Blomer Accountants & Advisors: Five golf balls

“The 5 HPO pillars of the HPO Insight™ are not particularly exciting in and of themselves. They appear quite simple on the surface, but the real challenge lies in putting them into practice. After reading about the HPO Framework in an article, it was that challenge that triggered me to pursue the idea.

The HPO Insight™ showed that, as an organization, we are doing reasonably well. But there are areas that require Blomer Accountants & Advisors: “The greatest challenge of the HPO concept lies in putting it into practice”improvement. We are a very informal organization. Since interaction between individuals is an important core value for us, there was little to no feedback culture. The HPO Insight™ report also made clear to us that we need to express our uniqueness more. We rank highly in terms of quality, but this is achieved in an informal setting. This is unusual for our sector. It also turns out that we are proficient at making plans, but those plans often tend to fizzle out before they get a chance to be fulfilled.

Five golf balls

During the first meeting with the managers after the HPO Insight™, we had them visualize their thoughts regarding the outcome. At that point, they were not yet aware of the results. An employee took out five golf balls and placed them on the ground, each of which was to represent a pillar. The strength with which he then hit those balls reflected how high we scored on that pillar. It was the perfect demonstration. He tapped lightly, for instance, against the ‘continuous improvement’ pillar.

Since the HPO Insight™ and follow-up meetings, the employees have come up with initiatives much more often and have actively pursued them as well. In terms of acquisition, good plans are now in place for drawing more attention to our uniqueness.

We also have a better approach now to poor performers, with more clear-cut boundaries. And one of our teams – without any prompting from me whatsoever – organized a session during which they came up with a team strategy for each of the pillars.

Naturally, when you really believe in something, you want others to share your enthusiasm, but a change process is complicated and can be excruciatingly slow. We have not yet reached our goal, but I’m extremely pleased with the progress we’ve already made thanks to the HPO Insight™.”

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Pon Power Caterpillar: “The HPO Insight™ was a reality check for us”

A business consultant referred us to the HPO Insight™. Once I learned about philosophy and research behind the HPO Insight™ I was sold. The vision behind the HPO Insight™ of what makes an organization successful and the decisive elements in that is in good keeping with my ideas on the matter. I believe that a clearly defined strategy for the long term is important for the quality of management and employees.

Gut feeling

We took stock of our situation using the HPO Insight™ unique set of HPO-factors and Key Improvement Areas. The HPOPon Power: “The HPO Insight was a reality check for us” Insight™ was used as a zero measurement, giving us a basis from which to work. It was a reality check for us.

We knew that we were a successful company, but were we really as good as we thought? Was it not just a matter of ‘luck’ that we operate in the right sector with the right business model?

The results and improvement areas of the HPO Insight™ were thorough and went further than the gut feeling we all had. The aspects requiring improvement were clearly formulated and an initial impetus for a plan of action was included in the recommendations. It turned out, among other things, that our overall customer orientation could be improved.

Multidisciplinary customer teams

On an individual level, all of our employees are customer oriented, but the level of internal collaboration was inadequate. We have now started a new project that will guide us towards working with multidisciplinary customer teams. The responses of both employees and customers to this project have been enthusiastic.

I am now trying to campaign for an HPO Insight™ at other subsidiaries.

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Atrion: a true HPO… but also as growth continues?

Warwick, Rhode Island, is not – to put it mildly – the world’s most beautiful place. The one industrial site alternates with the next, and you’d have to look hard to find any greenery. Neither is the building in which Atrion Networking Corporation especially promising: the building’s only two windows are at the front in the reception area; there’s nothing else but plain walls. Not exactly where you’d expect to find an HPO… But looks can be deceiving.

