The Performance Consultant's Fieldbook
The Performance Consultant's Fieldbook
In their desire to improve organizational performance, managers sometimes seek the help of consultants. They may not fully understand the capabilities and biases consultants bring to the assignment, however. The following story illustrates this point.
FIELD NOTES: SOLUTIONS A large conglomerate hired Mark to head its unit that manufactures and distributes extrusion metals (used to make window frames, louver blades, I-beams for construction, and storm doors). The main plant was in the Midwest, there was a second plant on the East Coast, and a new plant was scheduled to open in Singapore within six months. The Midwest plant had lost market share over the previous two years. Its on-time delivery record was poor, and turnover among its sales staff was high. The East Coast plant was just meeting its financial goals, and senior management told Mark they were concerned: customer complaints about product quality and missed deliveries were up. Mark decided to seek the help of a marketing consultant. The consultant recommended a new product image, a new logo, and a new marketing campaign. Mark agreed that a new marketing plan made sense, but he was uncomfortable with the plan because it could take the better part of a year to see results. To see if he could get faster results, Mark sought the advice of a sales consultant. This consultant recommended a sales contest, a new bonus structure, and incentives for achieving sales goals. At about the same time, a senior vice president at corporate headquarters suggested that Mark talk to a management consultant. The consultant suggested reorganizing the business unit around key customer groups, such as construction, institutional buyers, and resellers. Because Mark had been impressed by the successes of the quality assurance department at the company he used to work for, he decided to meet with a quality consultant as well. This consultant offered three significant suggestions: set up cross-functional teams; make each team responsible for a whole process, from receiving orders to delivering finished products; and implement statistical process control techniques for each process. Mark's U.S. sales manager suggested they hire an organizational development consultant to work with the management team. The goals would be to come up with a new vision and mission for the unit and to improve communication within the team. The Midwest plant manager suggested they hire a training consultant to develop training for sales and production personnel. Mark received a memo stating that the corporation's architectural firm had been hired to do strategic planning for the entire corporation. One of the anticipated outcomes of the strategic plan was a new model for the plants, since the architectural firm was known for agile designs based on manufacturing principles. A human resource consultant recommended studying causes of turnover, implementing a targeted selection program, and doing an employee morale survey. On his flight to the Singapore plant, Mark read about the successes of reengineering. He was particularly impressed by the use of sophisticated information systems designed to shorten cycle times. On his return flight, he read another article, this one about performance improvement consulting. It was then that Mark realized that all of the approaches he had been considering had merit. All of the consultants he had hired had started with a solution; however, none of them had begun with an analysis of what was actually causing the poor performance. Instead, they had all assumed that they had the answer.
Mark's experience is not unique. Eager for solutions to their problems, organizations act on the recommendations of experts without first finding out what the problem is. Managers are slowly recognizing the need to t