AMN Perspectives by Thomas Group: Experience at Work
Posted: June 29, 2004, 9 a.m., EST
by John Steidl, Thomas Group consultant and Mike Manor, president, Automotive Aftermarket, Thomas Group
IRVING, TX — Last time we talked about the role of “change leadership” in aligning resources and setting expectations on the magnitude and pace of change. Today we want to talk more about cross-functional collaboration and breakthrough thinking.
As we have said before, the most significant change initiatives that any company can undertake will normally require close cross-functional collaboration. This occurs because value is created through complex processes that operate across multiple departments. Therefore value creation, the primary task of any company, can only be optimized at the process level. At the same time, incremental thinking can only give rise to incremental improvements. Transformational change in any business process clearly requires out-of the box thinking. How do we achieve cross-functional collaboration in a way that gives rise to breakthrough thinking? (What Michael Hammer, author and President of Hammer & Co. business and education research firm, refers to as “operational innovation”.)
Leadership has to provide the organization with three critical things:
1. A means to break down the traditional walls between departments;
2. A framework to support effective collaboration;
3. Tools and rules to generate and test innovative ideas.
Breaking down traditional functional silos requires strong leadership. We tend to view other departments as people who (a) compete with us for resources, and (b) cause many of our problems. A certain level of antagonism comes out both in our words and actions and department managers are as guilty of this as anyone else. We need to start thinking about those other departments as comrades in arms, people we care about and trust. This change in values and behaviors has to start at the top. Executives and department managers can create a new set of values and behaviors through the expectations they set and the ways they act in support of those expectations.
Creating a framework for collaboration means establishing a structure and process to focus and facilitate cross-functional communication. This is the process owner, along with her supporting team, that we discussed in more detail in a previous article.
Perhaps the hardest part is the generation of truly innovative ideas. To foster breakthrough thinking, there are some key rules and tools:
1. Brainstorming in a cross-functional team environment provides multiple perspectives on any problem;
2. High-level sponsorship reinforces the importance of the activity and the rules of engagement;
3. The team and sponsor must identify and focus on the points of highest leverage;
4. Incremental thinking is out. The whole point is to identify new ways to do things that require dramatically less time or resources than current practice;
5. It’s okay to look outside for ideas — in fact, it’s good. But since most industries tend to become inbred, if you’re going to look outside, go completely outside.
6. Risk-taking is encouraged and failure is allowed. Some judgment is needed; if the risks are large, then a pilot may be appropriate, coupled with other risk mitigation strategies.
7. Speed is more important than certainty. By analyzing a potential solution to the point where we can be certain of success, we are also maximizing the probability that a competitor will get there ahead of us.
By applying these basics, within the right collaborative framework, it’s possible to generate and test truly innovative ideas for breakthrough performance.
For additional information, visit www.thomasgroup.com or call Mike Manor at 972-401-4444.
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“AMN Perspectives by Thomas Group: Experience at Work” is written and sponsored by Thomas Group. The opinions expressed in “AMN Perspectives by Thomas Group: Experience at Work” articles appearing on aftermarketNews.com do not necessarily reflect the opinions of AMN or Babcox Publications.