Long-term focus at every level

Established in 1987, Atrion operates at the cutting edge of information technology and business. It has been doing well for years, is growingsteadily and has collected a whole range of awards: (2010 Best Place to Work Award, 2009 Business Excellence Award, 2009 Fast 50 Company to Watch Award, 2009 Fastest Growing Private Company Award). We were very curious about how the company has achieved this in such uninspiring surroundings, with an average HPO score of 8.5. It became clear during the first couple of interviews that at Atrion – just like at Longfellow Benefits and Emerson Consulting Group – everything centres on the customers and the employees. Everything is aimed at building up lasting relationships with customers. As Tim Herbert, Atrion’s CEO, tells anyone who’ll listen: “If you’re having doubts about a choice, you should always choose in the customer’s favour and best interest.” Another frequently heard saying: “If the customer is successful, it follows that Atrion will be too.” This sharp customer focus means that there are companies that have been customers of Atrion since 1987 and that most of the business arrives via those companies’ word of mouth. Perhaps needless to say, strong emphasis is placed the quality of the services Atrion provides. Managers and employees constantly talk about how and where they can improve all levels of the company. This continuous improvement calls for rigorous focus on strategic performance management in which Atrion’s critical success factors and performance indicators are charted and passed on to everyone in the organisation. Also, the organisation recognises and rewards good performance with small bonuses, honourable mentions and prizes such as a parking space right in front of the entrance for the month’s best employee (who is chosen by fellow-employees).

Harvard University of the industry

The business model chosen by Atrion can only be put effectively into practice if the employees stand four-square behind it and are willing to stay with the company for the long haul. With the support of a strong culture of empathy, integrity, openness and trust, new employees are exposed to Atrion’s values and standards from the selection process onwards. Once appointed, employees largely set out their own career path, which has resulted in a lot of job rotation and versatile specialists. The employees are supported in this by ‘People Services’, a department that takes a more proactive approach than the traditional HR department. All employees – from top to bottom – also follow a leadership course given by the CEO and senior management themselves. None of Atrion’s competitors does anything like this. An almost logical consequence is that many employees have already been with the company for ten years or more. That is also true of the entire senior management team, a number of whose members even began their career at Atrion.

It is notable that Atrion is not satisfied with itself being an HPO in the sector: the organisation works specifically on raising the sector to a higher plane. The company does this by offering its leadership courses free of charge to customers and suppliers – who welcome this with open arms – and by developing ‘thought leader’ concepts in order to get players in the sector thinking and improving so that everyone’s customers are given a better service. Atrion sets out to function as the ‘Harvard University of the Industry’.

Less hands-on and more strategic management

But even at Atrion we found things that were open to improvement. The most important criticism is that the organisation, which plans to grow by thirty per cent a year in the time to come, is not allowed to have the good points that make Atrion an HPO diluted or even lost. The CEO has a clear image of how this can be achieved, but that vision is not yet being sufficiently shared with and embraced by the other managers and employees. A tricky problem here is that extra growth has to be facilitated by seamlessly connected top quality processes between various departments, and that is being hindered by the developments of recent years in which the organisation’s various departments have started to operate as independent silos. That concerns not so much the egos of the heads of department, but more the pressure to quickly deliver high quality services, which results in mutual consultation and coordination not taking place automatically and often going by the board entirely. Generating extra growth through synergy will mean opting for a structure that promotes cooperation and – even more importantly – creates routine within the management so that people work and – accordingly – improve together. That will require a less hands-on and more strategic approach from the management, which is something on which the CEO will emphatically have to take a lead. Only then will the managers be able to mobilise their people to seek more synergy between the departments, continue to provide current clients with a high level of service while more and more new clients arrive and embrace the principles of lean management to constantly improve the processes. Atrion is facing an exciting and challenging time, and the CEO has the greatest confidence that the organisation will continue to be recognised as an HPO in the sector. Oh, and as part of the growth and continuous improvement process, Atrion is due to occupy a new building – one with more windows.

by André de Waal & Lilian Kolker, Warwick USA

De Beers Marine: dealing with the past through the HPO Framework

The case below is a summarized version of the complete De Beers Marine (DBM) case, published in our latest book ’What Makes a High Performance Organization’.

KEY MESSAGE: Events that happened in the past can influence the HPO status of an organization for quite a long time. Management has to be aware of this when interpreting the results of the HPO Diagnosis and deciding on subsequent actions.

