A simple framework for enabling a high performing enterprise (HPE) which: improves customer performance, increases profitability and creates empowered employees.

1. Introduction

Why is it some companies will always be on the list of top performers for customer satisfaction, employee loyalty and high performance delivery while so many others fail to reach the public consciousness or market reputation in these critical components of a successful business?

In 2017 we tried to encapsulate the key components which enable the HPE into a simple model featuring the fundamentals and philosophies we felt were common to the successful businesses we had worked with or been a customer of. In 2020 the Covid 19 pandemic struck changing the operations of diverse businesses significantly. In response we felt the original model needed to be reviewed and amplified to reflect the greater emphasis on distributed networks of employees working from non-traditional locations while still trying to achieve success for themselves and on behalf of their employer, Figure 1

Figure 1, Helping Business to Succeed, 2021

The model represents our opinion of how a successful enterprise should approach their operations to facilitate high performance, encourage employee empowerment and realise team success. The central pyramid is supplemented by the framework necessary to enable the success of remote employees and a distributed network of business assets.
Whilst the pyramid represents the way the enterprise should do business the encircling framework sets down the key elements of infrastructure which must be established to facilitate the new models of running a business in the post-pandemic world. These components describe how the HPE can enable a different model of operations which features greater levels of home-working, reductions in office or facility real estate and yet continues to protect the organisation’s digital and other assets.

2. The 2021 Operational Framework

The principle frameworks which support the post-Covid environment are:
• Remote working
• Equipment and infrastructure
• Privacy structures and data security

2.1. Remote working

While neither new nor particularly unusual, the pandemic has placed much more emphasis on employers and employees having access to the essential components which support remote working. Furthermore, the significant growth in the numbers of people using collaborative working tools such as Zoom or Microsoft Teams, potentially for the first time, brings associated physical, digital and mental demands which must be considered in the context of organisational design and objectives. Critical areas which must be considered in developing a robust but flexible framework for remote working will include (Table 1)

Table 1, areas for consideration when moving to a hybrid working model.

Ultimately, employers and employees need to come to a consensus around the structures, policies and processes enabling an appropriate level of flexible working at individual. team and organisational level before wholly realising the benefits of hybrid organisational design.

2.2. Equipment and Infrastructure

When assessing the likely Return On Investment achieved by developing a hybrid working model, the first hurdle is to agree whether the organisation supplies all the relevant equipment or puts in place security structures which allow access to corporate systems by employee-owned equipment. In the employer-supplied case there is a perceived greater degree of security and control, but as a recent survey shows (HP Wolf Security promoted editorial, published The Times & Sunday Times, 18/06/2021) remote employees take more risks with employer equipment than those who work from a company base.

Furthermore, a third of employees admit to sharing their employer supplied equipment with family and friends. If you extend this to smart phones, tablets and electronic notebooks, a significant increase in the probability of system compromise is clear. Set against this however must be the greater sense of loyalty to an employer engendered by being in receipt of “modern ITC equipment and the degree of control the organisation’s IT department can exercise over company-owned equipment.

Conversely, in the scenario where the employer allows the employee to use their own equipment the hybrid working model requires the organisation to agree certain equipment standards with employees, potentially offer discounts against the purchase of defined equipment or request the employee equipment is reviewed by the employer’s IT teams. It is also essential the enterprise puts in place the necessary policies, procedures and access controls to protect their systems, data, information and other digital assets from the risk of compromise. These requirements become even more essential if the organisation is or is seeking to be accredited to international standards for data protection and information security.

