“You wanna fly, you got to give up [what] weighs you down.”
― Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon
A modern fighter jet aircraft is designed to carry weapons and additional fuel tanks externally. Due to the extra weight and drag, these external loads and their attachment points make the aircraft handle more like a truck. But if you remove these 'drag objects', the aircraft becomes very, very slippery as it flies through the air. This is seen in the clean configuration used by the U.S. Navy's aerobatics demonstration team - the “Blue Angels”.
The F/A-18 Hornet fighter jets are capable of reaching speeds of almost twice the speed of sound -- or about 1,500 mph (at sea level). However, the top speed “Blue Angel” pilots are allowed to fly the jets during a performance is about 700 mph, or just under Mach 1.
Over time, businesses can also acquire 'drag objects'. These make businesses slow to respond with often lack-lustre performance. These 'drag objects' include such diverse things as excessive stock holdings, heavy organisational structures, overloaded systems, inappropriate culture, and the effects of poor training – to nominate just a handful. Note, importantly, that many 'drag objects' are not routinely measured or probed for. Unlike an aircraft, there is no real equivalent of an aeronautical engineer to clinically examine the whole enterprise, identify and remove the 'drag objects' that contribute to under-performance.
Accordingly, senior management needs to develop control frameworks and systems to optimise the performance of the business – to fly slippery. Unfortunately, these controls are not always well integrated and the business can find itself quite 'dirty' in flight; eg. the enterprise equivalent of a full weapons load, maxed out fuel load, air brakes deployed with wheels and tail-hook down.
Sometimes senior management seeks help from management consultants. These people do their best, but unless the consultants become senior management, they will arrive, they will analyse, they will recommend … then they will leave.
Other times, management creates 'tiger teams' sourced internally to sort out relatively specific problems, but again these teams can act independently of each other and, consequently, not recognise the end-to-end interconnectedness of everything else in the business. For example: one team may reduce stock holdings to zero which may actually mean customers have to wait longer for deliveries. Another team may reduce delivery times through creating a need for added stock.
Process Owners and Balanced Scorecards were other attempts at control frameworks, but experience suggests, for a multitude of reasons, that these are not always done well.
Is it the case that we try the wrong things or more that we do not execute properly? Or is it a combination of both, where we try new control frameworks but do not give them the time to prove out before we try something or anything else? What is your experience of control frameworks and systems that enabled you to clean up the business (and keep it that way) so that you can out-fly your competition every single day?