Accelerating Delivery & Performance – Jacqui Alexander

Jacqui will be facilitating a panel conversation on Friday 12th at 9:45am -10:15am, on ‘Accelerating delivery & Performance’.

Jacqui looks at the biggest issues facing leaders today, focusing on how organisations and leaders deal with stress during perpetual times of change. She continues to look at the importance of stripping back processes to remove complexity within business transformation.

What do you believe are the biggest leadership issues facing businesses today?

Many will naturally think of the biggest external impacts hitting businesses today such as artificial intelligence, the growth of automation, digital and social media, but I believe there are equally important internal issues that leaders can and should address.

The first leadership issue I believe businesses are facing today, is leading when they are in a state of perpetual overwhelm and stress, when there is simply not enough time in the day to get everything done.  As Brené Brown wisely said, “It takes courage to say yes to rest and play in a culture where exhaustion is seen as a status symbol.”  Management Consultants will often promote various remedies for this condition varying from mindfulness or meditation to resilience training or coaching.  All have their role to play but maybe the simple truth is that leaders have neglected their boundaries for where work stops and life continues and ignore the signs that longer hours, poorer sleep and unrealistic deadlines make the situation worse, not better.

The second I believe, is the challenge to reducing the amount of internal complexity that leaders have to deal with – be it caused by organisation structures, process or IT factors.  For 17yrs of my career I worked in a global organisation, employing over 100,000 people and whilst there was ample budget to invest in state-of-the-art enterprise-wide systems, the ‘promised’ simplification never became a reality.  As leaders and managers, we had to navigate our way through the multiple and constant changes as best we could – the experience only serving to increase not reduce internal complexity. In a rapidly changing business environment within a dynamically changing world, businesses, large and small need to look to reduce the complexity of how work gets done, not increase it.

The third leadership issue I believe businesses are facing today is a lack of clear priorities on what the most important things are to deliver, right now.  In the last transformation team I had the pleasure to lead we had a mantra with this in mind– we stood for ‘choosing to do the right things and getting better at getting the right things done’.  Too often we would work with leadership teams who had lost the ability to clearly articulate their strategy, their priorities and their key performance metrics – I see the same problems today with the clients I support.  Managing the fine balance between pursuing short-term goals whilst investing in long-term endeavours is a challenging task – leaders and businesses need to be clear in their communication of the priorities within the bigger picture and be agile to the changing environment they work within.

What are some of the key themes that you are seeing at the moment with regards to accelerating delivery & performance?

Some 7 years ago, the internal transformation team I led in GSK faced such a challenge – our remit was to help accelerate delivery and performance across the whole organisation, which at over 100,000 people seemed a somewhat daunting task at first.  Our tangible business outcome was demonstrable performance improvement across the business units. This varied from helping drug development projects deliver new medicines for patients faster, increasing market share in commercial functions, or eliminating waste and decreasing costs in support functions.

The practice we defined synthesized conventional engineering-based improvement methods drawn from Lean SixSigma and Project Management alongside more contemporary people-centred interventions drawn from the world of Organisation Development.  We worked with leaders and their teams to equip them with a new way of working – one that helped them take control of their work; know if they were winning or losing; resolve root causes of problems quickly; develop agility to respond to changing circumstances quickly and deliver things faster and with less stress.  We also helped them improve a universal source of frustration – ineffective meetings (an enormous source of wasted time and drag on delivery).

With relative speed, we quantified tangible impacts and proved that the practice delivered financial benefits and by year 3 our approach was delivering annualised benefits in excess £300m.  What we also proved, was that the new way of working resulted in teams not only feeling more empowered, but they also demonstrated greater change agility than peer teams.

Looking back at this experience, the key theme I notice is that if you want to accelerate delivery and performance you need to help teams strip back their operation, eliminate self-imposed complexity, get back to the basics of what they’re there to achieve and establish a new routine that focuses on high team performance – one that celebrates success, constantly learns and responds with rapid problem solving when the going gets tough.

Businesses ultimately perform from the cumulative results of the performance of each team and their leader.  Until we breach the tipping point where mass scale automation and AI takes over, this will continue to be the case.

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