The flexibility to use personal equipment can be seen positively by employees but this cannot outweigh the importance of protection and control given the consequences of one or more of the various forms of cyber crime. Consequently, it would seem best in the employee-owned equipment scenario that such systems are physically and electronically separated from the organisation’s digital core requiring:
• An investment in remote operational centres
• A minimum two-factor authentication process
• A clear framework stating equipment requirements, security protocols and access controls
• A means by which remote access can be monitored and
• A proactive approach to digital security, information assurance and business continuity

2.3. Privacy Structures and Data Security

As more organisations adopt a remote working philosophy because of its established retention and productivity gains the idea of a closed network protected by firewalls and perimeter security must be called into question. In the new working environment traditional network boundaries are porous and must become the secondary or tertiary lines of cyber defence. The primary point of entry for malicious cyber actors has become the myriad of personal desktops, laptops, tablets and smart phones employees can now use to access the previously secured closed network. Consequently, organisations must now consider dispersed primary protection structures such as:
• Endpoint Protection
• Encrypted virtual networks
• Rigorous access protocols
• Distributed data storage and back-up

It is however important for employees, who are benefiting from the new working environment and the welfare gains it brings, to recognise they too have an important role in limiting the cyber risk to their employers. A commitment must be made by the employees to the employer to be aware of the risk presented by malicious attacks such as phishing, browser infections, malware from security flawed operating systems, and the importance of observing all necessary access controls. In return, the employer must provide modern, accessible and coherent training around cyber security, data protection and the security of digital assets.

2.4. Infrastructure Summary

Once the principle components of the infrastructure wrap around the pyramid, Figure 1 above, are established then the organisational design can focus on the three levels of the pyramid, Figure 2 below.

Enabling the High Performing Enterprise breaks down in to three critical levels of organisational design:
• Fundamentals
• Philosophies
• Delivery performance

The following sections set out these levels in more detail. The focus is on achieving outstanding customer delivery through committed and empowered individuals and teams working towards the primary goal of helping the enterprise succeed.

Figure 2, key elements of organisation design enabling the high performing enterprise

3. The Base of the Pyramid: Design Fundamentals

At the base of the pyramid are the five fundamental building blocks that must be in place to create the best possible environment for achievement. The fundamentals are enhanced by business philosophies in the key areas of strategy, culture and leadership. Both together achieve exceptional performance at the point of customer delivery. When employees can see and relate to such achievement then the enterprise has created an operational framework that encourages empowerment and realises a high performance enterprise.

To ensure the pyramid is not built on sand the enterprise must address:
• Behaviours and approaches within the business
• Working climate and reward structure
• Products and markets the business has and operates in
• Facilitative management information systems
• Investment in research and development

3.1. Behaviours and approaches

So often spoken about and so rarely addressed except at the most superficial level. The High Performing Enterprise (HPE) needs behaviours throughout the business to be focussed on customer delivery and demands high standards of individual performance. The HPE should maintain a long-term management philosophy while striving for excellence at all levels in all types of leadership.

The focus on individual performance and leadership can be amplified by a team-orientated structure that encourages collaboration and cross-sector learning. Staff at all levels should be rewarded for exhibiting these behaviours whilst those who would protect their position, restrict information flow or undermine collaboration must be challenged. Ultimately the HPE should monitor lightly but intelligently giving freedom and flexibility but maintaining a structure and framework of operations all staff understand and have contributed too.

3.2. Management climate and reward structure

In the HPE climate and reward should be intimately connected. The enterprise must create and sustain a learning environment where risk taking and failure are accepted within a framework and subject to learning being captured and promulgated.

The business must strive to achieve a practical balance between reward and recognition that encourages staff loyalty while ensuring that all employees are treated in an open and honest way. To enable the balance to be achieved the HPE must effectively manage both outstanding and poor performers at individual and team levels. Ultimately the management climate and reward structure should support an achievement-orientated business that delivers to customers.

3.3. Products and markets

Whether it’s in product manufacture or service provision operating in national or international markets, the HPE needs to constantly refresh its offerings to meet evolving customer needs and focus investment to ensure a continuously improving product or service portfolio.

To facilitate evolution the enterprise seeks and gets feedback from both internal and external customers and this should lead to a wholly customer-centric approach to the business. Importantly the HPE should actively monitor and manage the relationship with it’s markets while striking the balance between markets for long-term needs as well as short-term gain.

3.4. Management Information Systems (MIS)

Critical to the HPE is access to management information appropriate to all levels of the organisation. MIS must be seen to facilitate performance not dictate data entry. The levels of access and quantity of information made available must be fit for purpose at each and every level within the business.

