rashness, lack of concentration,… whereas “motivation” follows pleasure, stress resistance, concentration, calling into question,… and performance.

A lot of factors impact the people motivation: salary package, career perspectives, working conditions, company membership pride,… but also managerial relationships. A company can invest a lot of money to offer the best salary package to its employees, the best working conditions,… I’m afraid that it will be not enough to motivate them if the whole management line is not able to say “good morning” to employees every day, to order clear exigencies, to run staff meetings and interviews on a regular basis, to valorize staff progress and success, to support the staff improvement, to penalize an offside employee, to be exemplary,… I could illustrate my statement with a situation I lived few years ago. I worked for a company with a Senior Manager very interested in social surveys. I was sharing a time with him when he discovered the results of the annual social survey of his company. He was very annoyed because the level of staff satisfaction decreased at the question “do you have recognition enough?”. He was mainly irritated because he made a lot of decisions to improve the salary package on the previous year. In analyzing the results more seriously, he observed that all the items dedicated to managerial relationships were not satisfying. Maybe the first staff need is not money…

Please before looking for miraculous and expensive solutions to motivate your staff, let us start in developing relationships and recognition inside and outside our management times, and also in preparing and structuring our management times to be more efficient during our relation times. There is no motivation without strong and professional managerial relationships!

C1 as Coherence

We could define the coherence of a system as the alignment between some elements of this system in order to strengthen its power.

I consider that there are different types of coherence: global coherence, implementation coherence, and managerial coherence.

The global coherence of a company is the alignment between its past, its future and its present, that is to say the alignment between its foundations that are its eternal strengths and its ways of evolution. The coherence between these elements gives a global structure to the company and a meaning for people working for this company.

 

What are these elements?

 

The Corporate DNA: it answers the question “who are we?”. These are the genes defining a company as unique since its creation and for its whole existence. The corporate DNA is composed of the corporate values and the corporate job strengths.

A value is a quality that defines how to do things (to communicate, to produce, to sell,…) in a company. These are some examples of values: honesty, respect, humility, adaptability,… Concretely these values result in successful behaviors that promote the company success, the success of people working for a company, and make a company as unique. There are 2 types of values: core values and balanced values.

The core values are the company basement. These generally are the values of the founder, who transmitted it to his managers and his staff, who themselves transmitted it to their successors,… The capability of a company to establish and maintain these values is one of the reasons of the growth.

However an excessive cult of these core values develops excessive behaviors or on the contrary some lacks. That’s why it’s really important to establish some new values to balance the excesses or the lacks of the core values. For example, a value as “reactivity” can be the reason of a company success and also its worse risk. Indeed an excess of reactivity could involve for example a lost of efficiency for project implementation or a lack of anticipation or proactivity in term of innovation.

The corporate job strengths are the job pillars of a company. There are 3 types of job pillars: product superiority, customer intimacy, and excellence of implementation. “Product superiority” means the capability to offer better products (more innovating, better quality,…) than the competitors. “Customer intimacy” means the capability to develop a privileged relationship with its customers and to satisfy them at all the points of contact, in making easier their life thanks to services offered and an excellence of customer relationships for sales and after sales. “Excellence of implementation” means the capability of a company to define the processes and to structure the organization in order to implement the corporate projects.

A company is mainly famous for one of the three job pillars, which generally is the consequence of the impact of the corporate founder. For example, Virgin is famous because it’s a client centric company thanks to Richard Branson who is obsessed by the opportunity for clients to have a choice between competitor services and products on a market, and to enjoy an excellent quality of service. It’s really difficult for a company to be excellent on the 3 pillars at the same time. Indeed we observe that when a company works to improve its level of performance on one of it, there often is a negative impact on the 2 other ones, sometimes faintly, because of the company dispersion on numerous priorities. Then although customers will be happy to make profit from this improvement, we observe that they will not accept a decline on the main and historically famous corporate job pillar because it’s the main reason why they buy its products.

