Russell Bishop Blog

#8 Cycle of Improvement – Overview

Hold on to your hats – this could get interesting!

Before we can go much deeper into the Cycle of Improvement, we need to spend a bit more time on the linkages between Awareness, Choice, Result, Experience and Desired Outcome. We already know a little bit about the first principle of knowing where you are going, the Desired Outcome. Now seems like a good time to explore Choice to a greater depth and the intersection between knowing your Desired Outcome and choices about how to get there.

This is also a good time to give a broad overview on the Cycle of Improvement itself.

Part of what we need to examine is the relationship between Responsibility (the ability to respond) and Accountability. If you spend some time with a dictionary or thesaurus, you will find that the two words are often synonymous and that most definitions deal with obligation or blame.

We will encourage you to think of these two terms differently, in an extremely positive light. Broadly speaking, we can think of Response-ability in the context of dependability, capability, reliability, or possessing capacity. Accountability can be thought of in a similar light, with the principle distinction being around the difference between taking action and keeping score. Response-ability is more about Choice, or taking actions toward a Desired Outcome. Accountability is more about the Result, an accounting if you will. Comparing the Result with the Desired Outcome helps us figure out what we need to do next (other Choices or responses) in order to achieve our Desired Outcome, if necessary. In some instances, we can achieve the Desired Outcome, and then discover that we really prefer something different from what we thought we wanted.

We are going to refer to two different kinds of results or outcomes: Result will reference the quantitative outcome, the physical, tangible outcome, and Experience will reference the qualitative outcome, how we feel about some combination of the outcome itself and the process of getting to it.

Desired Outcome, then, will be a combination of Result plus Experience. Taken together, Result and Experience begin to tell a story that can be “understood” at a level of “knowing” or “realization” – a form of self-Awareness – yet may not be easily explained in words to another.

We have all had the experience of really, really wanting something, working hard to get it, and then wondered why we ever wanted it in the first place. Eric Hoffer comes to mind again: “you can never get enough of what you don’t really want.

Business Example:

Allow me to take you into a bit of my professional background in order to give you an example of what some of this might look like in the “cold, hard light” of the business world. Vantage Partners is a Boston based boutique that consults to large organizations on how they negotiate and manage critical business relationships. The founders of Vantage Partners are also the founders of the Harvard Negotiation Project and authors of Getting to Yes, one of the all time best sellers in the business world.

While working with Vantage, I came across a really neat framing of Desired Outcome as it would apply to negotiating a good outcome in a negotiation. Most people enter a negotiation with some notion of wanting to “win” or at least not lose. Some of clear ideas about monetary outcomes (how much they are willing to pay or minimum amounts they need to receive) in order for the negotiation to be good, in order for them to win.

The basic framework looks like this in a visual depiction:

The notion expressed here is that in order to know how to prepare for a negotiation and then conduct the negotiation, you first have to know what your definition of success is. If this is a one time, commodity based negotiation, for which there are numerous possible suppliers of the goods or service and back end relationship is irrelevant, then your only goal may be lowest price. However, if you also need good service after the sale, if quality matters, if timing and delivery matter, if you need the other side to help manage or maintain some aspect of the goods sold or service delivered, then price alone may not be sufficient.

There are all kinds of stories about people or companies who have “won” the negotiation and lost the game. General Motors did such a great job of negotiating price with Delphi, a parts supplier that once was part of GM, that they actually helped Delphi go bankrupt. GM then had to take Delphi back into the GM fold and further exposed GM to bankruptcy itself.

Stories abound across just about every industry where someone in senior management decided that the only goal was price, sent their troops to do battle with their customer or supplier, and wound up winning on price and losing on what really mattered. The silicon industry is rife with stories about large companies bullying smaller ones for 10% year on year price reductions to the extent that many key suppliers have gone out of business trying to comply with the price restrictions they agreed to.

Now, I need to be careful here – it could sound like I am blaming the big companies for victimizing the little ones. As my mother used to say, “It takes two to tango.” We will deal with the victim side of the equation in a little while. Right now, I want you to focus on the “what-did-I-really-want” side. Did GM or the silicon company (or anyone else who won the price war) really just want to win a contract promising a great, if impossible, price? Or did they actually want a healthy supplier, one who could provide the quantity of parts with the appropriate level of quality and service, and one who could deliver on time? Did they actually want a supplier who could stay in partnership with them year after year, learning more about how to work together, so that other kinds of efficiencies could be gained that might offset what could look like “paying too much” or “leaving money on the table?”

The negotiation example suggests that it makes sense to clarify all of the outcomes I want, not just the obvious one about price. If I am clear that I want a supplier who will be loyal over time, able to meet schedule, cost and quality targets, and flexible enough to work with me as things change in my business or industry, then my supplier’s success may actually be important to me. If their ability to succeed is important to me, I may wind up with a much more complex and rich definition of Desired Outcome.

If we follow the “target slide” in a slightly different way, consider this example: if I said my goal or target was to “win the race,” would that be enough information to let me know how to prepare for the race or to actually run the race? Obviously not. Is this a foot race, bike race, automobile race, etc?

It’s a foot race. Is that enough? Of course not – we need to know how long the race is, against what other competitors, over what kind of terrain, etc. If your goal was to win 100 meter dash against a bunch of people your own age and fitneess level, how would you train (prepare)? How would you run the actual race? If your goal was to win a marathon (26.2 miles) against a bunch of people your own age and fitneess level, how would you train (prepare)? How would you run the actual race?

It’s pretty obvious that you would prepare altogether differently for one race over the other, and that your actual race tactics and strategy would be quite different. If you started a 100 meter dash with a leisurely pace, you might not even get half way there before the race was over; if you started the marathon with a full on sprint, you might run out of gas before the finish line.

The more you know about the Desired Outcome, the more you know how to prepare and how to actually conduct yourself along the way. The Review piece of the process slide refers to keeping track of how you are actually doing along the way. In a marathon, or other long distance race, it is common for the racer to have a time goal that can be monitored along the way in terms of what runners call “splits.” If I want to run the marathon in under three hours (I know, dream on little broomstick cowboy), then I need to average about 6 minute 45 second miles). By keeping time of my “splits,” I will know if I am running too fast (and therefore likely to run out of gas early), or if I am going too slow, and therefore likely to finish, but slower than I wanted.

If I go out too fast, or too slow, do I have any choices I can make along the way? Sure I do – but only if I know my Desired Outcome. Then I become Response-Able (slow down, speed up, etc) in my quest to reach my goal. If I achieve the goal, who is Accountable for my success? If I miss my goal, who is Accountable for my time?

Again, by Accountable, we simply mean accounting for the outcome, as well as the choices made along the way, so that I might learn and make better educated choices.

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