The Parable of the Four Unfit Friends

In the world of continuous improvement and business transformation, we, coaches, meet all sorts of leadership attitudes. Here are four of several characters that we encounter often. Which are the ones most likely to initiate and sustain positive transformation?

FOUR UNFIT FRIENDS MAKE A DECISION FOR CHANGE

Ashleigh, Bradley, Charmelle and Dimba became friends at university and over the years kept in contact.​ Now in their mid-thirties they realised that time was acting against their body.​ Somehow, around a conversation, they agreed that they had to do something about their fitness level, waistline and change their lifestyle.​

Ashleigh had friends, the Jones’s, who had built a gym in their mansion.​ She thought it was a brilliant idea and since she had a spare room, she shopped around and bought herself a few fitness machines.​ She started to practice, but since she didn’t know much about pumping iron and persistent effort she soon stopped using them and would rather show the room to visiting friends.​ Once a year she’d spring clean the room and get a handyman to repaint the machines before a professional would inspect them.​ He’d tell her that they could do with more usage and then he’d send her his bill.​

Bradley superficially considered joining the gym but when he saw the annual subscription cost he told his friends: “this gym thing is quite expensive and if you can’t show me an immediate return, I’m not interested”.​ So he continued with his lifestyle thinking that life was good and he would take a chance.​

Charmelle and Dimba decided to join the gym.​ They started to go three times a week and once a week they shared a coaching session.​ Since it was a good facility with good equipment, affordable and competent coaches, they kept going.​ After a few weeks, they realised that their energy level had increased.​ It felt good training.​ Coach advised them to adjust their diet which they did.​ This resulted in pleasant weight loss.​ After a while Charmelle felt bored and because she was going through tough time at work and a change of season at home she started to skip sessions.​

Dimba kept going and joined another group at the gym who shared coaching sessions.​ Obviously there would be some low times when he would fall back, but since he had a clear vision for his lifestyle and fitness objectives he would pull himself together and resume regular training cycles.​

SEVEN YEARS LATER

Seven years later, Ashleigh sold her machines on the internet for 20% of the purchase value.​ She is overweight and because of that she has high blood pressure and shows early signs of Type 2 diabetes.​

Bradley, well, Bradley is in Stage 2 lung cancer.​ Ironically he wouldn’t subscribe to the gym because it was too expensive but never stopped buying cigarettes.​ His bad habits are killing him.​

Charmelle is not too happy with her fitness level, but she occasionally attends a few classes of pilates or Zumba or anything trendy.​ Oftentimes she’ll swap her card just to keep her membership going.​ She’s plodding along.​

Dimba ran his first half-marathon four years ago, three marathons last year and is currently training with his new friends for the Ironman in Holland this summer.​ He started to coach disadvantaged kids to improve their fitness and build healthy life habits and relationships.​

FOUR UNFIT ORGANISATIONS MAKE DIFFERENT STRATEGIC CHOICES

So what does the story of Ashleigh, Bradley, Charmelle and Dimba mean for businesses?

Every organisation moves along a life cycle curve and in the various stages they will experience normal maturity problems but also abnormal ones that they need to manage.​ Top leadership level of courage, sense of reality and vision will determine if they grow a healthy and prosperous business.​.​.​ or not.​

Ashleigh represents organisations that embark in ISO9001 certification for the wrong reason: their customers are demanding it.​ Execs in these organisations have the wrong perception of what ISO9001 really is.​ They see the certificate as a qualifier for engaging in commercial activities when actually ISO 9001 provides a path to prosperity.​ Resources and money are spent to establish the Quality Management System, they barely use it, turn their Quality Assurance personnel into policemen.​ They scramble once a year to repaint the system for the surveillance audit while naively thinking that the auditor won’t pick up anything.​ A real pain.​ What a waste!

ISO 9001 is designed to support the drive for organisations to be profitable through sustained customer satisfaction.​ The framework forces the organisations to answer the three questions:

  • Tell me how you run your business;
  • show me how you run your business and;
  • if what you show me is different from what you tell me, then show me how you are improving your business.​.​

Bradley represents Execs in organisations whose drive to change is lower than the perceived cost of change.​ They are dissatisfied, but not nearly enough.​ They don’t have a long term vision nor risk-based thinking and therefore can only consider change from an accounting angle.​ They expect an instant return to any investment.​ They may think that avoiding to invest in people and processes is a sure way to improve their business.​ They confuse cost saving and cost cutting and forget to notice that most of their past decisions haven’t yielded any sustainable improvements.​
Edwards Deming puts it this way: “it is not necessary to change; survival is not mandatory”.​

Charmelle represents the Execs in many organisations with a disconnect between the strategy and its implementation.​ They also fail to consider the business as a whole organism.​ They like the idea of pursuing operational excellence but don’t have a clue on what it looks like, how to get there and the discipline it requires.​ So based on market conditions, tax incentives and latest management hype, they’ll invest in ad hoc initiatives, a bit of lean, some training and development, leadership courses, mentoring program, motivational workshops, pieces of software.​ Since they don’t have an integrated approach to strategy implementation, nor coordinated plan they fail to develop a culture of continuous improvement.​
Brian Wilson, co-founder of the Beach Boys made this amusing jest: “beware, the lollipop of mediocrity, lick it once and you’ll suck for ever.​”

Dimba represents Execs that have established a vision for their organisation and understand the need to develop healthy leadership habits that bring about transformation.​ They understand the value of discipline and persistent effort.​ In their journey towards excellence they integrate best management practices (Quality Management), and continuous improvement practices (Lean Management).​ They develop their people all the time.​ Even in difficult times and when facing set backs, they stay the course, humbly, one small step at a time.​ The organisation becomes a great place to work, with loyal employees and life time customers.​ Prosperity.​

A CALL FOR ACTION

impi! is to organisations what the gym is to people: an enabler for transformation.​ Impi! is altogether a platform, sets of tools and methods, and competent coaches that provide a transformation strategy, adapted routines, sound advice based on the reality of the organisation and most importantly accountability for the execs to keep pressing on their Lean safari even during the tough times all organisations experience.​

The Execs make a decision to change.​ impi! help them action the decision.​ It offers them the tools to understand better their current reality, refine a vision of their desired future and provide practical means to get there by engaging their teams who improve their processes.​ Dimba is in for the long haul.​

Pierre Bienvenüe

Pierre is the founder of impi!

Leave a Reply

Close Menu