For example, the main Apple corporate job pillar is “product superiority”. Consumers buy Apple products, that are quite more expensive than the competitors, because it is innovating, different, with a high quality,… This is the famous “Think different” Apple slogan. Obviously it’s really important for Apple to improve its quality of service in its stores. Consumers would enjoy that! However if Apple becomes excellent in term of quality of service in its stores but doesn’t keep an advantage on its competitors in term of products, do you believe that Apple consumers will continue to buy Apple products? The Apple history is very interesting to understand this notion. When Steve Jobs came back at the head of Apple in 1997, this company was in failure situation, especially because the former Senior Manager made some decisions to reduce the design and manufacture costs of products (reduction of innovation investment, order for the same products as competitors,…) in order to grow profit. So the consequence was that Apple manufactured products as uniform as the competitors and not innovating enough that consumers didn’t like and didn’t buy. When he came back at the head of Apple, one of the first Steve Jobs decisions consisted in giving the power to designers and research departments, thanks to more credits invested in innovation and an organization designed to encourage and promote innovation. This decision was one of the reasons of the start of the Apple success story that we live now.

A company has to be excellent on its main job pillar: we name that the alignment with the corporate job pillar.

 

The corporate mission: it answers the questions “why does the company exist?”, “what is the finality of the company?”, “what does the company eternally promise to offer to its customers?”. Concretely the mission states the ultimate dream or the deep motivation of the founder when he created his company… but probably unrealizable. This dream is completely disconnected to the notion of profit or money, profit being a consequence of the alignment of a company with its mission.

The corporate mission is really important because it’s the ultimate why for all the people who work for a company, and it’s a safeguard against bad strategic decisions.

For example, the mission of a famous soft drink brand is “Delighting our local consumers with fun, refreshing, and natural moments of pleasure”. Few years ago a researcher working for this company found a chemical molecular that could replace a natural component of the secret soft drink formula. Using this molecular could involve a reduction of the production costs and so consequently grow the corporate profit. However the notion of “natural” is really important for this brand: consumers buy the brand products because they consider it as natural.

So using this molecular could seem interesting at short term but there was a huge risk to involve a rejection of their consumers at middle and long term. For this reason the Senior Manager decided to keep the current formula without using the new molecular, which is one of the reasons of the current brand success. In other words, he decided to refuse a short term profit for a greater success at long term. Besides if one day this brand decided to develop a cola to compete Coca Cola or Pepsi Cola, it could do it… in producing a natural cola.

 

The corporate vision: it answers the question “what does the company dream to reach at middle term?”. The vision states the middle term dream of the current Senior Manager of the company. Concretely it’s an emotional middle term ambition, more focused on a business area and so more concrete than the corporate mission, also more ambitious than a reasonable objective, but realizable which also makes a difference with the corporate mission.

For example, the Disney corporate vision is to be “a world’s leading producer and provider of entertainment and information”.

A corporate vision can be completed by 4 ambitions on the same model explained in the part dedicated to the quaternary performance. These ambitions state the middle term corporate aims in terms of finances, client/consumers, staff, and global environment, which are measurable and timed.

This is an example of ambition for clients in B2B: “To become the best partner of European retailers”. The indicator to measure the achievement of this ambition could be: “1st rank for all the reference points at the European FMCG surveys”.

These ambitions give some meaning to the strategic decisions that the company has to make and to implement on the field.

 

The strategy: it answers the question “how must the company do at short term to achieve the middle term corporate vision”, “what is its way at short term?”, “what is the first short term step to reach the middle term vision?”.

These are the short term pragmatic choices made by a company in terms of markets, products, investments, innovation, geographic location, organization design,… and its implementation, in order to achieve the middle term vision.

A clear strategy is composed of some objectives, priorities and projects.

Objectives are the specific business short term goals on specific areas that the company wants to reach. The objectives are always associated to KPIs in order to measure the level of achievement at the end of the period, and also a timing of achievement. We can use a matrix implementation in order to achieve the objectives.

