Book notes


Breakaway, Using Speed and Expertise to Deliver Value to Customers--Fast by Charles L. Fred

I enjoyed this book, right from the first sentence -- "This book is designed for the business reader, to be read in the time it takes to fly from Chicago to San Francisco or Denver to Miami."

Put your skepticism on hold and ask yourself if you and the people of your company can reach proficiency at the speed of the new economy. Can your current system for developing people fulfill the growth requirements of your shareholders, satisfy anxious customers, and excite your workers enough to keep them? This is a great challenge.

The most important and-vulnerable-connection between strategy and execution is the actual performance of people. Senior managers have consistently failed to consider the capacity of their people to learn faster. The interaction between work and learning, between an individual's job and the promise of swift service to the consumer, poses a significant challenge to the leaders of today's organizations.

"Speed to proficiency" is more than a theoretical advantage; it is the most devastating competitive weapon in a world where the competitive forces of scale, automation, and capital are subordinate to the power of a proficient work force.

Any gap between what has been promised and what is delivered will provoke customers to switch. this kind of defection occurs on every level---from an individual finding a new internet provider to a large corporation switching travel agencies. Survival for any company today hinges on the connection between the promises made to customers and the ability of the work force to deliver on that promise

Great strides have been made in the past decade in understanding and defining the "value chain," the collective process within an enterprise that creates value for customers. The notion of a "value proposition," the ultimate promise made to customers, has also become common marketing language.

Although marketing, product development, branding, and promotion are all considered vital priorities for revenue growth, the ability of the work force to deliver is almost always a secondary consideration.

Even though few managers truly believe in instant proficiency, their attitudes toward training often seem to contradict their innate common sense. They target nearly all their training effort and investment into the initial act of training, and as a result, much of the roughly $60 billion spent each year on training s lost because most of what is presented in this initial act is so thoroughly learn and what is learned I not retained. If decision makers knew that roughly 80 percent of their investment is lost within forty-eight hours after each class, they would take this problem more seriously. The Forgetting Curve.

Today's leaders must clearly understand that the worker is not a commodity, as technology takes over that role. A leader's real job, then, is to create a team of performers who can deliver value to customers fast, and the workers' real job to know when they have achieved the proficiency to really deliver on what has been promised.

..the true advantage for an enterprise in today's competitive environment--a reduction in the time it takes to deliver on the promise made to the marketplace and to analysts, shareowners, and employees.

Cycle time to threshold proficiency is a metric that will drive new competitive behaviors. (A fellow I know took ten years to graduate from Princeton. We won what was required socially and academically. In business terms, he was a loser.)

Today's business environment demands a new perspective on employee development-a shift from traditional education-as-training-event to education that on every level augments the delivery of value to the customer.

Proficiency requires doing, application, and results. Knowledge, the end product of most training, is by itself inadequate.

The proficiency threshold, therefore, is the exact moment when a worker can convert knowledge through action into the promised value for the customer. The proficiency reached at this moment can be measured, and it can't be faked.

A breakaway starts when you reach the proficiency threshold. Proficient workers become contributing team members; they produce innovative ideas; they work safely but quickly, the go on to achieve even greater levels of proficiency, and they win he race.

As nervous as access to the Internet makes many decision makers it is Internet browsing that transforms a worker from someone who waits for formal training into a proactive, curious learner.

Chuck Fred was a championship miler in college, and he convincingly shows that in business as well as track & field, the first across the finish line is the winner. On the track, the winner breaks the tape. In business, the winner is the fastest to deliver on the value proposition to the customer. Winning either race takes practice, mental toughness, and the will to win. This is a message top management needs to hear.


© 2003 Internet Time Group, Berkeley, California