De Beers Group Services is a diamond exploration, mining and rough diamond trading company established in Kimberley, South Africa, in 1888. One of its ubsidiaries is De Beers Marine, which mines for diamonds on the seabed. DBM’s activities span the range of exploration, resource development, survey/geophysics, sampling, capital projects, building of marine mines, operation and maintenance of the marine mines and the associated support infrastructure, R&D, technical support and operations management. The vessels under management of De Beers Marine include the Coral Sea, the Douglas Bay, the Peace In Africa, two AUVs (autonomous underwater vehicles), and chartered vessels. DBM’s headquarters are in Cape Town. Employees on the vessels work 28 days on and 28 days off, while shore-based employees are on normal office type conditions. De Beers Marine was established in 1983 with production starting in 1991 in Namibia. In 2001 a new entity, De Beers Marine Namibia (DBMN), was formed to manage the operations in Namibia. DBM’s value chain is in the upstream part of the diamond pipeline, as the company’s involvement ends at getting the rough diamonds from the seabed. Downstream activities are handled by the De Beers Group.

The HPO research at De Beers Marine

de-beers-marineThe HPO Questionnaire was distributed among managers and employees of De Beers Marine and after processing the data, De-Beers-Marineinterviews were held with six people during a week spent by the HPO Center in Cape Town. This week was concluded by a presentation of the HPO research results to DBM’s management. The average HPO score of the company was 6.4, which meant that De Beers Marine was an average performing organization and not yet an HPO. The HPO graph was almost level, which showed that De Beers Marine was a well-balanced company, a good starting-point for improving all HPO factors.

The HPO status of De Beers Marine was heavily influenced by the history of the company. Until 2000, the situation of De Beers Marine was relatively stable, as the company was part of the ‘De Beers family’ and could count on a steady and predictable workload. After 2000, De Beers Marine was spun off as a separate entity which had to take care of its own income. This entailed that former colleagues in the De Beers family suddenly had to be treated as clients, and that De Beers Marine now had to obtain its own sales and undertake its own ventures. This put a great deal of pressure on the organization because it had to develop sales and business capabilities while at the same time safeguarding the high quality of its technical processes. The HPO research showed that De Beers Marine was a technically very proficient company with a historically strong focus on further development of the technical processes. The processes that could improve the HPO factors, on the other hand, did not get as much attention. Since 2006 the company had paid some attention to strengthening its business processes, but the rate of innovation and improvement in that area was still lagging behind that in the area of the technical processes. In addition, the worldwide crisis and subsequent recession affected the organization negatively which meant that a substantial number of the employees had to be laid off and several business functions were outsourced to reduce costs.

4 Key Improvement Areas

After studying the HPO scores and the interview write-ups, the HPO Center identified four main Key Improvement Areas (KIAs) which DBM had to address to make sure the company would continue on its route toward HPO.

  1. Increase the quality of management
  2. Improve dialogue between management and employees
  3. Better manage the improvement process
  4. Create a culture of innovativeness in the whole company

From the HPO research it became clear that ’Continuous Improvement’ alone would not be enough and that additional initiatives were needed to change the minds and attitudes of both managers and employees toward HPO thinking. Also, more room had to be created for initiatives from the work floor, which should be more supported than in former days by management. The recently introduced slogan ‘Can do great things … done’ should get more content and follow-up. The first action management took was mapping out the route to get employee buy-in, and it was decided that business update sessions, in which management and employees meet to discuss current and future DBM affairs and ongoing projects, was an important mechanism to use in this respect. The second action was to put specific HPO actions in DBM’s strategy. The third action was to develop a form that assessed managers’ ability to Plan, Lead, Organize and Control in order to evaluate the leadership and management capabilities of DBM’s managers. Subsequently almost all managers went through an assessment made by their employees. De Beers Marine then started to develop an E-learning module to assist managers to develop themselves to be higher-quality managers. In conclusion, De Beers Marine was very happy with the HPO research and stated that it helped the company greatly in its pursuit of becoming an HPO.