Priorities are the main corporate job leverages to start up for a period in the whole company in order to achieve the objectives. As you understand, these priorities will be implemented in every department at all levels of responsibility, in respecting a Top/Down method involving progressively the hierarchical levels (Senior Managers, Top Managers, Middle Managers, Staff). If the energy of all the departments and all the employees is focused on the same points, a company grows its chance to succeed. The idea is that all the departments and all the employees can contribute to the same corporate priorities. This contribution will take the form of roadmaps for every department and engagement letters for every employee. The coherence between all these roadmaps and engagement letters is really important that’s why managers have to check it at each level of implementation.

Projects are punctual things that a company has to create or to improve punctually in order to reach objectives. A project is structuring for a company beyond the current situation whereas a priority responds to a business current situation. However objectives are not always achievable only with priorities that’s why companies sometimes need to run some structuring projects in addition to priorities. “Punctual” means there is a clear beginning time and a clear end time that are not necessary the same as the strategy period (shorter or longer). For example, the implementation of a new system of information could be a project. Contrary to priorities, projects are:

  • Selective: all the departments are not necessary involved in the implementation.
  • Cross the organization. The achievement of the project objectives involves the creation of a team project composed of people from different departments and not necessary at the same level of responsibility.

I would like to stress the interest for a company in implementing its strategy on a matrix form. Indeed this form limits risks of excesses of verticality or transversality.

  • Verticality (priorities by department) in the strategy implementation is very interesting because it increases the guarantee for each employee to contribute to the achievement of the objectives. However an excess of verticality can develop a lack of coordination even a compartmentalization between departments.
  • Transversality (cross structuring projects) is really interesting to develop cohesion, coordination, sharing, and synergy between departments. However all the employees are not involved in all structuring projects that’s why some of them could sometimes be less or not interested by the other ones. This situation develops sometimes an erosion of their own responsibility in their jobs. Besides some companies only move according its trend of projects, which can result in an irregular focus of its employees on their jobs (depending the project trend).

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The implementation coherence is the alignment between:

  • The strategic objectives,
  • The means that a company mobilizes in order to achieve it, for example in terms of organization,
  • The daily micro decisions that all the managers make,
  • The daily actions that all the managers and staff do.

For example, let us imagine a company in the Spirit Industry, owner of some brands of Whisky, Vodka, Champagne,… Let us suppose that its brands are very popular but also reputed as cheap. This company would have a strategy based on volumes of sales for a long time thanks to a distribution focused on retailers as PnP, Top’s, Woolworths,… So its turnover would be very great but its profit limited. This company could decide to increase its sales prices in order to grow its profit. However it’s not easy to promote the acceptance of this change by consumers without objective reason. Indeed such a decision could impact the volume of sales. So one mean could be to change progressively the brand image, maybe to aim at becoming a premium brand one day. Improving a whisky brand image involves to change a lot of things (packaging, advertisement,…), especially the channel of distribution. Its brand would be exposed in some premium places (ex: fashion restaurant or clubs) as a display for retail consumers. If this company wanted to succeed to position its products in the best places of this new channel of distribution, the implementation coherence would be a very important point. These are some examples of decisions and actions that this company could make in term of implementation to be coherent with its strategic decision:

  • To change the location of its sales consultants. Indeed are you sure that retail stores and clubs are located at the same place?
  • To change the job description of its sales consultants.
  • To change the mission orders of its sales consultants, which involves a change of their objectives (objectives of volume changed to objectives of position and image) and consequently of their salary package.
  • To create of reporting tools adapted to the new KPIs,
  • To set up a marketing training to improve the sales consultants knowledge in terms of brand image,

The managerial coherence is the alignment between the business priorities and the management of these priorities.

In other words when a manager defines some business priorities, he has to focus his attention on this priorities during his management times with his staff (staff meetings, interviews,…).

Some companies have a tendency to focus eternally on one corporate cultural subject, sometimes excessively. Then this subject is an important part of all the staff meetings and interviews. When the business priority changes, some companies have sometimes difficulties to adapt its management. Indeed the corporate cultural subject stays the main point of staff meetings and interviews, to the detriment to the new business priority that should be the main part. For example we observe this phenomenon with some retail companies that want to increase its volume of sales whereas its managers focus only on shrinkage. Indeed maybe they should more focus on the implantation of products, the customer relationships,…

We can observe another phenomenon during management times: managers who drowns the business priority among a lot of various other points, in terms of subjects as its level of importance.

