What can the animal world teach us about speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage?
In the animal world, the food chain is the most critical driving force. In the business world, it’s the performance chain – defined as all the tangible and intangible elements that have to move from the moment you trigger demand until you have cash in the bank; all the ins and outs that have to work together and align to your target customer experience to drive the outcomes you want.
In ROAR, I discuss a proven approach to driving better results: seeing the whole performance chain through the lenses of speed, predictability, flexibility, and leverage, and tying better operating performance to better customer outcomes. Members of the animal kingdom – namely a cheetah, elephant, coyote and ant – are introduced as examples of these four lenses. Can looking at your performance chain with an eye toward speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage really make a positive difference in your business? The short answer is yes!
Here’s a brief look at each of these critical lenses, and some thoughts on how to use them to help drive world-class performance.
What can a business learn from a cheetah about applying speed to an opportunity? We all like to go fast, don’t we? It is way more fun than plodding along. Speed can distinguish your organization from others -- speed that is well-balanced across the performance chain, that is.
Speed is the cheetahs’ strength. It allows them to live an independent life. It is their security when in danger. It is their source of food. It gives them a unique position in the animal kingdom. Experienced cheetahs know when to race full speed and when to use their speed at critical moments. In business speed is also a strength – when you know how best to apply it. In some cases, conditions warrant running hard, expending the energy to win. In others, you’re better off pacing yourself and using your speed capabilities at just the right moments, or in critical places, to push you to success.
Improving speed – moving everything through the system as swiftly as possible or achieving a steady, maybe even patient pace – is really about aligning the velocity of all core processes to your business objectives and customer requirements.
Predictability is grounded in known behavior. How does elephant behavior – memory – translate to business?
Let’s start with the obvious: Consistency. Elephants are nothing if not consistent. Baby elephants learn consistency in their first year and then walk it the rest of their lives unless interrupted.
Is your operation consistent? If good things happened yesterday in your operation, can you expect the same good things to happen today? If you produced 1,000 widgets yesterday, can you produce at least 1,000 widgets today? Assuming call volumes in your service center have peaks and valleys, are you prepared to answer each call with the same level of precision – without wasting or taxing resources? As demand grows, can you predictably adjust to fulfill it? As demand changes, can you predictably adjust to accommodate new requirements?
Creating and reinforcing predictability drives quality and output. If you want to gain the benefits of a high-functioning performance chain, internal and external processes need a consistent and repeatable path.
Coyotes do as well in East L.A. as they do in a remote rain forest. As conditions change, they learn to adapt through problem-solving. How many businesses have coyote-level flexibility to adapt and thrive?
Customers and demand, even if well researched and measured, can be unpredictable and changing. Flexible performance chains have more ability to adapt as demand evolves, ebbs and flows.
Like the coyote, business flexibility to meet changing requirements can come in many forms. It can come from physical assets that are designed to easily adjust as demand flows in. It can come from smart processes that can observe or take in information as demand moves through the line and adjust as needed. It can come from a mix of fixed and variable elements, such as fixed work stations with variable staffing, or fixed skill sets with variable capacity. Together the mix creates the adaptable system. Flexibility enables problem solving before there is a problem.
Flexibility is hard to establish properly and even harder to evolve and adapt. That is why it is so important and so valuable.
Everyone contributes and everything is used in the ant world. Nothing goes to waste. Leverage across the performance chain is about the same thing: making more or doing more with existing resources and capital assets. Think of it as the productivity of fixed capital, working capital and labor. It can also mean additional financing or leveraging the balance sheet to fund growth, but for our conversation here, let’s stick to doing more with what we have. Let’s make sure we get the most out of the capacity we have and the investment decisions we’ve already made – people, supply and distribution networks, raw materials, plants or branch facilities and equipment – before we decide to spend or borrow more money.
In the ant colony, leverage comes from every ant lifting and carrying many times its own weight, doing its assigned job with the resources in front of it. In business, it is constantly finding ways to make the work more productive across the entire company. Certainly at points there is a good case to be made for more investment. When those points occur, it’s important to know that you’re taking full advantage of the resources you already own.
Everyone can understand the basic needs for speed, flexibility, predictability and leverage. It’s how you use them in combination across your business performance chain that will allow you to create, deliver and capture value, and open up opportunities for continued growth and prosperity.
Pragmatic optimist with over 20 years of leading meaningful change. Sees every performance chain through lenses of speed, predictability, flexibility and leverage. Gets excited when smart decisions align with what customers value and generate stronger business performance. More about Chris.
"ROAR does an excellent job of making complex business models easy to understand and accessible. Through the skillful use of metaphors, Mahai breathes life into business concepts that tend to be very dry. I would recommend ROAR for any organization looking for innovative ways to engage in understanding and implementing best business practices." - John Foley, author of "Balanced Brand"