Uptime: Billy Ray Motorsports — A Parable…Part II

bob_williamson_thumbIn last month's column, we documented the rise and fall of the fictional Billy Ray Motorsports team. A new organization with the potential to win was hit with spotty reliability and declining performance.

Management responded by cutting costs, reducing staff, reorganizing and eliminating "unnecessary" work processes. Still, the company continued to lose money! Billy Ray had to make some carefully calculated decisions that could either turn the team around or put it out of business.

Billy Ray's enthusiasm was crushed but he couldn't let his investors and team see how he felt. While he knew he personally was tough and could persevere, he had to admit that this "spending-less-and-losing-more" strategy was probably NOT the best business model. He spent lots of sleepless nights with one thought on his mind: "What can I do to turn this serious decline around?" In due time, he finally concluded that he didn't have a realistic "vision" or a "strategy," let alone a "plan" to stop the losses and begin generating a few wins. "That's it!" he shouted. "We need a strategy and we need a plan!"

What Billy Ray was referring to was a strategic direction that would make sense to the investors AND the race team. To that end, he studied up on a few models about leading change and making focused improvements. In the course of this research, he discovered proven principles for successful transformation that should really work for him. "How could I have missed something so fundamentally sound?" he mused.

Turning around
Billy Ray immediately called his upper-management team together for what was likely the most important discussion they would ever have: "What went wrong and how can we turn our big losses into big wins?" He explained the need for a vision, for strategic planning and for focused improvements in ways that engaged those closest to the problems—the race team. They came up with the following:

Billy Ray Motorsports Mission: To please our sponsors, provide rewarding employment and assure profitability for our investors.

Billy Ray Motorsports Vision: We will have reliable and high-performing racecars competing in the premier race series in America, with teamwork and leadership focused on common goals.

Because the upper-level managers were NOT the people who worked on or in the racecars, they chose to leave the decisions of HOW to achieve these new goals to the shop teams and pit crew. Billy Ray called the next meeting with his upper- and mid-level managers to explain the new corporate Mission and Vision.

The "Management Planning Session" was held off-site because of space needs (and to get away from the day-to-day activities and gloomy atmosphere of the shops). Once everybody was seated around the big table, Billy Ray explained the Mission, Vision and Goals for Next Year. Everyone nodded in agreement—everyone except the crew chief, that is. Billy Ray asked him what the trouble was. After all, the crew chief was also the team manager, which meant he held most of the keys to productivity with his supervisors and their shop crews.

Affectionately known as "Skeeter," the crew chief pondered the question a bit before making some potentially "career-limiting" statements: "I agree with everything. It makes sense. We've fallen into a deep depression, our performance sucks and it's hard to see light at the end of the tunnel. But how do we communicate a compelling sense of hope to the entire organization? What are our real goals?" How insightful!

Billy Ray now realized that the organization needed GOALS—real attainable goals that were built on what the team was really good at doing. So, the next discussion focused on the BIG question: "What are we really GOOD at and why?"

Together, the upper- and mid-level managers looked at racecar performance history and found that the team was "really good" at tracks of one mile or more. (Performance at road courses and super speedways really sucked.) The short tracks historically booked the second-best performance. Armed with this information, the management teams began defining some goals that would satisfy their MISSION and steer them toward their VISION.

Billy Ray Motorsports Goals for Next Year: Sustain our superior performance at tracks bigger than one-mile. Improve our short-track performance.

(The managers further defined "performance" as qualifying in the top half—21st or higher—of the field and finishing among the top 10.)

More was needed, though. Anguishing over Skeeter's comment about "a compelling sense of hope," Billy Ray remembered something he had read about making a "compelling business case for change." That was it! He now understood that no matter how many new words management could put into print and post on the walls, without a COMPELLING reason to improve there was likely NO HOPE for improving performance. Again, he asked his managers to put their thoughts into words...

The Compelling Business Case for Change: We are a good race team struggling to compete, with high costs and declining revenues. Our remaining sponsors are willing to stick with us through next year. To be successful, we must earn more than we spend. We must focus on making only those changes that lead to improved performance. We must organize for success rather than for controlling employees. We must FIRST race to the green flag before we can ever think about racing to the checkered flag.

"That's it," everyone shouted! "That's what we missed! The race to the GREEN flag..."

The Race to the Green Flag: Everything right the first time, every time, on time, qualifying for the race, dialing in the setup to win and everyone focusing on being the best you can be.

