How to work with someone who does not understand operating models?

Today I was asked an interesting question.  How can one engage senior managers in the importance of doing operating model work?   My answer was that this is the wrong question, and I gave the analogy of a carpenter.   If someone needs the help of a carpenter, they do not want the carpenter to try to persuade them of the importance of understanding the grain of the wood or the importance of measuring twice and cutting once, or even of the superiority of a tungsten tipped chisel versus a normal chisel.  They want the carpenter to fix the door or make the cabinet.

So, what does this mean for someone who is good at operating model work, who is approached by, for example an operations director for some help.

First, I would try to understand what help the operations director thinks he (or she) needs (if any).   How does he perceive his problems or challenges or opportunities?   From his perspective what is he trying to do; what does he think is getting in the way; and why does he think he needs some help?

Lets say that the answer to this is that he wants to review the degree of centralisation of powers (decision rights and controls) and of certain capabilities because he thinks it might save cost and raise quality.

I would then construct a work plan including some diagnostic and some facilitation and some analysis of options designed to help him answer the question he wants answered.

However, as part of my diagnostic, I would put together the current operating model for his area – a stakeholder analysis, the value propositions for his core stakeholders, the value chains that deliver these value propositions, a value chain map, an organisation model and an Operating Model Canvas.  This might be no more than one day’s work laying it out at a high level, but is likely to take some elapsed time to collect the information needed.   I would then use this understanding of the current operating model to think about the changes that he is trying to make and the ambitions he has, and note how many different parts of the Operating Model Canvas any changes are likely to need to “touch”.  In other words, I would try to understand and consider the whole system.

I would then work up some options that address his primary concern.  I would then engage him (and others in Operations) to see which options they think will be effective and why.   At this point, I might start to feed in some of my thoughts about other parts of the operating model that might need to change in order to make each option work.

Assuming there is a favoured option, I would then try redesigning the whole operating model (so far as I think it needs to be changed) to ensure that the whole system will support the proposed change.

Then I would make a recommendation that, alongside the change he is focusing on (e.g. greater centralisation of engineering), he should probably also be thinking about other changes that will support it (such as, changes in structure, changes in people models, changes in location,  involvement of new suppliers, additional IT systems, changes in the management processes he uses to run the function).

In other words,  I would not try to get him to define the brief as an operating model project unless he wants to; and I would not try to get him to define the phrase “operating model” along the lines of my definition unless he wants to; but I would use my knowledge of operating models and my toolbox to ensure that the final recommendation involves all the changes needed in the system he is running to give the best chance of achieving what he is trying to achieve.

I would hope that the experience would help him (or her) see the benefit of thinking about and communicating his operating model – rather than just focusing on some part of the whole that needs to change.


About Andrew Campbell

Ashridge Executive Education Focus on strategy and organisation Almost retired!
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2 Responses to How to work with someone who does not understand operating models?

  1. Peter says:

    > How can one engage senior managers in the importance of doing operating model work?

    The answer to this question might be coloured by the difference between being hired as a consultant and being somebody that is already part of the organisation. If you’re a consultant then you’ve (presumably) been hired to do operating model work and there’s no need to explain the importance of doing it.

    If you’re somebody that works in the organisation, NOT a consultant, then it’s sometimes possible to see that Operating Model work was necessary to resolve a wider issue but ‘senior managers’ won’t do the Operating Model work and concentrate solely on only a small part of the issue. This might be because of their background or priorities:

    – For managers that have come from the front-line of operations into a managerial postion then they don’t see the benefit of an operating model because they hadn’t previously needed to be able to see the ‘helicopter view’ of the organisation that an Operating Model provides.

    – For managers that know what an Operating Model is, they viewed it as “something done by HR” with the implication that their reporting line don’t need to spend time on it

    – For managers that understood “Operating Models” then they didn’t want anybody spending time on capturing and organising that much data because it wasn’t seen as “productive time” when there was ‘clearly’ a “burning issue” to be solved (and then another “burning issue” would appear)

    In the end, if a “senior manager” doesn’t want to do Operating Model work then they won’t give it the priority that it needs. If you have the opportunity to do so, pick one of the visualisations and then use it to solve the next “burning issue” and then say “look how useful that information was ……….” and build on that.

  2. andrew campbell says:

    Peter, The question was from someone inside the organisation. I totally agree with your analysis. Rather better than mine! Andrew

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