By Kevin Meyer
Companies love to spend gobs of money going on treasure hunts to find new best practices. Tours of great companies, workshops by supposed "thought leaders" (that term gives me the tizzies… how about an "I've actually done it leader"), and the latest tome on some regurgitated management concept. Most companies then bring home the new concept and try to simply bolt it onto their existing systems, culture, and people. Then it flops.
Why? Two reasons. The first is that there's simply a limit to how many new things you can simply add to an organization. 5S? Sure, let's try it. Kaizen? Of course we must have it. Value stream mapping? Obviously a requirement, so let's do that too. But how many organizations take the time to identify the problem they are trying to solve, do a root cause, and determine if that newfangled tool is the right approach? Practically zilch.
Which brings me to my second reason for failure: not taking the time to figure out exactly how the new tool or practice should integrate into existing systems and cultures. So first we need to figure out if there's a problem and what a possible solution might be, then we need to ensure that solution is customized.
That's the problem with simply finding and adopting best practices, especially when they are of the "gee whiz" variety. And now organizations that have successful systems are actually marketing access to those systems, even if they probably have no clue why they work or how they can be applied to other organizations.
Take Zappos for example. I'm a big fan of the company, and buy pretty much all of my shoes from them. They have a unique culture… and now they're going to try to make some bucks off of it. I'll ignore how this new business niche strays from their core competence and focus on the business niche itself.
Zappos already knows how to sell shoes. Now it's hoping to profit from
people's fascination with its friendly, antics-filled business model.
Last summer, the company began holding two-day, $4,000 seminars on how
to recreate the essence of its corporate culture. At the third such
session, last October, the 25 attendees included an executive from the
Girl Scouts, some competing e-tailers, and an entrepreneur from
Scotland—a market Zappos doesn't even serve. In coming weeks the
company will also relaunch Zappos Insights, a Web site offering
management videos and tips from staffers at a cost of $39.95 a month.
$4,000 seminars and a $39 per month access to "tips." From an online shoe retailer. Now I personally wouldn't mind seeing their operation simply because I do like to experience different management practices. They give me ideas.
But I like to think I'm smart enough to then ponder those ideas, discuss them, and see if they might be a solution to a problem I've already defined and investigated. Or maybe I've just learned the hard way that you can't simply "go radical"… probably what most who pay the bucks to Zappos will do: "Cool, let's do it! Tomorrow!" One guy has already done that…
Zappos seminar last July impressed David Brautigan, who runs a family
heating and air-conditioning repair business. It prompted him to fire
12 employees who were "just not being nice," while rewarding those who
remain with such perks as sky diving trips. "The nicer we are to
people," he says, "better things are happening."
And it was reported as a positive in the article. Really? Fire 12 employees for some vague concept of "nice"? I wonder how much effort was put into defining expectations for those employees, identifying the underlying root cause reasons why they weren't "nice," and attacking those issues. I bet the issues remain, and the 12 replacements will now experience them and surprise surprise, will soon not be "nice."
Investigate, do a root cause analysis, then determine an appropriate course of action potentially using some new tool or concept. Don't just bolt it on and expect the best.