For “Game Changing” Performance, Change the Game


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Game changing

Everybody is hell-bent on moving quicker, faster and harder. Everybody wants “game changing” levels of performance improvement.  Managers, executives and shareholders demand it…

So if you want “game changing”, what are your options?

Three parts to an organisation

The systems thinkers categorise organisations into three elements:

  1. The components. The team-members and functions, the factories and warehouses.
  2. The interactions between those parts. The information flows, rules, policies and procedures.
  3. Its purpose.  What the organisation is there to do.

Three ways to improve

If that is true, there are three ways you can change the performance of your organisation:

  1. Change the components, open and close factories, hire and fire people.
  2. Change the interactions, provide new information, change the rules.
  3. Change its purpose, focus it on something new.

Change its purpose

Now that sounds like the ultimate in wooly bollocks (admit it, that is what you were thinking) so let me give you an example or two…

Example 1:

There are two types of cricket. Test Match cricket and Twenty-20 cricket.

  • In Test Match Cricket, the aim is to score as many runs as you can with the eleven batsmen you have.
  • In Twenty-20 Cricket, the aim is to score as many runs as you can with the twenty overs you have.

Changing the purpose of the game fundamentally changes the way it is played. Test cricket is a defensive game, Twenty-20 cricket an attacking game. They are very different to watch.  But the rules and players, interactions and components hardly change at all.

Example 2:

There are several ways you can run a business.

If you run a business with the aim of looking after your customers:

  • You find ways to charge your customers less
  • You invest in your assets
  • You innovate

If you run a business with the aim of looking after your profits

  • You find ways to charge your customers more
  • You milk your assets
  • You copy

Changing the purpose of your business changes the way it performs. Anybody who has worked for a business that is being milked can attest to that.

Changing the game

When purpose changes it ripples down through the interactions but has little or no effect on the components.

You will still have factories and call centres, accountants and marketing guys. You may change some of the interactions, the rules and information flows, but changing your purpose (explicit or not) will fundamentally change your performance.

If you want to be “game changing”, perhaps you should change the game.

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Image by Joe Hayhurst

Republished with author's permission from original post.

James Lawther
James Lawther is a middle-aged middle manager. To reach this highly elevated position he has worked for many organisations, from supermarkets to tax collectors and has had multiple roles from running a night shift to doing operational research. He gets upset by operations that don't work and mildly apoplectic about poor customer service.


  1. I admit to do not know much about cricket, but your analogy seem to fit. Having worked with many organizations seeking to transform to a more customer-centric culture, a shift in purpose might be among the easiest parts. It is new, shiny, visionary and exciting. Processes cannot change themselves. The toughest part comes down to the human side, including leaders! A good rule of thumb: CHANGE the people, or change the PEOPLE. (Sorry for the all caps yelling, but there is no italics).

  2. There’s a fourth part of the organization – the culture. This is where “the game” is really played. Unless this is stakeholder-centric, changing behaviors and execution is a challenge.


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