In today’s competitive business landscape, companies are under relentless pressure to deliver results quickly and are often judged by short-term performance goals. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that an organisation that can "get things done" equates to being an organisation that executes well. Organisations that execute well don't substitute effort and commitment for operational expertise, they avoid unnecessary complexity, making it easy for good people to do a great job and for the organisation as a whole to deliver exceptional results.
Operational excellence is the science and best practices of executing well, a key competence for sustained growth and high performance. While high quality outputs are key benefits of being operationally excellent, excellence is not measured on output alone but on the effectiveness, efficiency and simplicity by which the organisation achieves that high quality output.
The ability to execute well is lauded as a virtue however, the conflation of 'getting things done' with 'executing well' can prove detrimental to long-term organisational health and sustainability. In this article, we explore the distinction between the two, examine the pitfalls of their confusion, and offer a framework for achieving both immediate effectiveness and long-term, consistently high performance.
The Pitfalls of "Getting things Done".
Many organisations place significant emphasis on achieving short-term objectives, such as meeting quarterly deadlines and sales targets or fulfilling immediate OKRs and KPIs. Such organisations commend themselves on their ability to make quick decisions and execute swiftly but if those actions and decisions only address the symptoms of problems rather than their root causes, then they are creating an illusion of effectiveness and agility.
However, in accomplishing these goals, employees often feel a physical, psychological and emotional toll that lies dormant until triggered by that proverbial last straw. Being a team member in an organisation that substitutes increased effort and commitment for best practices can seem attractive at first (no bureaucracy or red tape here!) but it soon becomes demoralising as the constant effort and resilience required to overcome the growing organisational complexity becomes the measure of their commitment.
The high operational costs of this approach become evident through resource sub-optimisation, operational inefficiencies, heightened levels of employee burnout, and increased stress across the workforce. These shortcomings frequently arise from inadequately designed processes, technology misalignment, and a culture that favours reactivity over proactivity.
A focus on getting things done often leads to one-off fixes and shortcuts instead of developing well-designed processes that produce consistent quality outputs and fewer organisational risks. Teams that adopt a “by any means necessary” mentality sacrifice sustainable, efficient practices and undermine a culture of continuous improvement.
Organisations that do not invest in best practices such as operational excellence will find it difficult to compete against those that do, as they miss out on the incremental gains that accrue from an organisation that is continually optimising its performance.
Generating short-term results through continuous bursts of effort and energy, is unsustainable in the medium and long term, is compromising the organisations future viability and as such, it is important to disentangle these two perspectives.
A Balanced Framework for Operational Excellence
While the term operational excellence is often thrown around in management circles, its implications are far-reaching and transformative for organisations. Operational excellence is not just a goal but a philosophy that, when implemented, influences every facet of a business, from its workforce to its bottom line.
It focuses on continually improving how the organisation executes to deliver the highest quality, most effective, and efficiently executed products and services. At its core, it aims to align an organisation's people, processes and technologies through systematic management and problem-solving techniques. Attributes of an operationally excellent organisation include:
- Structured Collaboration: Is an essential ingredient for organisational success, more so in a world where agility and adaptability are key. It provides a framework that brings structured methods to the unstructured collection of meetings (often boring) that create the illusion of collaboration and avoid what Amy Edmondson calls, the serious trouble that organisations get into when most discussions on crucial issues take place via side conversations.
- Strategic Alignment: Ensures that both short-term activities and long-term processes are aligned with the company’s strategic goals.
- Data Utilisation: Implement metrics that evaluate both immediate effectiveness and long-term efficiency.
- Resource Allocation: Balance resource distribution between achieving immediate goals and improving the organisations performance.
- Culture and Leadership: Instill a culture that appreciates the difference between getting things done and doing things excellently, supported by committed and supportive leadership.
- Periodic Review and Adjustment: Establish a cadence for reviewing both tactical and strategic objectives, making adjustments as needed to remain agile while adhering to well-designed and effectively operationalised processes.
While getting things done is a vital part of any business, equating it with executing well is a perilous simplification. Leaders must appreciate the complexity that comes with balancing immediate benefits against the long-term effectiveness and efficiencies that excellent practices and processes offer. By adopting a more nuanced, holistic approach, organisations can achieve operational excellence without compromising on their immediate deliverables.
This article provides a partial framework aimed at promoting both immediate effectiveness and long-term efficiency. In the highly competitive landscape of today's business world, understanding this delicate balance is not merely advantageous but essential for sustained growth and success.
Expertivity has more than 20 years' experience of successfully working with complex organisations to simply their execution and make it easier for good people to deliver great results.