“Work-Out” a Way to Make Changes Stick

Posted by Kristin Arnold on July 10, 2009

The idea of Work-Out started in 1989 as a way to push cultural change throughout General Electric.  Neutron Jack had just streamlined the workforce, but the work processes had not been redesigned well enough to acknowledge the difference.  So Jack (and a bunch of consultants) developed the Work-Out to literally “work” the bureaucracy, rework and otherwise stupid stuff out of the process.

The whole point of holding a Work-Out event is to maximize the number of high-quality ideas for change and to carve out a doable list of actions that will deliver fast results on the improvement opportunity.

So what makes a Work-Out unique?  First, the people who do the work define the issues and develop recommendations.  Then leadership makes the decision “on the spot” so that all involved with making the recommendations know the status.  Every recommendation has an implementation owner and a champion (a business manager who has the clout to make the approved recommendation a reality).  Finally, every approved recommendation has the highest level of commitment to action (in other words, leadership gets in front of the action versus “behind” or supporting the recommendation).  That means all obstacles are removed for swift action.  It’s all about easy fixes and quick successes in an environment ripe for reducing waste – not long, complex science projects!

The Work-Out consists of three phases:

Planning.  A small planning team defines the problem and issues, identifies the information needs and sources, identifies and prepares Work-Out session participants, identifies and prepares the leadership, and designs the session. Participants are selected for their particular expertise/information about the process, ability to influence the process and potential to implement solutions at all levels.

Work-Out Session.

  • Work Out Introduction.  Brief participants on the business issues and opportunities, review the objectives and agenda for Work-Out, and introduce the overall Work-Out process.
  • Small-Group Idea Generation.  Set up sessions to create an initial array of ideas and opportunities that can be further focused during the course of the session.
  • Gallery of Ideas.  All the participants meet to prioritize and select ideas and opportunities for further work.
  • Small-Group Recommendation Development.  Split up and turn initial high-level ideas and opportunities into specific recommendations with measures of success and accountable owners.
  • Town Meeting.  Teams present the issue, root cause, recommendations for action and potential payoff to the leadership.  The leadership openly dialogues with the team and other participants about the viability of the idea, and asks for input from the managers who will be affected by the team’s recommendation, before making a “yes/no” decision on the spot.

Execution.  The next day, the implementation owners will meet with the Sponsor to discuss next steps including action planning, identifying key players/team and establishing disciplined oversight/periodic progress reviews.  Then it’s simply a matter holding people accountable for following the plan!

For more information about Work-Outs, get the book, “The GE Work-Out” by Dave Ulrich, Steve Kerr and Ron Ashkenas.  As the original consultants to GE, they describe the Work-Out process and give you enough information to help you sponsor a Work-Out – or scare you away!

Question:  Have you tried this process and what were your tangible results?

To book Kristin to speak or view her products go to www.ExtraordinaryTeam.com

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