Are You Hearing Voices?

If you want to adopt a kaizen philosophy and continuously improve your business, you need to be “hearing voices.”

After all, an effective business is like a choir. Everyone should be singing the same song, and everyone should sing in harmony, but specific parts will be different.

Once you know what to listen for, when you hear someone singing the right notes, in pitch-perfect tune, you can savor the moment, knowing your business is in good hands and on the right track. The instant you hear someone off-melody or off-key, you’ll know to step in and correct or coach with confidence.

The first step is to make sure you’re singing the right melody on the right notes.

Three Voices

Just as a choir has soprano, tenor and bass sections, a business typically has three roles or “voices.” Let’s call these the Executive, the Process Manager and the Performer. Who sings lead or solo or backup depends on the needs of the moment.

The Executive The Executive sings about the business model and how it generates cash. Its lyrics are about the brand and the stakeholder’s experience, and the development of managers and management of resources. The Executive voice must sing about intentions and leadership’s desires.

The Process Manager The Process Manager, meanwhile, sings about how to keep things running, how to make highly valuable things repeatable, affordable and scalable. It sings about the time things take and the errors we make. It sings about developing performers and high-
performance teams.

The Performer The Performer sings about getting stuff done, getting it right the first time, with the right tools, and rules, and training, and help. It sings about what’s broken and needs fixing. Most importantly, it sings about the customer experience and what can improve it.

The Right Voice at the Right Time

In a typical day, we need to hear all three voices. The hard part is understanding what voice should sing which part in any given moment, for getting it wrong stops high-performing teams and kills your kaizen.

When the person who is supposed be singing the Executive part upstages the Performer, the Performer will get offended by the micromanaging and shut up. Or when the Executive takes over the Manager’s part, then the Manager will hush up—and their professional development grinds to a halt.

When the Manager voice can’t hear the Executive voice, the Manager will make something up and get the song all wrong. Plug your ears when a Performer tries to sing the Executive part.

Sometimes Performers will sing an improvement melody to the Manager, who cuts them off—suffocating the Performer-
driven improvements that businesses rely on most. When the Manager voice doesn’t sing about the company’s process goals and the resources needed to achieve it, the Executive voice is unable to sing harmony to support it.

Achieving Harmony

The dysfunctional permutations seem infinite, yet all are straightforwardly correctable—if you know what to listen for, and know who should be singing what part.

Performers should sing about tactics, which enables the company to improve its processes. Managers should sing about the company’s processes and how they must change in order to meet strategic objectives.

Executives, meanwhile, must sing about strategy and intent. They also must sing about the investments they are willing to approve—investment ideas that Managers bring to them from clear-thinking Performers.

While each person might be able to sing all three parts, their job title demands they know the voice they must sing best. While everyone must know the song about your brand experience and other big-picture objectives, in every moment of every work day, every person should be singing the right notes for the part they are given.