Are they playing from the same song sheet... (a winter's tale)

Musical Instruments PLC was an unusual company in many ways. It had grown from a sole trader to a multi million pound international success story… the Executive Board had worked hard to create a strategy to deliver the company's goal of 'Quality Instruments Delivered to Your Door'. However, although successful, there was plenty of room for saving cost, increasing performance and improving communication. “What's unusual about that?” I hear you ask. Well, nothing much, like many successful companies MI PLC made a profit and the shareholders were not aware of any major issues or ‘pain’ points. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for the staff, who had suffered from a lack of systemisation, organisation and progressive management for many years. Despite their frustrations, they worked hard to deliver their idea of the company goal, even though the company strategy was unclear to them.

“Still, that is not unusual.” I hear you say.  Well, a really unusual thing about MI PLC was that everybody in the company played an instrument. However, that wasn't the most unusual thing. The most unusual thing at MI PLC was that everybody in the Finance department played string instruments, everybody in the Warehouse department played woodwind and everybody in Sales & Marketing played brass instruments.  The most unusual thing was that everybody in each department played the same family of instruments. That is all except for the cleaner... the cleaner played percussion instruments.

The CEO had organised a winter concert so that everyone could show off their musical skills. So the Finance department, the Warehouse staff and the Sales & Marketing department practised as hard as they could every evening after work. The CEO knew how to play all the different instruments and would, from time to time, drop in to the different departments to show them how it was done. The cleaner practised on his own.

The big day was fast approaching, the day on which the CEO wanted to impress the shareholders he had invited along, by having them witness the best performance MI PLC had produced to date. The CEO called everyone together for a dress rehearsal. The strings played the first notes and were then quickly joined by the woodwinds and the brass section. The sound was terrible as each department was playing out of key and at the wrong tempo.

“I don't understand it” said the CEO, “For the past few months I have been reviewing your individual performances and they have been very good, so, what has happened to ruin our overall performance?

“Excuse me,” said the cleaner “...may I share an observation? As you know, I work between and for all departments. I make sure that the rest rooms are clean and well prepared for when Sales & Marketing invite clients to visit us. I ensure the waste packing generated by the Warehouse is recycled correctly, and every evening when the Finance department finishes, I ensure confidential documents are shredded. Every day I see individual departments performing well but I have observed that each department is playing from a different song sheet, so to speak, and I'm not sure where I fit in.” 

“You’re right!” said the CEO, “I need to stop focusing on one department at a time and ensure the best collective performance ever by making it clear what my overall strategy is when conducting this musical company to success!'

The CEO ripped up the individual ‘song sheet’ that each department held and reissued them with identical song sheets. The CEO took his role at the front, baton in hand. The cleaner took his place in the percussion section and played the first note, strings played next and were quickly joined by woodwinds and brass... the final note was the smallest of detail, a tiny note jingled from a bell.

MI PLC had worked to a common goal and were led to success by the CEO who enabled the staff to understand where they needed to play a part... It was the most successful performance ever and the shareholders were extremely pleased.

Communicating and executing strategy is one of the three biggest challenges faced by CEO's worldwide. Why not help drive adoption of strategy and get the right results faster.... simply by playing from the same song sheet.

Posted by Robert Leitch on December 10th 2015

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