a learning adventure


Rowing to Victory

nce upon a time, there was a large company formed a rowing team. The company and the local rowing club agreed to hold a race. Each boat would contain eight men.

Both teams worked really hard to get into the best shape. On the day of the race, both teams were in a similar condition. The rowing club won by one mile.

The mood in the company team was really close to freezing point. Top management decided to win the race next year. So they established a committee of analysts mostly internal but with representation from each service, the stakeholders and a workers' representative (some guy who knew something about rowing - he'd been on a boating lake when at school). Their remit was to observe the situation, do a risk analysis (ensuring each risk was marked red, amber or green) and recommend an appropriate solution.

After several weeks of detailed analysis, the committee found that the rowing club had seven rowers and only one captain - and the company team had 7 captains and only one rower.

Facing such a critical scenario the management showed unexpected wisdom: they hired a consultancy to restructure the company team.

After several months the consultants came to the conclusion that there were too many captains and too few rowers in the company team. A solution was proposed based on this analysis: the structure of the company team had to change - as of today, there will be only four captains in the team led by two Directors and a new Head. Besides that, they suggested that the company improve the rower's working environment, ensure the work-life balance is OK and offer a reward and recognition scheme to incentivise high performance and maximise impactfulnessisation (or any other new word the company can think up). There will be a 5-day workshop for the rower.

The next year, a Local Council team joined the race. As public institutions are encouraged to learn from business, they 'benchmarked' the company team.

The council team tied with the company team and the rowing club won by two miles.

The company management dismissed the rower from the team (following a long and drawn out competency and capability procedure, followed by a voluntary severance package), on the grounds of his unsatisfactory performance. A bonus was paid to the management team for the strong leadership and motivation that the team had showed during the preparation phase. The consulting company prepared a new analysis which showed that the strategy was good, the motivation was OK, but the tool used was sub-standard and had to be improved. A new focus group has been formed and is having a new boat designed. Human Resources have advertised nationally for a new rower for the next race in June. Assessment centres will take place in May.

The council followed suit.

Use this story to illustrate the care that needs to be taken with benchmarking and management fads.

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