How to Lower your Corporate Cholesterol

Do you remember how Fred Sanford would fake a heart attack every time he heard bad news on the 1970’s sitcom, Sanford and Son?  Perhaps he had high cholesterol!  Corporate cholesterol, on the other hand, is that nefarious clogging agent that slows your company down, makes simple tasks more complex and threatens your innovation and creativity.  The best way to lower to corporate cholesterol is by taking a blood test, or in our case, drawing an organigraph.

Each company has a unique organigraph. Creating it requires people to use the left side of their brain, the analytical side, to draw exactly what their organization’s operations look like. The organigraph addresses environment, structures, relationships, and how the company’s processes really work. It’s all about drawing a workflow of how work gets done in the company.

Sometimes the actual path that people, ideas, processes, and goods and services take varies from what people, organizational charts, or company policies and procedures dictate. When the University of Maryland reconstructed the big quad opposite McKeldin Library, it installed a huge, grassy, open area. For a long time, there were no sidewalks. The planners allowed the students to wear their own paths from building to building, and when it was clear where the students tended to walk, then the planners laid down pavement, instead of forcing the students into a specific predetermined pattern.

Just as the students created their own logical paths around the campus, organizations develop a logical flow of how work gets done in organizations. Companies often have secret mechanisms that circumvent laborious processes that don’t actually serve any specific purpose. Perhaps there is a process for expense account approval, but everybody knows you go to Mary in finance, and she fast-tracks your expense account for you.

When I was at Boeing, the employees had large three-ring binders called “Policies and Procedures,” informally known as “Pols and Pros.” These rules were routinely ignored. We would check boxes on forms to indicate that we had followed the Pols and Pros, but we never did. Instead, we took a real-world approach, one that didn’t necessarily match up with the approach the procedures and policies required.

Here is another example. When Paul Silber was the CEO of In Vitro Technologies, a contract research company that sold for a premium in 2006, he was always looking for ways to make In Vitro more efficient or lean. Paul found that what had started out as the “ten commandments” of how things should work had morphed into “five hundred commandments” as the company grew. All were well-intended changes, but productivity was really starting to slow down because “how things should work” was not the same as “how things actually worked.” In Vitro leaders thus had to pay constant attention to the reality of how work got done in order to meet their demanding performance objectives.

Chris McGoff, the author of “The Primes” and founder of the consulting firm The Clearing, suggests we look at customer needs, company needs, and then how work is actually done to find the Muda.  Muda is a traditional Japanese term for an activity that is wasteful and doesn’t add value or is unproductive.  The more muda, the more cholesterol, the less productive we become and sooner or later … we suffer a heart attack!

Here I come Elizabeth!

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