Getting It Right the
Gabriel Szulanski and Sidney Winter
January, 2002, p.62
exactly!" is Intel's catchy phraseology for the concept this article
explains. Another, more generic,
description is "copy closely."
approach is an answer to the challenge of replicating successful but complex
group systems within an organization. Such
systems can range from bank branches to Starbucks Enterprises to manufacturing
authors noted that, in general, attempts to replicate successful approaches
fail. Usually, failure can be
attributed to a combination of one or more of these typical mistakes:
trusting in the
"expert" at the successful operation to explain how it was developed
and why it works
documentation on the successful operation for information as to its components
"improve" the process before it has been successfully replicated
both asking the "expert" and consulting documentation can be used to
gain critical knowledge, each suffers from substantial shortcomings.
In the first place, the expert, as a part of the system, generally lacks
a full understanding of the key components of its success.
Some knowledge may be held only by workers within the system, and not
shared with higher-ups, possibly because it makes the worker's job easier, or
runs against stated policies. Some may be tacit -- learned on the job and well
understood, but almost impossible to convey in any helpful way.
For example, workers may know the particular sound of fluid moving
through pipes that signals a process is working well, but may be either unaware
of the role this knowledge plays in daily operations or be unable to communicate
it. Finally, hidden contextual
factors may contribute to successful process.
These can be anything from prevailing weather patterns to the design of
considering these hurdles to understanding why a particular process is
successful, it is easier to understand how attempting to "improve" a
process as it is copied is likely to end up resulting in inferior performance.
For example, if the design of a particular machine is important to a
system, and a “new and improved" model is substituted as the system is
copied, then the system may well fail to achieve the level of success of the
original, and the individuals participating in the copy, not having experience
with all of the intricacies of operation, will be unable to pinpoint the reason
for the discrepancy.
do you copy a successful system?
make sure you have something that can be copied and that is worth copying.
For example, success attributable to a great manager or to a great team
that has worked together well for years cannot be copied.
On the other hand, those involved in a successful operation may attribute
its success to their unique gifts, when much of the success is really due to the
system. Also, make sure the system's
reputation is warranted. Look for
important systems with proven track records that can provide a detailed example
of how to achieve results you would find acceptable.
have a working model to copy. Such a
model provides proof that success is possible, performance measurements to
define that success, a tactical approach, and a reference point if the copy
falls short. Having a single model
is important also; trying to combine best elements from various models falls
into the "improve as we copy" fallacy.
The authors provide the example of efforts by Xerox in
in the second phase, the units identified as the best models for use of
computer-assisted sales management were in countries which could not easily
serve as models due to prevailing biases within the organization.
The practices were therefore extracted and presented as a combination of
best practices from different countries. Implementation
failed because managers did not have a live, working model to observe and copy.
copy as closely as you can. Even if
you think the system will need to be changed, and even if you think you already
know how it should be changed, copy closely first. Live with the system and gain
the knowledge and understanding that comes from direct experience, and allow
your team members to do the same. Then
work together for improvement. As
one manager of Xerox said, “We lost a lot of best practices because people
edited them before they were implemented.”
Sources: Those with the model
don’t want to share
Personal Relationships: copier and
model managers dislike each other
Competition: model and copier are
engaged in internal competition
on Innovation: a culture of
idealization of innovation and scoffing at copying
Copiers: managers of copying unit
are resistant to new knowledge, afraid to change, or focused on preserving their
Differences: if the cultural or
other contextual factors are sufficiently different, close copying may not work.
The article discusses copying across country lines as an example.
Of course, it’s always easy to dismiss superior performance with a,
“Well we couldn’t do that because ….”
Application to Schools and School Systems:
aspects of successful schools seem difficult to copy. For example, the
successful principal with his or her team of teachers that have been carefully
selected and worked together for a number of years may be impossible to copy by
a school whose principal has different strengths, whose faculty may not have
been selected by the same criteria, and whose experience over time may not have
created the same relationships and shared belief systems.
And the aspect copied may not be the basis for success.
other hand, this process might well have some applications:
What if new
teachers attempted to copy as closely as possible the most successful model of
quality teaching in their school?
office systems: accounting
functions, construction management possibly, maybe human resources, information
systems, etc., should be candidates for close copying between systems.
As usual, studying the best thinking on business management techniques provides
interesting and helpful insights, and raises significant and useful questions,
but does not give easy answers. Of
course, if it were easy, it would have already been done!
(And we could copy it!)
As usual, studying the best thinking on business management techniques provides interesting and helpful insights, and raises significant and useful questions, but does not give easy answers. Of course, if it were easy, it would have already been done! (And we could copy it!)