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High-Performance Work System versus Conventional Organizing Approach

Role model leaders in a business organization strive to move away from a conventional organizing approach towards a more ideal state that I have

2 The DuPont Oval logo, DuPontTM, Kevlar®, and Sorona® are trademarks or registered trademarks of E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company or its afiliates. DuPont Canada is a licensee. been referring to as the high-performance work system. All role model leaders pick up that challenge.

I have discussed the elements that are important for developing a culture under the conventional organizing approach. Those elements are the proximate environment; the traditions, totems, and taboos; and the core organizational values.

The difference between the culture of a high-performance work system and that of a conventional organization is an important additive element: Everyone a Leader.

The premise of this book is that everyone can beneit from learning and practising the skills, character attributes, and purposeful behaviours of individual leading. Extending that idea to the environment and design of the business organization will have a powerful inluence on its performance: people will understand others better, they will be ready and willing to make change a priority, and they will take every opportunity to change any and all aspects of operations. Whether this involves incremental change or transformational change, they will engage in change processes at each and every level of thought. This does not mean change for the sake of change; it does, however, mean that when opportunities present themselves, people in a high-performance organization will not pass them up. They will inluence the people around them to reach for the opportunity to improve the organization.

The superordinate target, the aspiration of Everyone a Leader, can serve as the deinition of a high-performance culture, for it fosters ongoing positive change.

So the difference between the culture of a high-performance work system and that of a conventional organization lies in the additive element, the developmental processes associated with role model leadership. Speciically, it lies in inluencing the organization's people to accept the concept of Everyone a Leader and to accept the strategic priority of everyone developing leadership competence. Contrast this with the more passive stance of accepting that leadership is important but without doing everything possible to learn it and develop it across the entire organization.

The difference between the high-performance organization and a conventional organization is a cultural one that can best be understood by segmenting the description into three parts:

• The integrated person

• The developmental mindset

The self-managing person


A culture of high performance encourages people working together to understand one another at all levels of thought. When people know one another and have a full understanding of one another's capabilities, the organization's vitality is strengthened.

In some business organizations, people are placed in work silos. They are functional people or business people; they are leaders or managers or planners; they are experts in selling or advertising or communications. In such an environment, people tend to be good – sometimes very good – in speciic areas. The drawback to this model is that these expert people often do not know much about other things going on around them. And often these experts are not in a position, nor are they encouraged, to develop synergy with other experts to create more value across the business organization. The expert engineer is often consumed by the challenge of problem solving and is focused on this and not much interested in other organizational issues.

And in these organizations, leadership is all too often in the hands of very few. The notion of change is in the hands of experts, whom we will refer to as positional heads or leaders. This sort of business organization is not as productive as it could be. More output for a given input of talent is possible when there is cross-functional activity, when all people are involved in leading, and when all people better understand the business and contribute to creating value – not simply knowledge for others to use.

In a high-performance work system, by contrast, all individuals – whether they are business people or functional experts – are thinking about leadership and doing work as leaders. This challenges them, makes them more productive, and improves the quality of their individual outputs. More important still, the quality of output is improved when a business organization is fully integrated and develops an entire company of leaders.

This principle of Everyone a Leader and everyone a business person and everyone a functional expert was important to the approach taken by DuPont Canada. This was most evident when observing the work of functional experts who emphasized that aspect of their triad of learned competency. For example, a tax expert at DuPont was well known within and outside the company as a member of various associations and government forums – a true expert. When he realized that he was not only a functional expert but also a business person and a leader who had the opportunity to change things for the better, his contribution to the company rose dramatically. His efforts to minimize tax paid changed to a focus on optimizing the business process. He began to participate with others in redesigning
various business processes in the manufacturing plant so that they would be more tax effective. That is, he looked for ways to minimize tax at the start of the business process rather than after the money had been spent in the early stages of making products. He also initiated an interfunctional network to educate manufacturing people in the intricacies of the tax rules and procedures so that they could ind ways to optimize the tax regime – an act of role model leading.

Let me describe two other examples – more generalized ones – to further illustrate the principle of everyone learning and practising the triad of competencies.

An exceptional role model leader near the top of the company hierarchy was engaged in leadership as his primary competency. But he was also an expert in the functional role of purchasing – he was an engineer and the company's primary buyer for energy as well as the leader of the company's purchasing function. In addition, he was challenged to transform the infrastructure – the “back room” of the company – through a systematic review and redesign of its component business processes and systems. In all of this work, he engaged many other leaders, functional experts, and business people – all of them integrated thinkers. He enjoyed great success as measured by the waste reduction that occurred. He demonstrated a disciplined, systematic approach to doing work the right way.

One more example: One of our talented people was primarily a business leader of one of our business units. He understood how to create value from his manufacturing plants, but he also knew how to realize value through extraordinary customer service and marketing – functional work. He had decided to lead but also to “do business.” He was the resident sales manager for one of his business's product lines. In addition, he organized a network of other sales managers from other business units to seek other sales opportunities by inding new customers who valued a “basket” of company products.

Again, this person was a leader: a business person and a functional expert working to improve the quantity and quality of his contribution.

When all people – functional experts and business people – recognize that they are leaders, and when the organization's culture encourages this integrated approach, they will in a very natural way work together more effectively.

What this means in practice is that every person will dedicate considerable effort to learning the capabilities, skills, character attributes, and purposeful behaviours of individual leading. It also means that the functional capabilities they brought to the organization – as engineers, accountants, technicians – will need to be maintained and improved in the context of their work in the
organization. And these same people will need to become knowledgeable about the company's business. That is, they will need to learn and think about its value-add direction; about the needs of the stakeholders; about the key measures of performance and success; and most important, about Why? How? and What? their work will contribute to the success of the business. All employees will continually learn more and understand their contribution to the leading, functioning, and value-add of the business organization.

This effort and philosophy will apply across the high-performance work system, thus increasing the vitality of the whole. Let there be no mistake – as a cultural ideal, this effort applies everywhere in the company, from the ofices of the senior executives to the workplaces of the front-line manufacturing workers. The person who maintains the boiler in the factory is a leader: both a functional person and a business person. He is charged with learning the capabilities of leading and thinking about and making positive changes in his area in concert with others; he is expected to be expert in maintaining boilers; he is expected to understand at a certain level of knowledge, and hopefully at a conscious level, the company's business. Understanding the overall business of the company will allow this expert in boiler maintenance to understand at a functional and emotional level his contribution to the business. This conscious understanding will improve his vitality and the vitality of those around him. He will understand, not just know, the value-add of his work and the work of others in his area.

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