Have you heard of the Dabbawalas of Mumbai? If not, you can either read about them in the famous HBS case study "The Dabbawala System: On-Time Delivery, Every Time" or watch the Bollywood flick "The Lunchbox". The Dabbawalas is an organization with a simple goal to deliver a person's lunch box from their home to their workplace. You see in India, people still do things the old fashioned way - they want a warm, home-cooked meal at lunch time. Dabbawalas make this happen, and that too with precision - Their delivery process has a 6 sigma accuracy (99.99966%). In other words, only 1 out of 1 million deliveries either goes to the wrong location or the wrong person or is delayed!
How do you explain that kind of precision and rise to that level of performance? How do you get a set of ordinary people (majority with only a high school diploma in the case of Dabbawalas) to deliver extraordinary results? Managers across the world have ordinary people in their teams but are expected to get their people to deliver miraculous results. You may be thinking that if these Dabbawalas in Mumbai can do it, why can't we do it? I wish I could tell you that there is a maginal formula or recipe here, but sadly, there is no such panacea. Things always drill down to the basics - its about execution, its about transformation, its about recognition, its about inspiration - in that order.
I'll briefly elaborate on each one of these -
- Execution - If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Once you have a plan, your team must stick to their guns and execute it. Strive for optimization and excellance, NOT perfection (because that is a myth). Outliers or naysayers are the ones you need to watch out for.
- Transformation - Build those checks and balances in your plan/process so that you have ongoing performance monitoring and continuous improvement. This is called "maturing the process". Nobody gets it right the first or second or sometimes, even the third time. Your leadership needs to understand that and support that. Don't look at things in absolute terms, rather look at them in relative terms. Watch the Trend and Trajectory!
- Recognition - Doing good work and delivering extraordinary results is hard work. In the extreme case, your staff may probably hate you for putting them through all of this. Take time to recognize your people - they are humans, not machines. They have families and a life that they often compromise for your and your organization's goals. Give them an inch and they will go a mile for you!
- Inspiration - You must lead by example. You must inspire. Something about you must click with the people, and I am not talking about your title here. People will hate you if you push rank on them but will love you if you hang with them, do things with them, listen to them, follow through on your commitments, and are honest.
I am sure the Dabbawalas weren't a homerun on day 1 or month 1 or even year 1, but they stuck to the basics to get these extraordinary results and that is what it really takes.