So we can say that there is no application of plans and job basics on a key area without a management of this application.

Before explaining the other components of the performance equation, I would like to stress one point.

You know better than me that all the companies move in changing environments. I mean that every day there are a lot of inputs from its environment that impact its coherence. For example, an economic crisis, the arrival of new competitor on a market, the failure of a supplier,… All these inputs involve to make and manage decisions that can strengthen or threaten the corporate coherence. The level of maturity of the whole management line is an important safeguard against the risks of incoherence. Indeed only a mature and professional management line will make and manage strategic decisions in guaranteeing the corporate coherence.

C2 as Concentration

Let us imagine the following situation to explain the notion of concentration. If I launch you one tennis ball, we can suppose that you will catch it… obviously if you are not too heavy-handed. But if I launch you 10 tennis balls at the same time, how many balls will you succeed to catch? One? Maybe two? Advertising men use this principle to explain that it’s very important to limit the number of messages communicated to consumers during an advertising TV spot. Indeed the psychologist Leyens explains in his works that human brain is only able to remember a limited number of messages at the same time.

We can consider that it’s the same thing in a company. A company can’t succeed everywhere at the same time. The multiplication of objectives, KPIs and other priorities results in the dispersion of the staff energy on areas not always very important. Indeed when a manager or an employee has a large number of priorities in his job, we can observe 2 shortcomings:

  • He tries to do something on all these priorities but finally he’s successful and efficient nowhere,
  • He unconsciously chooses to focus his attention on some priorities, but not necessary the most important for the company. Indeed it’s human to do what we prefer first and not what it’s important…

So managers have to focus the whole staff energy on a limited number of objectives and priorities. We could compare that at the Pareto principle: let us focus the staff energy on 20% of its job, obviously the main leverage to succeed at this time and in this context, in order to guarantee 80% of our performance. It doesn’t mean that staff must not do the rest of the job; it means that the management line will mainly stress these 20% to develop the staff interest on these 20%.

“Basically, nothing more” said Einstein. If a company strategy looks like a shopping list, composed of numerous objectives, priorities and projects, maybe it means how much the Senior Manager is muddleheaded. So how can the strategy be clear for managers and staffs if it’s not clear for the Senior Manager?

Concentration is an important rule to define clear and simple strategies and tactics, which is based on the managers capability to make choices… and if possible good choices.

This capability involves 2 skills for managers:

  • An understanding and mastery of the job staff, the corporate business and market,
  • Some managerial courage.

Another idea is connected to this notion of concentration. There is no motivation and action without definition of expected results, I mean without clear goals. However an excessive communication and pressure on the “how much” can develop some stress for staff. This stress is the consequence of the fear to fail. That is the reason why the management line has to balance the pressure on results with a focus on the “how”, that is to say the means, the method, the job basics. And it’s probably the most difficult thing to do. Indeed defining an objective or a KPI doesn’t involve managerial courage. Anybody or almost could do it. On the contrary, choosing the good leverages of the method engages his managerial credibility and involves a mastery of the market and jobs.

I would like to stress the expression “job basics”. Obviously means are important even essential to achieve the objectives. However I make a distinction between means engaged by a company and the employee contribution in order to succeed. Before looking for miraculous and expensive means, focus your employees on their job execution, in other words on their job basics, which it involves your staff is skilled to apply it. An excessive focus on means to the detriment to the employee job execution sometimes results in their lack of responsibility: “I can’t succeed because my company didn’t give me the means enough”.

Let me to give you an example to explain what I mean. Few months ago I needed to buy a car. I visited some stores to make my choice when I heard a discussion between a car seller and his manager. He was complaining because he considered that the range of cars proposed to customers was too expensive but not nice and qualitative enough to compare to competitors. He was explaining to his manager that it was the reason of the decrease of the sales volume. Maybe he was right. However there were maybe other reasons too. For example, I waited for 20 minutes in the showroom before a car seller talked to me: 2 car sellers were discussing and joking together while the third one apparently seemed very interested in the receptionist… I saw nobody smiling during 45 minutes in this store. I heard a seller denigrating a competitor during a discussion with another customer. Maybe this store manager should give his staff responsibility on the execution of their job basics before finding miraculous solutions to improve the performances of his store.

