Does Your Organization Have Operating Rhythm? | Sherpas in Blue Shirts

Posted On June 7, 2011

A multinational client recently engaged us to conduct an operating rhythm evaluation. If you’re not familiar with the term, operating rhythm refers to the set of meetings that management has on its schedule to drive and manage the organization. While naturally you would think that a management team would be aligned and driving toward common goals, it’s not all that unusual for there to be fairly significant disparities in the way different members of a management team communicate the organization’s goals and objectives or manage their own groups.

At first glance, this client’s management team appeared to be focused on the right things. But our analysis of their individual meeting schedules found that some executives spent too much time in meetings that were not appropriately focused or aligned with the organization’s goals and objectives.

Overall, management was spending over 60 percent of its time in meetings, and, to many, it was death by meeting. While most of the time was spent on the things that mattered to the company, some outliers needed to be refocused. And while many believed the time was spent on the right things, they didn’t perceive the meetings to be overly effective (which is a topic for another blog).

Additionally, some members of the management team were tremendously overbooked. A particular individual had average 200+ hours of scheduled meetings per month. This meant that given a normal 176-hour work month, he would be in meetings more than 10 hours a day! In reality this didn’t happen; instead, he missed meetings and had to reschedule, had to leave meetings early, and overall was not able to do his job. In fact, he didn’t have time to actually think.

Finally, we observed that commercial directors with similar responsibilities and scope of work – but in different geographies – had very different meetings schedules, and in effect, one spent half as much time in meetings than the other did. In this particular case that was acceptable as one was much more of a delegator, and the other was striving to overcome performance gaps and deficiencies. But in general, that type of disparity could signify troublesome misalignment.

We helped the organization understand it needed to determine, in tandem with its management team members, the priorities and time that each individual should spend on company priorities. It also needed to eliminate certain meetings, and establish the right mix of weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual meetings. Further, each meeting had to be clearly linked to a core process that in itself was linked to a key performance indicator (KPI.)

The first step in building an operating rhythm requires the organization to level set its KPIs to ensure every member of the management team has the same understanding.

Next, management needs to tie each KPI to the core processes that will enable them to be achieved. Then, management must detail these core processes to the next level of granularity, describing:

  • Sub-processes (in a sense process maps or swim lanes)
  • Inputs and outputs
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Meetings
  • Frequency

The core processes will themselves drive different timescales or frequencies. For example:

  • Annual meetings are necessary to set targets and strategy, typically two-three days
  • Quarterly meetings are necessary to review results and adjust the strategy, typically one day
  • Monthly meetings are necessary to check and correct deviations, typically two-three hours
  • Weekly  meetings are necessary to track and monitor execution, typically one hour

Enterprises can make significant progress in achieving their right operational rhythm if every member of management aligns their meeting schedule to the organizational core processes such that the right amount of time is spent on the right topics with the right people. And the trickle down effect comes into play here, whereby mid-management also establishes meeting schedules that align to their organization’s priorities.

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