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LeanOrganisational culture

Organisational Tempo

5 January 2023

The Christmas and New Year period is the best holiday in the academic calendar because Cardiff University literally shuts. (I’m sure that there will be some people who have to keep working, IT, Estates etc. so sorry guys.. ) but for me and most of my academic and professional service colleagues at least,  it’s the closest that the institution ever gets to WE’RE CLOSED SEE YOU LATER!  Summer breaks are either punctuated with recruitment activities for the Executive MBA or summer Exec. Ed. Programmes so they just never seem as restful, despite the lighter nights and better weather.

Christmas is the opportunity to TURN OFF WORK.

I revel in my Christmas Out of Office (OoO – love that abbreviation) message as the normal OoO is usually “if it’s about x then contact this person, if it’s about y contact z”.  The Christmas OoO is basically “we’re shut, you’ll have to wait until we open again SORRY :D”. So yes, whilst there are definitely some stressful aspects of the Christmas period, for the most part, I slow right down.

I am starting to speed myself up again in readiness for the big return to work. I have a couple of major things to complete in the first few weeks of January as well, so I really have to make sure that I’ve reached top speed sharpish. One of the things that I need to do is complete a portfolio of evidence to show that I am successful in teaching and mentoring others in their teaching to attempt to secure my ‘Senior Fellowship’ of the Cardiff University Education Development scheme.   A big part of this qualification is demonstrating that you are consistently reflective with a view to improve your practice.  Now readers, I hope you should know by now that lean IS BUILT ON reflective practice. The Plan Do Check/Study Act cycle is THE underlying philosophy of lean and critically, you can detect it’s present in nearly all of the lean tools. I pride myself on building lean into my personal practice, plus I’m great at reading articles I come across and TED talks and podcasts, really trying to be open to new ideas.  I do feel that I’m successful at incorporating exciting new things that I learn into my teaching.

But this qualification needs evidence of personal growth and development and apparently “I’m really good at this honest!” won’t quite cut it.

This is irritating in the extreme.

Luckily, I have recently picked up on the fact that I might have dedicated the last 10 years to helping other people pursue continuing professional development but that during that time I have kind of neglected my own …. so I have engaged in three activities (including the Senior Fellowship programme itself) to make sure that I consider my career and how to continue to progress it.  I have been really fortunate to be able to participate in a programme of Executive Coaching, which has been really enlightening, and I have also joined the British Academy of Management “Directors of Engagement” Development Programme.  I’m learning loads whilst also collecting lots of evidence of reflective activity for my portfolio.

In the first session, Prof. Babek Yazdani the Executive Dean of Nottingham Business School gave a really interesting session which discussed their approach to engagement and he introduced a concept to me which I found really interesting… that of the ‘tempo of an organisation’ i.e. the speed at which people are able to get things done and make change happen.  He discussed how he has seen the tempo of his organisation increase and how this had been advantageous in terms of how he been able to achieve his strategy.  I’ve discussed how some organisations are much faster than others at deciding things and implementing new ideas often in my blogs, but I love being able to give it a name.. “organizational tempo” is elegant and describes the phenomenon really well.

Barry Evans, another lean guru at Cardiff Business School, described what I can now call the ‘organisational tempo’ of Tesco in an early research project of the Lean Enterprise Research Centre in the 1990s.  The story goes that there were a group of competitor retailers who were all taking part in a Business School research project looking at how they could reduce the number of ‘touches’ within a replenishment ‘value stream’ or process. For those of you who are old enough to remember old school supermarkets, you’ll remember how ‘shelfy’ they were.  Individual bottles of coke were placed on shelves individually, constituting a massive amount of time and energy within the supply value stream.  The research project worked out how many times a bottle of coke was individually touched by a human through the production, distribution and selling processes. It was A LOT. Together, the research group looked at reducing the number of touches and came up with an innovation “merchandisable units” i.e. working with the bottle supplier to get them to deliver their products directly in a delivery mechanism, with wheels, which requires fewer points of human contact … the bottles could simply be wheeled into place ready for customers to buy them.

The really interesting thing about this story, as Barry eloquently explained, was that the research project team as a whole came up with the idea, everyone agreed that it could work, but out of all of the retailers who participated it was Tesco that had the innovation inclination to pilot the approach, prove it worked, and then the innovation infrastructure to spread the good idea more widely – a great example of a swift organizational tempo.  Once widely implemented the other retailers followed (it’s a key feature of Aldi’s supermarkets btw, where almost all products are delivered on their own cardboard shelf, speeding up each restock).

Organisational tempo is the outcome of what I’m describing in my Creating Organisational Cultures of Learning – Linked Learning Loops model. It’s what Simon Elias is describing when he talks about how you can tell how effective an organisation is by how easy it is to change a lightbulb.  Are people empowered to be able to spot a problem and solve it, or does it require.. a request to a Manager, raising a request with an estates department, purchase order, financial approval, maintenance date, internal payment for the work done several weeks/ months later.  If you have a fab organizational tempo, great things can happen, fast.

I am confident about the organizational tempo of the Executive Education and External Relations department that I lead, although sometimes we have to work to the tempo of the wider institution. What’s exciting for me in 2023 is that I’m going to have more time to devote to new innovations as I’m not going to be looking after Executive Education anymore. Prof. Sarah Hurlow has taken on this role at the beginning of January, so please do contact Sarah with any requests that you have for programmes of learning! I’m going to devote myself to wider external engagement activities for the School as Pro Dean of External Engagement and I’m really looking forward to the challenge. Executive Education is going to really benefit from Sarah Hurlow’s expertise so look out for some exciting new programmes and for our organizational tempo to move to a fresh beat!