As you understand, there is no perfect and efficient execution of job basics without a motivating, demanding and concentrating management of this execution.

C3 as Conviction

We could define conviction as the manager capability to be convinced and to convince the others that the way he chose is the best one. Indeed employees will engage their entire energy to apply the decisions of their Senior Manager if they trust him and if they feel a strong conviction.

Obviously Senior Managers are as everybody, they have some doubts about themselves, business, future,… But they are paid to transform their own doubts in certitudes for the others thanks to their capability to analyze and make decisions.

One of the best ways to show this conviction is to define and hold the steady course, before creating all the conditions to make the system as coherent (please read the parts about the implementation coherence and the managerial coherence) in order to succeed. Permanent tests to find the good way obviously are not the best mean to reassure the employees. There are times to think, to analyze, and other times to act.

However I make a distinction between conviction and obstinacy. Senior Managers have to be aware of their environment evolutions in measuring the impact of these ones on the way they chose. They don’t have to change course whenever there is an evolution in the environment, but they can adapt the way to achieve the goal according this evolution.

C4 as Concretization

At the beginning of my article, I stressed the importance to define some global elements in a company to guarantee its coherence and to communicate the why of all the concrete actions on the field.

However defining these elements without implementation on the field would be probably misunderstood or even rejected by employees. Indeed there are sometimes several hierarchical levels between the company head and the field that’s why we can imagine that the daily concerns are probably not the same for everyone. I mean that employee concerns could be: “what is the impact of the vision and the strategy on my daily job?”, “What concretely have I to do in my job to contribute to the strategy?”, “Will this new strategy involve a replacement of my defective machine?”,…

Vision and strategy are interesting only if it results in concrete and operational actions on the field. Having a genius idea to define a successful strategy is an important thing… but not enough to succeed if this idea is not concretely implemented on the field in respecting the company DNA, for the interest of shareholders, customers, staff,… That’s the notion of concretization.

Conclusion

I remember a situation that I lived with a former boss a long time ago. We were taking a time to debrief an appointment with a client. I was very frustrated and disappointed because our client didn’t apply the recommendations that we advised… and he was in failure situation.

For this reason, I said some virulent sentences against his action or rather his inaction. Then my boss interrupted me and said: “You’re right. He didn’t apply what we recommended and now his situation is really critical. However never forget that there is a huge difference between them (our clients) and us (a consultant). We say that they have to do in order to improve their performances but it’s them who do it. They take all the risks, they are responsible for the future of their employees, their suppliers,… Sometimes they even invest their own money. They don’t fail for pleasure. Don’t forget that our clients pay us for our support. So if they don’t apply our recommendations, it’s not just for pleasure. Maybe our client didn’t have the energy enough to apply it, because it’s against his personal values or principles, because it’s against his education, because he’s living a difficult personal situation,… I’m sure that he had the will to apply our recommendations but he didn’t have motivation enough to do it. The question that we have to ask is not “why did he not apply our solutions” but “what did we fail to encourage his application?” and now “what could we do to encourage him?”.

I realize that I was very young and immature at this time. Maybe some people would say you that I’m still… maybe but it’s another subject…

I would like to thank my boss again for his words at this time. Although I’m proud of my work as a consultant, I have the greatest respect for Senior managers, managers, businessmen, employees, because I say what they have to do, but obviously it’s them who do it. So I thank you because you offer me the opportunity to concretize my thought on the field.

So my motivation is certainly not to lecture you in writing my views about the performance equation but maybe to analyze this notion from another angle or to strengthen some of your convictions about that.

About Maxime Cros :

Maxime Cros is a Senior Consultant in Strategic Management and Managerial Relationships, based in the Cape Town area, South Africa.

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