Daring to succeed
From banking and healthcare to hotels and taxis, today’s industries face major disruption. Meanwhile, global food production, clean water access, epidemics, education, energy, biodiversity, and climate change present even starker challenges. What can be done?
Innovations in all these spheres will be better served by ‘innovations in productivity’. That is, finding better ways to manage the ‘work behind the work’ that can lead to profound transformation. Such innovations require imagination and fresh thinking—above all, new ways of seeing.
At the turn of the millennium, David Hodes founded the management consultancy that would become Ensemble with the aim of spreading better ways of working. Since every business or government agency is an organisation—and every organisation is a system—we believe that ‘systems thinking’ is the way to tackle the challenges ahead.
The heart of our process is the Theory of Constraints (TOC), the methodology developed by the late physicist-turned-consultant Eliyahu Goldratt. David first came across it in the 1990s when we was Managing Director of Africa’s largest commercial refrigeration company. He knew there had to be a way to meet market demands and deadlines, without continually subjecting his workforce to the intensive work pressure (and accompanying burnout) that had become the norm in their industry.
It was a productivity issue, so he approached the National Productivity Institute (NPI) and they suggested the TOC approach. It made instinctive sense to David, but the CEO opposed it. How could a bunch of outsiders (the NPI) tell them how to run a business they’d been running ‘successfully’ for 30 years?
But David was sold. Putting his money where his mouth was, he persuaded the CEO to agree to pilot-test the TOC approach, on two conditions. If the project failed, David would not only lose his job, he would also personally foot the NPI’s (hefty) bill!
“You need to be ambitious enough to reach deep into yourself.”
The pilot project was to completely refurbish all the industrial cold rooms, freezers and refrigerators in an extremely large supermarket. To run the project, David and the NPI used Critical Chain, Goldratt’s approach to project management. The results were spectacular. Expected to take 70 days, the project was brought in 26 days early.
David was so impressed, he promptly resigned and immersed himself in the Theory of Constraints. He began working as an independent productivity consultant before moving to Sydney to found the TOC Centre of Australia (TOCCA) in January 2000.
The inescapable influence of culture
Having trained as an engineer, David was impressed by the scientific rigour of Goldratt’s theory. But it was clear that, unlike physics, organisations couldn’t be separated from the people who power them. Free will and cultural expectations play an unavoidable role in any collective endeavour.
David again looked for answers, this time to academia and MIT. He studied the work of Edgar Schein, who spent decades observing organisations and reported his findings in works such as Culture and Leadership, and Peter Senge, whose classic The Fifth Discipline suggested new ways of developing ‘learning organisations’. He also found much sense in the often awkward truths uncovered by Elliott Jaques in his exploration of organisational design through his Stratified Systems Theory.
Combining these insights with Goldratt’s logical method, David developed his own system for the planning and performance of work, integrating five linked domains that open up pathways to the goal of winning remarkable results. The result, The Ensemble Way, is founded on core principles of trust, goodwill, respect and courage. As David puts it, ‘We’re not everyone’s cup of tea. But those who get what we’re trying to do, really get us. You need to be ambitious enough to reach deep into yourself.’
Capability building on a grand scale
In today’s digital age, technology is a key driver for growth and we’ve developed our own platform and tools to implement better ways of working. It’s important to remember that the same challenges apply, whatever the sector. ‘While “resource and scheduling management” may sound very prosaic,’ says David, ‘it’s at the heart of all business and organisations. It’s all just work.’
That said, each sector experiences specific challenges and it’s very helpful to know where we can use our leverage to make the greatest impact. ‘We’ve been around long enough now to have had major successes in industries including aviation, banking, construction, engineering, manufacturing and retail. Getting to the heart of things, in the jargon our clients use, helps key stakeholders realise that we mean business.’
“I believe we are all at our best when we have purpose and meaningful goals that are attainable.”
David sees business itself as having the potential to transform both the customers served by the organisation, and the people it employs. ‘I do what I do,’ he says, ‘because I believe that people have the right to be well managed, and that we are all at our best when we have purpose and meaningful goals that are attainable.’
Those goals may be lofty, but it only makes sense to aim high. ‘My vision is to make a contribution for all this good earth by materially lifting the productivity of Australia.’
Although we are a specialist consultancy, Ensemble packs an outsized punch. We’re introducing our ‘innovations in productivity’ one client at a time, helping them redefine what’s possible. If you haven’t already experienced the difference of working with us, perhaps you and your organisation could be next.