“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, To put to rout all that was not life and not when I had come to die Discover that I had not lived.”

- Henry David Thoreau, 1817-1862

Six Disciplines For Excellence - Gary Harpst


Building Small Businesses That Learn, Lead and Last
By Gary Harpst
Six Disciplines Corporation, 2004
ISBN 0974858706
265 pages

The Big Idea

If you are a small business owner, you should aspire for more than momentary success. Your goal is to push your organization towards achieving and sustaining excellence. Author Gary Harpst uses his years of experience with thousands of small businesses to bring you the six fundamental business disciplines that can help you achieve enduring excellence.

Chapter 1 : Excellence

An excellent small business should:

1.Be a learning organization.
2.Strive to be a leader in a chosen area.
3.Have the ability to sustain success.

To be better than the rest, you must:

1.Be able to rely on a strong leadership team.
2.Attract and retain good employees.
3.Have a disciplined approach towards business.
4.Utilize a strategic use of technology.
5.Be able to build strong relationships and use it effectively.
6.You must also be able to hurdle barriers that can prevent you from achieving lasting excellence. These barriers include having a poorly understood strategy, weak strategy execution, unchecked organizational entropy, and impractical implementation methods.

Chapter 2 : Tha Small Business Advantage

A small business owner may experience challenges that may seem daunting but are nevertheless manageable. The top six issues are:

1.Financial issues.
2.Customer issues.
3.Production issues.
4.People/employee issues.
5.Limited resources.
6.Growth management.

The Small Business Advantage

There are several advantages to small businesses. As a small business owner, you must learn how to use them effectively and aggressively.

They are:

1.Connecting people to purpose.
2.Effective communication.
3.Timely decision-making.
4.Customer intimacy.
5.Attracting team members.

Chapter 3: The Six Disciplines Methodology

The six disciplines methodology is a synchronized and systematic approach for building your business to the point that you can sustain excellence. It is a step-by-step process that brings together key business principles such as strategic planning, quality management, business process automation, etc.

The Six Disciplines of Excellence are:

1.Decide What's Important.
2.Set Goals That Lead.
3.Align Systems.
4.Work the Plan.
5.Innovate Purposefully.
6.Step Back.

Chapter 4: Discipline 1 - Decide What's Important

Your leadership team must meet and decide annually what the organization's long-term priorities are. You must then ensure that these VFOs (vital few objectives) are met. Here are steps you can follow:

1.Renew mission.
2.Renew values.
3.Renew strategic position.
4.Renew vision.
5.Define VFOs (financial, customer, production and people).
6.Agree what to stop.

Chapter 5: Discipline 2 - Set Goals That Lead

After you have decided what is important, it is now time for you to set goals and initiatives. Remember that the goals you set must be specific and measurable. Setting goals allow your staff to understand how to pursue your company's VFOs. Furthermore, goals allow everyone in your organization to focus on the tasks that are important to your company's success.

Here are steps you can follow when setting goals that lead:

1.Define measures.
2.Define targets.
3.Define initiatives.
4.Engage the team.

Chapter 6: Discipline 3 - Align Systems

Your work doesn't end after setting your company's goals. Now that you have the goals ready, you must be able to take action. You might be surprised to find out that a lot of companies fail at execution due to their own internal systems and processes.

Although it might be difficult at first, you must be able to master your organization's systems. Make sure that they are lined up with the company's priorities. If they are misaligned, set them straight.

Here are the steps you can follow to align your organization's systems:

1.Identify misalignments.
2.Align processes.
3.Align policies.
4.Align measures.
5.Align technologies.
6.Align people.

Chapter 7: Discipline 4 - Work the Plan

Every member of your organization should work towards meeting your organization's long-term goal. You must, therefore, be able to determine areas of responsibility for each employee. Your people should be able to develop plans and take responsibility for executing them. They should also be able to work with others and manage themselves.

Make sure that each member of your organization prepares an IP (Individual Plan) quarterly. This way, they are able to monitor their progress. The IP will also serve as a basis for a status report that should be submitted every week to a specific team leader.

The key steps are:

1.Define IPs quarterly.
2.Review IP status report weekly.
3.Rate IPs quarterly.
4.Prioritize daily tasks.
5.Monitor measures regularly.

Chapter 8: Discipline 5 - Innovate Purposefully

Achieving excellence that lasts requires organizations to continuously come up with new services, new products and new delivery methods. Each day, competition grows stronger and you must come up with better products and better service. If you do not do so, your company will be left behind.

You must be able to channel the creativity of the people in your organization to contribute to your company's mission and vision. In other words, you must make sure that innovation is focused only on things that are important to the organization.

Here are the steps you can follow:

1.Brainstorm.
2.Conduct 100-Point exercises to help prioritize choices.
3.Quick ROI analysis.
4.5-step problem solving.
5.Champion your ideas.
6.Recognize contribution.

Chapter 9: Discipline 6 - Step Back

Make it a habit to step back every year to give yourself a broader view of the things that are going on inside and outside your business. Taking a closer look at the internal and external factors should make it easier for you to update and improve your strategies.

The key steps are:

1.Review externals (competition, industry, technology).
2.Review internals (goals, measures, stakeholders, etc.)
3.Recap SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats)
4.Review individuals.

Chapter 10: Putting It All Together

Is your organization ready to try the Six Disciplines of Excellence methodology? Here is a checklist you can use to find out:

-There is passion for excellence in the organization (particularly among its leaders).
-Leaders know the difference between working in the business and working on the business.
-They should be committed to "work on it."
-Business size is sufficient enough for people to see the difficulties and challenges that arise through growth.
-The leaders are trusted and respected.
-Employees also believe and respect each other.
-The business is stable.
-The organization makes effective use of available technology.
-The company makes use of outside experts such as accountants, lawyers, bankers, consultants, etc.

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