Read the complete De Beers Marine case and many more HPO business cases in our latest book: ’What Makes a High Performance Organization: Validated Factors of Competitive Advantage that Apply Worldwide’.

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Dak Child care: HPO helps us implement our strategic plan

“Nowadays, it is far from certain that advisers will make good on the promises made during their highly polished presentations. But the same cannot be said of the HPO Center. Their experts made a number of promises and lived up to every one of their claims regarding their contribution to the HPO procedure.

Good framework

During last year’s meeting for directors of child care facilities we held a presentation, during which they talked about the added value of Dak-Child-careopenness and transparency within an organization. This is exactly how we strive to run our DAK centers.

I was at the meeting together with the chairman of our Board of Directors. Once we heard what they had to say, we looked at each other and knew immediately that we could use the help of the HPO Center. Our strategic plan runs through this summer, after which we are going to formulate a new plan. The five pillars and 35 characteristics of a High Performance Organization could be of help. Their scientifically founded ideas provide a good framework for testing whether your plan lacks any essential aspects.

En route to HPO

We have deliberately chosen to use the HPO survey as a zero measurement. We now plan to use this foundation to work towards becoming a high performance organization. The HPO Center has already held two workshops for our employees to provide feedback on the results of the zero measurement and to present the greatest learning accelerators to us. In addition to the openness that we strive to achieve with our management team, continuous improvement is also an important condition for becoming an HPO. We do not wish to enforce from above, but rather create support by simplifying our working procedures with the help of all those involved.

Child care industryUniqueness

Since 2005, grands in the child care sector are no longer received by the child care facilities, but by the parents. This means we need to be competitive and have had to switch to a more commercial approach. One of the learning accelerators is that we make clear to customers what makes us unique in the child care market.

This was the first time the HPO Center had examined an organization in the child care sector. Simon took the time to spend an entire afternoon with the groups at one of our 76 locations. We were quite pleased with this high degree of involvement.”

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Dactylo/Randstad: We stayed in our comfort zone for too long

“We felt we had stayed in our comfort zone for too long. Our organization had been doing quite well in recent years and would continue to do so – or, at least, that’s what we thought. However, various changes in the environment started to hurt us more and more, making it painfully clear that we were losing our value to clients. We, as management, realized that it was not us but the employees who were the decisive factor for the results of the organization. Our people at the counters took a decision every six minutes, that is 80 decisions per day per person. And with 400 counter clerks that meant 32.000 decisions any given day! Such a number could never be regulated by protocols or instructions from ‘above’ so clerks had to take these decisions autonomously. And if they would simply follow a checklist provided to them by us, instead of thinking about client needs themselves while making decisions we would never create added value for our clients. We became aware of the Dactylo logoneed to build an organization that would facilitate employees making good decisions and turn the work floor into the most important layer of the organization: we needed to become a high performance organization. But the sixty-four thousand dollar question was: how?

First we had to get out of our comfort zone, which required us to abandon the old traditional idea of wanting to achieve higher turnover and profit growth. We had to broaden our horizon and get used to thinking about new ways to deliver ever increasing quality and made-to-measure services to our clients, which would eventually translate into growth and profitability. This meant we had to work ‘smarter’, be more entrepreneurial, listen better to our clients, and develop a true service-minded attitude. As management, we had to move from giving top-down instructions and always wanting to be in control – creating uninspired employees and killing creativity – to being managers who could facilitate, coach and inspire people and by that increase our value to employees. Speaking about myself, I had some tough questions to answer: What did I need to do? How was I going to approach the upside-down pyramid? What would it mean for me personally? I felt that I had to confront my fears: Did I really want this? Was I capable of doing this? Where would we end up? At the same time I knew it would be a lonely journey, certainly at the beginning, as the organization wasn’t really welcoming change. In addition, I realized that the course would be uncertain and that others could and probably would react negatively. As a leader you just have to accept these uncertainties and dare to tackle them. Only after I had faced up to this reality could I start my journey to make the organization a high performance organization.”

The above is compiled from interviews held with the former chief executive officer (CEO) of Dactylo, part of the Randstad Group.

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