20 Keys

The importance of Mini-Businesses

Mini-businesses, Coaching, Goal Alignment, Key 2 of the 20 Keys system, Johan Benadie

I always enjoy visiting first-line teams in organisations. As they say, this is “the real place to observe the real work and the real things, and to get the real facts and data”. Also, typically more that 80% of people in the organisation are at this level, and it is therefore the most important level in terms of engaging people with continuously improving operations in terms of

  • Quality
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Delivery
  • Safety and
  • Morale and Motivation (QCDSM).

ODI’s mini-business concept is about such first-line teams. One objective is to establish effective team-working in teams in order to achieve organisation objectives, and to continuously strive to do better in terms of QCDSM.

One of my first questions when visiting a mini-business is usually:

1. “What is your business about?” followed by

2. “How are you doing in your business?

The usual answers entail a description of the function and objectives of the team (business) with, also the usual answer, that is it going well with the business. The next question will then be:

3. “Why are you saying that it is going well, please explain to me, and show me?

At this point I would like team members to explain and show the mini-business Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for their QCDSM scorecard. As it is a best practice for mini-business performance management to have a Visual Performance Management (VPM) system in place, this is done in the mini-business area where various graphs and other types of visual displays are kept on a board, or other medium. With this discussion, I often find that “it is going well” is not exactly the case, as KPIs do not show an on-target performance, or the trends with KPIs are not favourable.

This got me thinking about what kind of understanding we want, and the levels of understanding we can use when coaching is done for first-line team leaders and team members. Below is a first effort to describe the four levels of competency.

  • Level 1. The person can read and interpret graphs or other forms of visual displays, and can indicate whether it is on target, or not (whether it is “good or not”).
  • Level 2. The person can explain what the KPIs measure, and what it means
  • Level 3. The person knows the root cause(s) of why a KPI is not on target, and the description of the root cause is aligned with that of the other team members and the team leader.
  • Level 4. The person is aware of what is being done to address the root cause(s), can explain the actions, and indicate it on an action plan.

Levels 3 and 4 measure the real understanding, and are also about how problem-solving is done in the team, and whether there is alignment on issues to focus on. That is, has a root cause analysis been done with involvement of team members, and are they and management aligned on what should be done to address it?

I often do a fun test by asking some team members, the team leader and his/her manager to, individually, write down the root cause(s) and actions for improvement. I then gather this and compare it, thereby doing a simple test of goal alignment, which can be quite insightful.

I recently did a fun test where a Managing Director and some of his senior managers visited some mini-businesses with me. Before the visit, I asked him, his senior managers and the team leaders what the key issues are to focus on for improvement? The MD was quite surprised to learn that what he thought were not fully aligned with his senior managers’ thinking, and that there was quite a misalignment between them and the team leaders. Also, when we then did the walk-about, we did not see the identified focus prominently in the mini-businesses.

Mini-businesses are real businesses – we need to see the real KPIs, aligned to organisational objectives, based on real data and facts, and understood by all.

Author: Johan Benadie: Director at ODI

To read more about ODI’s Continuous Operations Improvement Systems, click here.