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Requirements for the Performance Improvement Climb

June 10, 2013

I was hiking out of Zermatt this past week, climbing up on the flanks of the Matterhorn.  Besides being engulfed by the staggering beauty of the area and honestly the intimidating presence of the Matterhorn (see the picture of the trail up)… I was also aware of my heart pumping.  There was no way to climb without my heart pumping harder.  My body simply needed more oxygen to be able to climb.  It’s the same in business with parallel demands on the pumping required when you want to improve performance.  There’s at least a dozen analogies that come to mind, but stay with me for three and see if I can give you at least one idea to use.

1. If you want to go up, you gotta pump, and keep on pumping.

When it comes to business, most people miss this.  So let’s go over it.  If you equate a climb to any improvement effort or process in business, most of the time you see people approaching the investment in a climb in a front-loaded manner; e.g. more investment at the front end of an improvement effort than in the middle or end phase.

In a way it would be like hyperventilating a bit as you get prepared for and start a climb, just to load up on oxygen.    The problem is, that after the first week (or 50 yards), you’ve used up the benefits of the initial pump (initial investment) and you need more investment to support the climb or improvement effort.

Think about it.  How many improvement efforts have you been in that the follow-up, the continuity, didn’t last a month, maybe even the 2nd week?  Probably far too many.  Something came up that supplanted the climb effort.  Diversions are like that, dissolving focus like a snowman in the rain.  So to avoid that, keep in mind that successful climbing requires continuing investment and more output from key resources to sustain the demands imposed by a climb.  More about what that exactly means in a minute.

2. Keep your head in the game.

The Matterhorn claims approximately one life a year as people attempt to scale its imposing faces.  It is deadly if you’re not paying attention.  But you don’t have to be hanging on for dear life on the side of  a sheet of ice and rock, to realize even in hiking you need to pay attention, your head needs to stay engaged in the process this step, the next step and a couple thousand steps after that.

Despite the fact that hiking and climbing makes tremendous demands on your legs, your heart and lungs and your arms, it’s still a top down process.  Your brain needs to stay engaged, to stay focused, to be oriented and to inspire and drive the body forward and upward.  I’m writing this because the sponsor’s or author’s or senior manager kicking off a change effort is like the brain.  They have to stay engaged, involved, inspiring, as well as observant and responding to changes and threats, otherwise the climb doesn’t work.  At the worse, it causes a fall and death.  Climbing the Matterhorn is no place to be episodically engaged and neither is any change or “fix it” effort.

3.  The Results Pump 

Your heart and lungs are pumping to meet the requirements for what Jon Krakauer so aptly described in his book “Into Thin Air”.  So what’s the parallel in the business environment?  I’ve come up with the Results Pump model lately to help visualize and capture the pumping process required to support change efforts to improve performance.  You see boosting results and as a precursor to that, boosting visibility, require regular (if not weekly) pumping activity from the top down to keep the climb, the “lift” in place.  That pumping activity boils down to five very important weekly disciplines.  Here they are… now you know exactly what’s required:

  • Pump #1. Maintaining high visibility and clarity about projects, plans, processes and what creates the most value each week
  • Pump #2. Regular progress updates, structured to build engagement and critical thinking
  • Pump #3. Measuring actual versus planned progress, including delivering on commitments
  • Pump #4. Leveraging reviews with an analysis of trends and lessons learned
  • Pump #5. And finally active response, with adjustments and especially recognition for performance

It’s a lot of pumping to sustain a climb, isn’t it?  And for us it’s absolutely essential to have the right tools, the right technology in place to support all of it.  That’s why we tightly couple the process with ManagePro.

Call us if you are interested in discussing how to drive performance improvement in your work group or organization.  (707 487-3000).  We’re passionate about helping organizations improve performance using the Results Pump and ManagePro software.

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