Guide Smart Management: Breakthrough Strategies that Work

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An "ultimate potential" is the result a person, a team or an organization determines they could ultimately achieve in the best of all possible worlds, with the basic means they already have at their disposal. In short, if we produced our best quality and quantity, with the lightest and thriftiest organization, if we wasted nothing and if we very effectively sold it all at the highest acceptable market price how much could be earned? The questions that could be asked to define "ultimate potentials" for individuals, teams and organizations include some of the following:.

In other words , if a person, a team or an organization were to become the worldwide uncontested innovative benchmark reference for success in a given field, what measurable results could be achieved? First, having coached work on ultimate potentials with a large number of people, teams and organizations, we have found that some basic guidelines can help a lot.

They can make the difference between reasonable success and a really remarkable splash. Consequently, the top-down approach that consists in telling people what to do and how to do it has time and again proven to be conducive to resistance , passivity and mediocre results. People and teams get more excited when they define and reach for their own futures, in their own way. This is central in all breakthrough coaching processes. As a matter of fact, the fist step in delegation is probably to let people be responsible for defining their own potential. It is theirs to begin with. When in a breakthrough coaching process, each person and team in a system defines its own ultimate potential, it is more likely to really get excited about it, look for creative means to reach it, and then go for it.

This works much better than when executives and managers tell their personnel and teams what to do. It is much more motivating for a team to own its goals.

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It will then own the energy, strategies and processes to try to reach them successfully. Furthermore, we have observed that people and teams often choose to go for exceptional potentials that are not even perceived or dreamed of by their hierarchy or by headquarters. We have often discovered that people know their jobs much better and judge their ultimate potentials as being much higher than would their own peers or their own management.

Staying informed on the process and on all progress is of course necessary for management, and prior sharing with the team all the financial and technical information useful to the endeavor is an excellent way to fuel it for success. As the team determines each ultimate potential, we suggest that it start a chart or graph that will later be useful in determining breakthrough challenges. The following graph is an example which concerned a photographic equipment sales team that was considering one of its less glamorous and forgotten products.

For the considered product, the sales team members decided that although they did not have a dominant part of the national market, they could really conquer most of it if they really set their minds to it. The last number to compute is the percentage difference between the coming year's budgeted "goal" and the perceived ultimate potential.

A report from Deloitte and the WBCSD

This example may seem excessively dramatic. It is real. As some teams define their ultimate potential line by line on all their different products, possible savings quality and delivery improvements, they will time and again discover areas where there is room for dramatic improvement. Another example concerns a restaurant: Average number or covers per day for the previous year may be What if the restaurant's seating capacity is seats?

Just one cover per seat per meal would ensure an ultimate potential of covers. Then again, that same team could define that the ultimate potential could be to serve two covers in the same seats for two of the meals. That would define their ultimate potential as covers. Determining ultimate potential and playing with numbers in the above fashion often has a very dramatic effect. It provides individuals and groups a major change of perspective.

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Manual Smart Management: Breakthrough Strategies that Work

Individuals and teams no longer look at their work in terms of what they have achieved in the past but in terms of what ultimately could be done if everyone really wanted to maximize existing potentials. The relative satisfaction of past achievements is put in the perspective of the excitement to tap into unexplored territory and shoot for the stars.

Only once this preparatory task is completed on all pertinent lines of perceived areas for development can the time be ripe for the individual or team to go on to the next suggested step in the breakthrough coaching process. The question to be asked again and again in this part of the process is "what could really be a challenging goal for this year, considering the gap between budget and what is perceived as "ultimate potential".

As we have seen above, an ultimate potential is not a goal. In our above examples, a goal could be the budget figure, but is that really challenging?

Smart Buildings = Smarter Decisions

In our experience, every individual and team has the capacity to set itself a breakthrough challenge which exists somewhere between their budgeted goal and their newly perceived ultimate potential. Intuition, motivation and teamwork are central elements in determining a good, motivating and achievable challenge. Team motivation will strive to push the goal up towards the ultimate potential, team intuition will try and keep the number within a feasible range and often, fear of the unknown, joking, conservatism, management pressure or complacency will tend to drive the goal down to safer, more reasonable or comfortable levels.