By providing the right information at the right time with the appropriate level of detail the MIS should encourage staff commitment to its use. An important corollary to the availability of information is that it should be provided where it is needed not where it is demanded. So often the internal monitoring function of under-performing businesses will ask for information in their format not how it is provided within the enterprise’s value chain, this generates waste, frustration and “off-book” solutions to meet a functionary’s personal construct.

Ultimately the HPE should be investing in a MIS that realises improvements in efficiency, economy and effectiveness whilst ensuring individual employees can access information that they need to perform easily, flexibly and rapidly.

3.5. Research and development (R&D)

The final fundamental of a HPE, one so often hidden in the closet, is R&D. Markets evolve, competitors arrive, products become dated or superseded, services fail to develop; all of these factors should drive the HPE towards investment in R&D.

The HPE readily recognises the intrinsic value of a vibrant R&D portfolio. It ensures the R&D portfolio is part of the mainstream, providing high-level focus, resources for staff to pursue new ideas and has an active approach to exploitation of the outcomes of the portfolio.

Ultimately a HPE must positively and flexibly manage it’s R&D portfolio to allow a rapid response to changing customer needs and market requirements. It should encourage staff to be innovative, challenge the status of existing products or services and ultimately offer employees the chance to make a difference with their insights and ideas.

4. The Heart of Design: the Philosophies of a HPE

In a HPE three philosophical constructs are essential to success; the enterprise:
• Must have a recognisable culture and a well publicised set of values
• Must develop, publicise widely and actively pursue strategies and plans
• Must provide appropriate, well-founded visionary leadership at all levels

4.1. Enterprise culture and values

In creating the “right” culture the HPE should develop and publish a set of core values that are understood within the business and have been developed in partnership with employees, customers, stakeholders and suppliers. The culture must be founded in continuous improvement and learning while employees are engaged both honestly and openly. To create the climate of continuous learning the HPE must have a philosophy of encouraging innovation, accepting that failures can happen but ensuring enterprise learning from both failure and success.

4.2. Strategies and plans

Critical to winning and sustaining staff commitment is the need for the HPE to engage with staff on the development of it’s strategies and plans. It is essential that these outputs are both accessible and actively pursued whilst performance measurement must be about more than money.

The HPE should ensure that pursuit of enterprise strategies and plans are measured using both financial and non-financial metrics at all levels including team performance. Ultimately to become a HPE the business must evolve it’s strategic and tactical approach to focus on outcomes not inputs.

4.3. Leadership

It is both obvious and regrettable that the validity of the business’ culture and values as well as the realism of it’s strategies and plans is nothing without an investment in leadership that is:
• Clear about and committed to realising a HPE
• Provided by those with the requisite skills, charisma and experience not those with merely longevity in post or job title
• Offers a lightness of touch, intensity of focus and is driven by a customer-led vision.

5. Customer Delivery

If a business can develop the fundamental building blocks described and demonstrate the philosophies discussed then it has gone a long way to becoming a HPE. All of these factors, when brought together, demand that the HPE:
• Realises high performance in customer delivery
• Harnesses the organisation’s capabilities to meet and exceed customer expectations
• Evolves a flexible, responsive and innovative enterprise capable of rapidly responding to changing customer needs and new market dynamics
• Seeks and gets feedback on customer performance and adapts to these findings rather than shelving them

With improved performance at the point of delivery because of it’s approach to the preceding constructs the HPE should generate growth in top and bottom line profit.

If staff can see, feel and experience these changes then this will provide the motivation essential to high performance. If because the building blocks are in place and the organisation has developed the necessary philosophies the staff will also have the information and resources to deliver.

Ultimately, because their contribution is valued and measured in a fair and equitable way, the staff will have the accountability and authority to contribute to the creation of the HPE. In this way the HPE has created MARIA the Empowered Employee, Figure 3.

Figure 3, MARIA the empowered employee of a high performing enterprise

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