Discipline Leadership

January/February 2000

Discipline Leadership


Happy new millennium! (With all the zeroes, it feels that way … as when your car hits 100,000 miles. Technically, the new century and millennium actually begins January 1, 2001.)

Here’s an interesting model from “The Discipline of Market Leaders” (Treacy and Wiersema). Randy Sain, (Sain Assoc., Birmingham, AL,) who may be deciding which discipline to follow, brought it to my attention. The book serves another management consultant, and is therefore plagued with an overabundance of examples. The interesting aspect is the ripple effect of the premise.

To begin … the authors pose a model of three “disciplines” for an organization

I. Operational Excellence

The focus is on efficiency. All processes are streamlined, to minimize costs and hassle. Operations are simplified, standardized, tightly controlled, and centrally planned.

  • Core Processes: Product/project delivery; basic business cycle.
  • Organization: Centralized, with high skills at the core of the firm.
  • Information Technology: Integrated, with low costs for each transaction.
  • Management Systems: Command and control; track transaction profitability.

Culture: Disciplined teamwork. Process focused. Conformance.

The secret of success is having a formula. Analogy: The Marine Corps. They have a proven battle plan that wins. Everyone must know the plan and his/her own role. No free spirits; they prefer people who are trainable and fit in with a team. They don’t try to please everyone; just do one thing and do it well. (E.g. big box retailer site development, developer housing, phase 1 environmental audits.) “It’s better, faster, cheaper.”

II. Product Leadership

The focus is on having the best product … one that a client simply cannot get “up the street.” Processes here focus on constantly pushing the envelope.

  • Core Processes: Invention … then market exploitation.
  • Organization:Ad hoc/organic/cellular. Hi skills in loose-knit structure.
  • Information Technology: Person-to-person commo. Tech. that aids knowledge mgt.
  • Management Systems: Decisive. Risk-oriented. Track product life cycle profits.
  • Culture: Concept and future driven; attack … go for the win!

Secret of success is generating a stream of truly new products that are clearly better … some being “Breakthrough.” Analogies: Edison or Bell Labs or Intel … they all share a passion for creating the future (e.g. unique watershed modeling, totally sustainable developments, PCB detoxifying processes.) Their motto …

It’s the only game in town.”

III. Customer Intimacy

The focus is: “We take care of you and all your needs. “This kind of firm gets to know each client and their needs. Everything is tailored … and at reasonable prices. If a client needs a new kind of help, the firm listens … then develops the unique response.

  • Core Processes: Flexible, responsive work processes; solution oriented.
  • Organization: Entrepreneurial client teams; high skills in the field.
  • Information Technology: Client databases linking internal & external information.
  • Management Systems: Rewards on client feedback. Track lifetime value of client.
  • Culture: Client and field driven. “Have it your way” mindset.

Customer-intimate firms understand the broader needs underlying the immediate problem their client is trying to solve. They’ll bring in whatever expertise is needed (whether in their own firm or not) to help the client become more effective achieving their own goals. People need to be flexible, adaptable, multi-talented …willing and able to jump in when needed.

They also use their clients (via research) to stay at the edge of new thinking … new services, new ways of working Boundaries between professionals and clients often blur.

“Why can’t others offer me
the same level of attention?”

What’s so interesting about this paradigm?

These three qualities exist in every firm … at some level of sophistication. The hypothesis, here, is:

Leaders in any industry pick
just one discipline as their focus.

As you see the ripple effect, the characters of the three styles of organization are quite different. The kindof people you hire. How you work. Your management information systems. How decisions are made. Your real shared values … and what you reward. And even how you measure success.

An increasing number of clients report that they’re being seen as a “commodity.” Here is a model that helps you think about how you can differentiate yourself. But … its implications go to the core of your firm. In our industry, for example, many firms can do a “quality design” for an office building or bridge or water treatment plant

Then how do you differentiate one from another?

If you can consistently differentiate yourself with qualities no one else has, and that clients need, fine. But that means you have to take the dimension you value and push it to its limits … in hiring, in management,in technology, and even in how you think. It’s the focused, intense, single dimensional focus that leads to market leadership.

* * * * * * *

By now, you should have a notice about the upcoming “Marketing” and “Facilitative Leadership” workshops. Another unique event in which you may have interest: a client-requested spectacular two-week trip to Tibet and Nepal; a notice is coming soon. (Is that “customer-intimate,” or what?)

Phone if you have questions about any event.

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