For the second HPO diagnosis of an American organization, we traveled to the beautiful and richly historic town of Concord, located northwest of Boston. It was here where, as the poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson put it so eloquently, “the shot heard ‘round the world”, was fired. This is where the American Revolutionary War against the British began on 19 April 1775. The dramatic history of Concord and the surrounding area is almost tangible. Concord is also home to the Emerson Consulting Group (ECG), founded in 1998 by Ken Lizotte, author of the bestseller The Expert’s Edge (McGraw Hill, 2008). ECG supports professionals in creating more publicity for their ideas and value propositions by helping them publish articles and books as well as gain mention and exposure in the media. ECG has no true competitors because, unlike traditional PR companies, the organization focuses primarily on creating enhanced visibility for the specialized ideas of these professionals.
As it turns out, ECG is a very interesting and modern organization. It is not a “company” in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a virtual organization of one person (Ken), who is surrounded by a group of subcontractors, all experts in their field (editors, ghost writers, intermediaries between professionals and media organizations). ECG can best be described as a “collection of high performance individuals organized in a high performance partnership.” This arrangement is a highly successful one and ECG continues to grow steadily, also during these difficult times of recession. The fact that ECG has an average HPO score of 8.4 therefore comes as no surprise. The unique organization of ECG provided an excellent opportunity to apply the High Performance Partnership (HPP) framework during the HPO diagnosis.
When filling in the HPP factors for ECG, the reasons for the partnership’s success become apparent:
- Control: guiding and confronting each other openly and honestly on performance. This takes place based on clear-cut agreements between Ken and the subcontractors, rendering daily monitoring unnecessary.
- Trust: the expectation that the other party will not behave opportunistically, but that mutual interests will be considered at all times. Ken has long-term relationships with his subcontractors, some of whom have been working with him for ten years, and the level of trust between them is high.
- Commitment: the interest and willingness to develop a long-term relationship. Everyone in the partnership is united in the common goal to deliver the best possible quality and service to clients.
- Coordination: the coordination of one’s own processes with that of the other in order to improve joint performance. There is little to coordinate since everyone within the group feels very strongly about their freedom (although control could be tightened somewhat).
- Dependence: the mutual dependence that arises when both parties invest money in the relationship simultaneously. The dependence of the subcontractors on ECG is average since they all have their own clients in addition to the work they receive from Ken although, at the same time, all of the subcontractors are extremely loyal to ECG.
- Communication: continuous and effective communication aimed at ensuring that both parties are always up-to-date. This takes place almost exclusively by e-mail and through the Internet and they only see each other in person maybe once or twice.
- Conflict management: quickly and satisfactorily dealing with the conflicts that can and do occur in every relationship. Once problems arise, usually concerning a client, the subcontractor immediately contacts Ken (or the other way around) to discuss the problem, find a solution and implement it immediately. As a result, many of ECG’s clients become long-term clients.
- Diversity: recognizing and appreciating the individuality of the other party. Every subcontractor, as well as Ken, is an expert in their own field and, as a group, they complement one another especially well.
- Leadership: managing the partnership in an effective and unambiguous manner. Ken is viewed as the ‘maestro’, who brings in new clients, distributes the work and monitors the quality of the work delivered.
The HPO/HPP diagnosis shows that an aspect worthy of ECG’s attention is the future of the partnership. Ken is 62 years old and should start thinking about his successor and, with that, the continuity of ECG. At the same time, the partnership shows strong growth, which raises the question of how the current freedom and high quality can be guaranteed if more subcontractors are continuously added, requiring greater coordination and formalization. Targeted attention to the professional development of the subcontractors is also needed. Ken recognizes these issues and is determined to develop a vision by the end of the year of how ECG should look like in 2015 and beyond, and to take the first steps towards achieving that vision. We wish him the best of luck, also considering the fact that the Center for Organizational Performance has hired ECG to help spread word of the HPO approach throughout the U.S.!
André de Waal, July 2010, Concord
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