This post is inspired by Karen Martin’s (author of Shingo Research Award-winning book, The Outstanding Organization) interview by Ron Pereira (Gemba Academy). In this interview (https://www.ksmartin.com/videos/the-outstanding-organization-interview/) Karen explains the importance of Clarity, Focus, Discipline, and Engagement. These are the four fundamental behaviors or common patterns in successful organizations, that are strong foundations upon which to build improvement programs up to outstanding organizations.
This interview resonated with me especially because the company I was trying to help at the very moment I heard the interview lacked every one of these four “pillars” and I truly believe this was the cause of all its trouble.
Here is my take on Clarity, Focus, Discipline, and Engagement, piggybacking on the interview. These opinions are mine, they may not reflect Mrs Martin’s opinions.
Clarity is first of all about the clarity of purpose, about making it very clear for everybody within the organisation what the organization is supposed to achieve. Why the organization was put in place in the first place and/or what Goal the founders are/were pursuing?
Once this purpose is clearly communicated, everyone can align his/her actions onto the organization’s Goal. Management is supposed to derive contributing intermediate objectives that make sense to their subordinates, in their daily jobs, while ensuring alignment onto the Goal.
Yet when circumstances require swift decisions, even without management around to give instructions, the clarity of purpose helps subordinates to take consistent decisions with the organization’s Goal.
Clarity is also, according to Karen Martin, about the lingo in the organization. Indeed, many employees use acronyms they are often unable to explain or worse, don’t understand! This makes it tough for any newcomer or temporary help to be at ease with the job, procedures, etc.
It can lead to misunderstandings, errors, interpretation, ambiguity, and slowing a process that could run smoothly if everything was clear.
For knowledge workers or for those that can work from home, without as much guidance and reminders than in a corporate building, clarity about the Goal is also important in order to keep focused.
With clarity of purpose it is easy* to focus on what really matters. Resources and time can be well used on what is important. Conversely, lacking clarity opens many options to go astray and waste precious and scarce resources on the wrong things. Alas, the latter is more common than the former.
When some people lose their focus, it is easier for themselves, for management or even colleagues to remind the Goal and what to focus on and why, when the Goal has been stated with clarity, communicated, and repeated.
Focus requires also to track progress with KPIs and review the progress regularly in order to correct the deviations.
*Staying focused needs discipline.
Discipline is about the ability to stay focused on the objective or to accept being reset onto the right objective. Discipline is also about sticking to the rules, using the defined standards, the official good practices, methods, systems and tools. Without sufficient discipline, chaos finds its way in. Little variations, little bits of ill-used freedom may lead to major problems.
It doesn’t look very harmful to download data from an ERP into a spreadsheet and drive processes from this copy, but at some point data may be so divergent that the situation becomes a mess. A little deviation messed up in unexpected proportions.
How many times manual data inputs do not follow the rules and the dataset is littered with entries that should be in the same format but do not accumulate properly because of scripting variations?
Now some degree of freedom is necessary to adjust to the circumstances as no procedure or work guide can describe every possible case and provide all necessary answers. So discipline is also acting in the interest of the organization while remaining the closest to the rules and standards. The latter should be adjusted with the lessons learned.
I was shocked to hear that some people in an organization, without the position giving them the freedom to act like this, chose themselves to stop reporting or stop attending meetings. I was even more shocked to hear that management did not react to these deviant behaviors. Here the lack of discipline goes both ways, bottom-up and top-down.
Engagement is the commitment to work on achieving the organization’s Goal. It is, in my opinion the result of Clarity, Focus and Discipline that provide the necessary framework, with sufficient empowerment to adjust to circumstances plus the feedback and management support to keep motivated.
Many surveys show that disengagement is way more common than engagement. So if we start from disengagement all the way back up, we can assume that disengaged staff doesn’t take it so seriously with discipline, as they don’t care.
If there is no motivation and probably poor discipline, focus is not likely to be kept on what matters. And if focus isn’t kept nor reinforced, it doesn’t matter if the purpose and the Goal have been communicated with clarity.
Employee engagement is key and engagement is something the organization can only facilitate but not order nor buy.