In today’s highly competitive global business environment, adaptability and consistent execution are key to survival. As entrepreneurial manufacturing businesses scale in size and geography, they often experience plateaus in growth and productivity, particularly when their organizations reach about twenty people, again at fifty people, and once more at one hundred people. Symptoms during plateaus include lack of accountability, disengagement, loss of focus, decrease in quality, lack of alignment, and frustration.

Entrepreneurs quickly learn they cannot manage their larger-scale organizations the same way they managed their smaller ones. To address the problems that accompany growth, some entrepreneurs incorporate elements from large business improvement programs such as Total Quality Management, Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma, and Balanced Scorecards. In doing so, they also take on the challenges of these programs, such as managing time spent in extended classroom training and finding the right people to lead quality improvement initiatives. By cobbling together the various management systems into their culture, they also take on the expensive role of integration and support.

During the past three years, a business-excellence program called Six Disciplines™ has become available to simplify the quality management approach, foster practical planning, and deliver effective, sustainable execution management. It is the first enduring business-excellence program designed specifically to help small and mid-sized businesses ensure they are doing the right things at the right times. And it can be of tremendous assistance to entrepreneurs and top teams in the manufacturing sector.

The Six Disciplines™ Defined

Six Disciplines™ founder and CEO, Gary Harpst, explains the Six Disciplines™ in his book, Six Disciplines for Excellence. Twenty-plus years ago, Harpst started a software company called Solomon. After building the business, he sold it to Microsoft, and instead of retiring he began researching businesses that were implementing best practices in small markets. From that research, the following Six Disciplines emerged:

  • Decide what’s important. Focus on the vision and values of the organization "what they are, thought through and defined" and then revisit them regularly.
  • Set goals that lead. For employees to keep focused, goals need to be defined for each aspect of the organization. An organization that has only set financial goals, for instance, will quickly find itself out of balance.
  • Align systems. People, processes, policies, and technology are all systems that must be aligned toward common goals, with energies focused correspondingly to priorities.
  • Work the plan. Once an organization determines what’s important, it must ensure it stays committed and tracks progress toward its goals.
  • Innovate purposefully. Leadership must be able to harness energies to ensure that staff are working on the right things and looking for creative solutions to everyday problems.
  • Step back. Every entrepreneur needs to be sure he or she is working on the business and not just in the business. Understanding the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats is key to growth and sustainability.

A Simple and Sustainable Holistic Approach

Six Disciplines™ uses a holistic approach, which makes it an excellent choice for entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector. It is based on more than twenty years of business improvement innovations, technology developments, and proven business best practices.

The first key reason Six Disciplines™ works is simplicity. The program engages the entire organization and points its in the right direction with a methodology that integrates strategic planning, tactical annual and quarterly planning, process alignment, performance management, quality assurance, and innovation.

Through goal setting, team members make commitments to themselves and their team members. Next, they assess weekly how to spend their time in order to focus forward on working more effectively while zeroing in on the right things. Employees review their plans and accomplishments quarterly and annually with the full team to ensure movement.

The second reason Six Disciplines™ works is that it is sustainable. The biggest problem with business improvement programs is that companies are not able to stick with them. Change initiatives rarely last. The problem is even more pronounced in small and mid-sized manufacturing companies, which face the additional barriers of limited economics and expertise.

Four Common Characteristics

Based on intensive field research that included 300 small to mid-sized companies, Harpst found that enduring business-excellence programs must have the following four elements:

  • A repeatable methodology to drive organization learning. This is where the templates, surveys, and checklists included in Six Disciplines come into play to assist with employee learning and performance.
  • External coaching for accountability. Such coaches offer an outside perspective and honest assessments in an effort to hold individuals accountable.
  • A system to align the activities of every team member, every day. This involves ensuring that people, processes, and technology are all in sync and working effectively.
  • A community of like-minded people to accelerate learning. Once the team can agree on common definitions and values, tasks become simpler and conversations become more productive as employees learn from each other.

Manufacturing entrepreneurs who need to compete in the global business environment while managing a steep growth curve should consider Six Disciplines™.

© 2007 Craig Landwehr. All rights reserved.

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  • Craig Landwehr Partner Six Disciplines Leadership Center of North Carolina