Gina Powell spoke with Mark Huber, CEO, Birkman International, about how a fine mechanical watch provides a framework for diagnosing opportunities that can improve an organization’s quality of work.
Those that have never opened the case back of a mechanical watch can picture the insides — a seemingly complicated collection of gears and wheels. Most of us have only opened our watch when there is a problem with its function. So too with businesses; we never seem to look inside until there is a problem.
In a properly functioning business, each individual, department and team know its role. They work at the right pace to accomplish their task. It is all about coming together at the right time to achieve success. Like clockwork.
Open the Case Back
A watch is powered by its mainspring. Without it, a watch won’t work. The same is true with business. The mainspring of any business is the CEO, who is responsible for providing the power required to move the business forward. As the mainspring, the CEO keeps the organization under tension as a tool for creating motivation, movement and results over time. The release of that tension needs to be regulated, which is where the Chief Operating Officer (COO) serves its function.
The COO is the balance wheel of an organization. He or she is responsible for taking the power generated from the CEO and releasing it to the rest of the organization at a steady and reliable pace, just like the hands of a watch. The balance wheel absorbs the shock when something unexpected happens (like dropping your watch) and allows it to keep spinning at the right rate. In work, as it is with watches, unexpected things can and will happen. It is the COO that ensures daily business operations continue to run smoothly and soundly.
Once the power is created and released at the correct pace, it is up to the gears and wheels to do their job, also known as the people within your organization. For a watch to be effective, several things must occur, beginning with putting the right wheels in the right places.
“The real trick in performing well as an organization is to make that ‘right wheel’ work with all the other ‘right wheels’ in the organization,” said Huber. “This is where the elegance of a great organization reveals itself.”
It is also where executives may be required to open the case back of their organizations and diagnose two things:
- First, what is stopping us from achieving desired results?
- Second, how do we get things running the way they should?
“The good news is that most times a broken watch does not need new parts, and the same is true in business,” said Huber. “Typically, problems are not often in the parts of a company, but in the friction between all the moving parts. If you take a watch apart, clean the pieces; reassemble; and oil it, you end up with a properly running wrist piece. If we take the time to work with our people, we find a solution that is truly effective, too.”
Making Things Run, Like Clockwork
In business, oil is the understanding of self and the needs of others. These findings allow individuals to communicate well and help them overcome the friction of misunderstanding and mistrust, allowing organizations to move forward in unison.
To maximize company results, executives must take time to breakdown what their businesses are doing at their core. If companies can identify their purpose, bring it into focus with laser sharp clarity, and provide a psychologically safe environment for team members to communicate, then they have discovered the foundation for truly remarkable results. When we add oil to watch components, the mechanisms put into place come to life. The same holds true for businesses.
The latest technologies cannot resolve human friction within an organization; nor can it replace human communication and understanding. Consider how a smart watch compares to a fine watch. You might expect a smart watch to last several years, while a well-made timepiece can last a lifetime and beyond. Patek Phillipe’s tagline is, “You never really own a Patek Philippe” – meaning, you are looking after it for the next generation. In the same way, executives are to be stewards looking after their companies to ensure their success for the next generation.
Birkman International is a 70-plus year-old company that provides businesses with a roadmap for their teams to work better together and drive operational performance.