The managers openly discussed how to organize for success—how to knock down barriers to rapid and sustainable gains. While they recently reorganized for what they thought was "success," it was NOT working. The racecars HAD to be the focus of the organization. They were the ONLY source of income (i.e., sponsorships and race winnings). That was another breakthrough in management's thinking: organizing for success and winning the race to the green flag.

"Organizing for success" meant putting the race team back together. Everyone who touched the racecar would report to Skeeter, the crew chief/team manager. He and the supporting organizations of Human Resources, Engineering and Finance would report to Larry the general manager. Critical roles and responsibilities aligned with the Mission, Vision and Goals for next year were defined for each manager and his/her organization. Everybody had to pull in the same direction. As Billy Ray put it, "This is like having a compass to stay oriented. We all must know where the North arrow points."

The next steps
The next steps were critical: Middle managers explained and discussed the new Mission, Vision, Goals for Next Year and Compelling Business Case for Change with all departments. Unfortunately, despite the new direction and enthusiasm of the management teams, most folks didn't appear to be very fired up: They didn't seem to GET IT.

What was missing? Luckily, Billy Ray remembered a couple of other things he had read: "Focus on results and change the culture along the way" and "goals need actions." The management teams had forgotten all about developing Action Plans that focused on specific results to address their Goals. They also had forgotten about a workplace "culture change" that was required to achieve rapid and sustainable gains. Not to worry. Billy Ray was all over this. Who could he get to help his organization turn its big losses into big wins? He talked to Skeeter.

The next Monday morning, a newly hired consultant (or "coach") who went by the name of "Buffalo" showed up for a discussion with Billy Ray and the management teams. Buffalo was quickly brought up to speed on everything past and present, including the new Mission, Vision, Goals for Next Year and Compelling Business Case for Change. "What's next?" Billy Ray and his managers wanted to know.

Buffalo mulled over the team's plans, then recommended the following steps:

  1. Focus actions on specific rapid and sustainable improvements leading to Next Year's Goals.
  2. Identify how these improvements will be measured over what period of time.
  3. Identify what level of resources will be available to support the improvements (i.e., time and schedule; money; employees, including shop-floor and management).
  4. Form and charter "Focused Improvement Teams" to address specific changes within their areas of responsibility. Set clear expectations. Include shop employees and their supervisors.
  5. Empower the "Focused Improvement Teams" to develop a specific four-part action plan for their manager's review and approval: 1) Why Change; 2) Current State; 3) Future State; 4) Action Plan & Schedule.
  6. Support and resource this team as they proceed with their approved action plan. Knock down barriers.

Upon getting buy-in from the management teams, Buffalo began to train and coach the "Focused Improvement Teams" on their roles in the overall improvement process. "Bubba," the shop supervisor, and Skeeter participated in these team kickoffs to re-communicate the Mission, Vision, Goals for Next Year and Compelling Business Case for Change. Team members had countless ideas for improving their performance and the performance of the racecar. As their supervisor, Bubba was pleased that these ideas were being heard and were now part of their improvement action plan. At last! Someone in upper management was prepared to hear and allow them to act upon their ideas.

Fast forward
Realizing that it would not be competitive during its reorganization process, Billy Ray Motorsports pulled out of several mid-season races that year. The sponsors agreed. In the final races of the season, though, the team was a "quiet," yet steady competitor. It was making small improvements to its racecars in support of the Goals for Next Year, refining its ideas and putting them to the test on the race track. To the delight of all concerned, the improvements began to take hold. The team definitely had HOPE for the future!

The next year's race season came and went. While Billy Ray Motorsports did not win the championship, it finished 8th overall and grabbed the attention of several big sponsors. It also attracted a few top mechanics and fabricators from other teams. The Billy Ray pit crew was holding its own with the best in the business!

Before long, the sorry financial situation had turned around. Sponsors were willing contributors to the team and it was finally making money again.

Leading to a happy ending
Billy Ray's enthusiasm for winning coupled with his ability to step back and see the bigger picture helped him salvage a business on the verge of destruction.

Leadership is the key to unlocking teamwork. What Billy Ray, Skeeter, Larry, Bubba and Buffalo did to turn big losses into big wins can work for almost any type of equipment-intensive business. Study their model carefully. Look at your opportunities. First: Prepare to win your race to the green flag! Then: Get out there and do it! MT

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