I received some interesting responses to last week’s post on mass as the primary inhibitor of business acceleration. In case you missed it, we defined mass as the quantitative measure of an object’s tendency to resist a change in its state of motion. We further suggested that people are the principal source of mass in every organization, resulting from our inherent tendency to want to keep doing what we’ve been doing.
The question arose: “If that’s the case, how can I effectively lower the inertial mass of my organization, given that I need employees to run the business?”
Oddly enough, I don’t think we ever suggested eliminating people as the solution to effectively lowering an organization’s inertial mass. Before we go further in our conversation, let’s take a look at a simple video demonstrating the concept using everyday objects. I like to refer to this video as the Eggpression of Discipline.
Eggs as a Metaphor for Business
Consider the two eggs in the video as a metaphor for two seemingly identical businesses. Both have the size, same shape and same mass (i.e. same number of people). Yet in response to a force, EggA behaves very differently than EggB. For starters, EggA clearly does not spin as fast as EggB (less velocity). And, when we attempt to stop both spinning eggs, EggA clearly wants to keep doing what it was doing (greater inertia).
Since we know that the mass of both eggs is identical, how do we account for the difference in behavior? I’m sure by now you’ve guessed the answer. EggB behaves differently because it’s hard-boiled.
A Culture of Discipline
Eggs are rich in protein (strings of amino acids). When you heat an egg, the proteins gain energy and literally shake apart the bonds between the parts of the amino-acid strings, causing the proteins to unfold. As the temperature increases, the proteins gain enough energy to form new, stronger bonds (covalent) with other protein molecules. These new, stronger bonds produce a much tighter structural alignment. The egg transitions from a liquid state to a solid state. The individual proteins behave as one. To reference Jim Collins’ framework, the hard-boiled egg has achieved a culture of discipline.
How can you tell if your organization has reached the hard-boiled state? Here’s a simple test. Pick a regularly occurring meeting. Any scheduled meeting will do. Count the number of people who arrive on time, prepared. Divide that by the number of people invited. The result will correspond to the organization’s “coefficient of discipline” (Cd). Now take the reciprocal of the coefficient of discipline. This is your “mass multiplier” (mm).
For example, consider a meeting where 4 out of 10 attendees show up on time and prepared.
Coefficient of discipline = 4 on time, prepared ÷ 10 attendees = 0.4
Mass multiplier = 1 ÷ 0.4 cd = 2.5
[There’s just one more thing, if any of the people who arrived late were either part of the senior team (for example, CxO, VP, GM, Department head, etc.), or the meeting organizer, your coefficient of discipline is automatically set to 0.1 ]
High performing organizations are like hard-boiled eggs. They consist of tightly aligned people (mass), with strong bonds. They do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, usually without having to be asked or told. Their coefficient of discipline, and hence their mass multiplier, is very close to unity (1).
Low performing organizations are like raw eggs. They may have exactly the same mass (number of people) as their high performing counterpart, however the linkage between mass molecules is weak, resulting in a lack of structural alignment. Their coefficient of discipline is always less than 1; hence their mass multiplier is always greater then 1 (sometimes much greater than 1).
Based on Newton’s First Law of Motion (F/m = a), when subjected to an external force, the organization with the lower mass multiplier wins every time.