How good are you at passing the baton?

Jan 21, 2011

We already know that the organization that can pass the baton from department to department most effectively and efficiently will win.Here’s a real quick way to assess how good your organization is at this:

When a consultant first begins an engagement, there’s a point – usually on the first day – when they will be offered ‘the tour’: a guided walk through the main operating parts of the organization.

Organizational nerd that I am, I enjoy these tours in and of themselves, but they also yield very useful information, both overt and subliminal, if you know where (and how) to look. I learned long ago, for instance, that the last person I want to accompany me on these tours is the CEO, because then it turns into something akin to a royal progression, with everyone happy and waving, and nothing of any import being discussed.

Instead, I’ll ask for the divisional SVP’s to accompany me – but not just (or even) to their own department or division. I’ll find a way (and this is where the art is) to maneuver the sales EVP into taking me around the warehouse; or if I’m with the warehouse manager, I might “stupidly” take a wrong turn into the (well-signposted) accounting department and have her show me round ‘seeing as we’re here anyway’.

Watching how each divisional or department head handles this – how comfortable they are out of their own turf, how comfortable the people in the hijacked department are with them, how familiar they are with the basic activities of the other department, how many people they know there, if any – even just the sheer ‘surprise’ factor when we walk in together – all of it tells me a lot, quickly, about how the organization passes the baton.

It’s important to note that there’s nothing judgmental intended here, and this isn’t a trick or an artifice. It’s just that I’ve learned over the years that when I sit around the conference room table and ask managers about how they pass the baton, the answer is almost always ‘fine’, or ‘fine with a few hiccups’.

The unplanned tour is simply the easiest way to get raw data on baton-passing, unvarnished by opinion, prejudice or desire.

How would your managers do?