Insights from inside some of the world’s highest performing organisations – Interview with Brian MacNeice


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St Louis Cardinals

Today’s interview is with Brian MacNeice, Managing Director, Kotinos Partners & Co-Author of Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations. He joins me today to talk about the book, some of the amazing companies that they interviewed in the course of researching the book and what we can learn from them.

This interview follows on from my recent interview – The future is arriving now. Are you ready? – Interview with Anthony Abbatiello of Deloitte – and is number 210 in the series of interviews with authors and business leaders that are doing great things, providing valuable insights, helping businesses innovate and delivering great service and experience to both their customers and their employees.

Here’s the highlights of my interview with Brian:

  • When Brian isn’t working with clients or writing books he is a top-class rugby union referee.
  • He recently co-authored a new book with his colleague James Bowen called: Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations.
  • The general idea behind the book is the question: what does it take to deliver continuous and high levels of performance in an organisation on a sustainable basis.
  • The book focuses on 12 global organisations that were both diverse and have lead their fields for long periods of time.
  • The organisations in the book are: Grameen Bank, Médécins Sans Frontières, Southwest Airlines, US Marine Corps, Curtis Institute of Music, Finnish State School System, Tata Group, St Louis Cardinals, Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov Ballet), New Zealand Rugby, Mayo Clinic and Toyota Motor Corporation.
  • Their research focused on identifying the characteristics that these organisations share and that help them deliver their sustained levels of high performance.
  • Their research identified a set of 12 Powerhouse Principles (Ambition, Purpose, Measures, Standards, Gap, Decisions, Code, Engagement, Resilience, Feedback, Teamwork and Improvement).
  • Brian goes on to describe a couple of the principles:
    • Ambition
      • Definition: Clear description of what winning performance means for the institution, that pushes the boundaries of its capabilities and track-record.
      • For example, Mohamed Yunus set up Grameen Bank as a way of eliminating poverty for a large number of people in Bangladesh.
      • That forced him to think about doing things in different ways.
      • What Grameen Bank do is provide micro (enterprise) credit facilities to women (exclusively) that are below the poverty line. Traditionally, women and those below the poverty line would not normally be considered for that type of credit. However, because of how it is set up and managed they achieve a default rate that is lower than 2%.
      • Similarly, the Finnish State School system has the ambition to give everyone the same high level of education. That ambition forces them to think about education, how they provide it and what they need to do differently to achieve that.
      • If you set a high enough ambition and then focus on the outcomes it forces innovative thinking into the system regarding how you are going to achieve your ambition.
    • Engagement
      • Definition: Strong, ongoing connection across institutions, their leaders, their staff and their stakeholders – enabling performance through shared understanding and commitment.
      • For example, when Brian and James visited one of many Finnish schools on a visit to Finland they saw a class of 9 year olds studying Maths. However, outside the class they saw two young boys sat at desks in the corridor. Brian asked the Headteacher what the boys had done to be excluded from class. The Headteacher laughed and said that they had done nothing wrong and had chosen to sit outside the class as they like to discuss and debate things when they are problem-solving. To do this inside the class would be disruptive.
      • This illustrates how Finnish State Schools are engaging with their students around the whole education process so that they and the kids understand how they best learn and problem solve and they have then have built a system that enables that.
      • This illustrates an organisation that is student (or human/customer) centric rather than one that is system centric.
      • This was mirrored across all of the organisations from the Mayo Clinic, where every process is designed with the patient in mind, to the St Louis Cardinals, where the whole stadium and game experience is designed with the fan in mind.
      • Many organisations, when it comes to engagement, are investing in the wrong thing. They need to focus more on engagement programmes that enable performance rather than on programmes that make people happy.
      • Brian is intrigued by the notion that if you want to find out how engaged your staff are that you would send them a link to an online survey rather than just going and talking to them.
  • The principles are then knitted together into a model (Plan, Priorities, People and Process) that helps describe how organisations can achieve sustained performance transformation. You can take a look at the model here.
  • Performance transformation requires working iteratively within and across the four pillars. Here’s a description of each pillar:
    • Plan – Achieving and sharing clarity of vision and strategy, all the time.
    • Priorities – Ensuring consistent focus on the few key enablers of breakthrough progress.
    • People – Establishing high-performance behavioural standards and cultures.
    • Process – Implementing efficient, effective ways of working that enable delivery today and improvement tomorrow.
  • Brian recommends that listeners start by first asking the question: What are we trying to achieve when it comes to the deliberate design of a high performing organisation and how does that fit with the four pillars?
  • Brian admires the work of Carol Dweck and what she has done around the development of a Growth Mindset and how hard work is the currency of success.
  • Brian illustrates what Wow service/experience means to him through an example from the St Louis Cardinals:
    • He attended a 15 minute meeting of the ushers on game night where they were briefed on who they were playing, who’s playing, who’s injured, results coming into the game and the sort of tactics that might be employed etc etc. rather than the expected briefing on health and safety concerns etc. The reason behind this is that is allows the ushers to talk in a more informed way with each of the fans as they take their tickets and escort them to their seats. It also allows them to ask the fans to get behind the team, given the likely strategy that would be employed during the game. This creates a much better fan experience and the ushers are helping the crowd become the ’12th man’.
  • Grab a copy of the book: Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations, check out the dedicated website for the book at and do get in touch with Brian at Kotinos Partners here if you would like to talk more about what they do.

About Brian (taken from his Kotinos Partners bio)

Brian MacNeiceBrian is a Founder and Managing Director of Kotinos Partners, is an expert in high performance and advises leading Irish and international clients on driving improvements in performance focus and culture. Brian has led assignments with clients in a diverse range of industry sectors, including pharmaceuticals, enterprise development, financial services, software and technology. He was previously founding Director of Genesis Ireland and led many of Genesis’ engagements with business clients and leading sports organisations. Prior to that he worked with Andersen, Deloitte and Vision Consulting. Brian has led much of Kotinos’ research into high performance and is a regular speaker on the topic at business conferences and seminars.

His research has taken him all over the world to study what the best institutions in the world have in common and includes the New Zealand All Blacks, Médecins sans Frontières, Kenyan Olympic athletes, IMG Academy, the Kirov Ballet, Curtis Institute of Music and others. He holds a BSc in Computer Applications from DCU, a Diploma in International Marketing and an International MBA. He is an IRFU National Panel referee officiating in Ireland and Europe and a selector for the Irish National Cricket team.

Check out the new book: Powerhouse: Insider accounts into the world’s top high-performance organizations, connect with him on LinkedIn here and say Hi to him and the team at Kotinos Partners on Twitter @KotinosPartners and @brianmac16.

Photo Credit: Thought Quotient Flickr via Compfight cc

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Adrian Swinscoe
Adrian Swinscoe brings over 25 years experience to focusing on helping companies large and small develop and implement customer focused, sustainable growth strategies.


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