At this point, coach-type powerful questioning, again and again challenging the underlying feelings and motivations behind any quoted number and extensive discussion will help individuals and team members define the one goal with which they feel excited, motivated, and reasonably uncomfortable. This goal-setting or challenge process should be carried out in the presence of the team leader , assuming that person doesn't have too much of a dampening conservative effect nor one that would push the team to aim for excessively lofty goals perceived by the team as fundamentally unrealistic.

In this phase of the work, the leader's position should be one of testing and questioning, to help determine the real number that all feel they can strive for. Another important guideline in this part of the process is to avoid falling into the trap of discussing means or methods for achieving a challenge before it is set.

Goal setting and searching for means are two different processes that should be kept separate. Example: J. As a matter of fact, the technology to get a man to set foot on the moon was developed only after the goal was set. The difference stressed here underlines again an important difference between leadership and management. Leaders often "go for" challenges which are perceived by the environment as impossible and which drive everyone to look for new means to reach them.

These means are often unknown or unavailable at the time the challenge is set. Managers use all available means to reach their goals Leaders use goals that motivate everyone to find or develop new extraordinary means. Again, discussing and setting challenges in a breakthrough coaching process is most usefully done in a team setting and discussed with management or executives.


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Collective questioning and testing of each challenge and each person's position will help the group clarify engagement and motivation. The issue is not so much to focus on the value of the numbers as such but to clearly position where each feels there is too much comfort, a real challenge, or a goal that is way too far out of reach. The ensuing breakthrough coaching dialogue can be about risk management, capacity to put one's neck on the line, fear of failure, the right to make mistakes, and difficulty at projecting oneself out of a known, tried and tested perimeter.

In as much as the discussion takes place in the presence of the team leader , it can help everyone define internal processes and "rules and regulations" to ensure success. Ultimately and ideally, of course, each challenge above budget should be set by the person or by the team directly responsible for achieving it. Care must be given to ensure that the questioning and discussing process does not slip into a collective or hierarchical pressure to impose stressful goals on others.

The nest step in the breakthrough coaching proces is to choose the main challenges which will provide the highest most immediate result in each field.

In this part, we usually suggest that the team develop a strong bias for choosing challenges that are in fields shared by two or more team members, across areas of responsibility or departmental boundaries. We have regularly noticed that most really challenging team goals can be better achieved when team members, services or departments interface better or differently.

Dramatic increase in results in collective settings can be best achieved if different team members or experts cooperate better than they have in the past. When teams set themselves new dramatically challenging goals, team members suddenly face the obligation to work together in new and different configurations.


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  • In the breakthrough coaching process, we usually suggest that sub-groups or task-forces form to define the two or three main challenges that offer the highest immediate leverage or return on investment quality, time , manpower, money…. Consequently, we suggest these same task forces "break out" to work on the next steps focused on transforming the challenges into solid action plans. These are then to be presented to the larger team for improvement, confrontation and validation.

    Of course, it is useful that these task forces include all the people concerned by the breakthrough coaching process so as to develop a large base for analysis, motivation, involvement, and ownership. Outrageously new challenges need extraordinary new means. These means need to be as immediately practical as possible. This part of the breakthrough coaching process consequently needs to be a very practical brainstorming sequence. Consequently, for each idea proposed by any one team member and before volunteering another idea, the whole group needs to participate by suggesting specific areas, actions, numbers, deadlines.

    This is what we call "practical action brainstorming". This part of the breakthrough coaching process will permit the team and the members responsible for each of the areas to choose the actions that need to be initiated in priority in order to achieve the highest immediate result and reach the breakthrough challenge. Heavier, time-consuming and unsure action plans can be pushed back to an ulterior date, after the first more reliable and immediately efficient ones are launched and well on their way.

    Business process re-engineering

    This step is paradoxically the one that doesn't get enough interest. It is nonetheless a central key for long term success with the breakthrough coaching process. It concerns designing tools by which individuals and teams will regularly measure the long-term follow-up of a success-oriented strategy.

    A few months after an exciting project is kicked off, a large number of teams lose interest for their lofty goals and slide back to old daily routines that lead to the usual average results. Consequently, beyond setting new challenges and implementing new means to reach them, the breakthrough coaching process includes means to ensure that individual and team motivation and energy stays constantly focused on the breakthrough goals.