‘You spin me right around baby, right ’round…’

May 22, 2008


Some things should never come back – and we don’t mean British classics from the 1980s. We’re talking about those infuriating business problems that won’t go away no matter what you do. As a manager you ask yourself, “Why can’t I solve this problem?” You call in your best people, but their efforts take too long. So you bring an outside consultant, except you can’t seem to implement their recommendations. ‘Round and ‘round you go in a cycle of recurring problems. Sound like a broken record? That’s because it is.

Although companies have long been tackling pressing business issues, few have been able to solve them once and for all. Whether you call this an 800-pound gorilla or the elephant in the room, the proverbial pachyderm that stymies organizational growth is ‘culture’.

Don’t just take it from us. Ask some of the folks we’ve worked with over the last 35 years. These are some of the smartest, most innovative companies from around the world, spanning the aerospace, automotive, IT, manufacturing, financial, government and health industries.

Each of these companies is extremely successful, and yet each of them quietly turned to The Tatham Group to break free from their recurring problems. In many cases, the results have been nothing short of transformational. NASA shortened the time for scientists to access the Hubble Space Telescope from 18 months to 3 weeks and cut cost by $100 million. Continental Insurance shortened the time to obtain an insurance policy from 92 days to 2 hours. Delta Airlines saved $635,000 per year on the Frequent Flyer program. R.W. Johnson Pharmaceutical Research Institute streamlined product development from eight years to four. Sara Lee Intimate Apparel scored a 10-point higher return on their investments. The Canada Life Assurance Company documented a 30% improvement in productivity.

In each case, these companies have sped up a process, found bottom line savings, made customers happy and most importantly, changed the mindset of their employees to feel empowered by change. Each of these executives knows what it’s like to be stuck in a cycle of recurring problems, and each of them has learned the secret to getting out.


Many of our clients have built their brand on trust and reliability, which often means delighting the customer no matter what it takes. While excellence in customer service is what every great company is built on, how it is provided can initiate the cycle of recurring problems.

The problem with ‘doing whatever it takes’ is that it requires people to break the rules to get things done. What managers often don’t realize is that by encouraging these individuals to ‘save the day’ (we call them heroes), they are treating the symptom of a much greater problem: these are good people working in a broken process. Heroes continue to thrive in this environment because they have no incentive to share their skills (knowing how to work around the broken process is what makes them special). This prevents the organization from truly discovering the root cause of the problem and finding a sustainable solution.

While there are hundreds of books, theories and opinions on how to overcome this problem, we believe the short answer is this: to break free from a cycle of recurring business problems, companies must change their culture. More simply, they must learn a new way of changing.


Laurie Clarke, COO of The Tatham Group says Alan Deutschman’s book, Change or Die best explains our approach to helping companies change their culture. “Deutschman has three broad themes for successfully executing change: relate, repeat and reframe. At The Tatham Group, we relate new hope of what an organization could look like by creating a 3-6 year transformational journey in Boot Camp. Then, we teach our clients how to master their new skills by applying a simple problem-solving method to their issues and using critical success factors to ensure these skills stay. Finally, this repetition allows companies to reframe their vision with a new way of thinking.”

We relate new hope. Telling people how change will benefit them is very different from showing them. That’s why Boot Camp is so powerful. Mark Ricci, Sales, Service and Execution Executive for the General Bank at Bank of America believes that sending its executives to Boot Camp was a pivotal point in Bank of America’s process improvement journey. So important in fact, that in 1999 Kenneth D. Lewis, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President, Bank of America said, “Going through Boot Camp was an eye-opening experience. Transforming ourselves into a customer-centered process company will require disciplined, tedious, hard work. But we must do it. It is the key to our success.”

One company translated this new hope into a real vision for the future. In 2002, Ken Steward, former President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadelle, a Canadian division of Sara Lee said, “After we put 40 people through Boot Camp, I made 4 internal teams tackle 4 customer-driven processes and mixed functional participants. The end result is that we have a group of empowered, committed people who know a lot more about their company today and they are changing it for a brighter future.”

We teach companies to repeat new skills.
Once a company has a vision of the change required, we transfer our knowledge to key individuals within the organization (called process masters) so that they become the change agents. One of the key components of our model, which ensures success of the transformation, is teaching process consultants how to effectively coach up and down. Not only do process consultants learn how to encourage front-line workers to apply process-thinking, but they also learn how to show middle managers that process will free up their time to do more of what they love; and senior executives to believe that a new way of thinking can create breakthrough results and exciting growth opportunities.

Bill Acton, President and Chief Executive Officer, Canada Life Capital Corporation says, “The idea is to equip people with enough shared experiences so that change becomes the norm. I think the big ‘aha’ moment for many people is when they see that no matter what the challenge is, they can fix it because it’s not beyond them. The key is to have enough experience [in using the Tatham method] and enough people around the table who are willing to take control of these large and complex problems. They have to be able to come together and to feel confident that together they can come up with their own solutions.”

We show companies how to reframe their way of thinking. By giving people new hope, teaching them new skills and coaching them along the journey of transformation, slowly they begin to think and act differently. This is where the real transformation occurs. People feel empowered knowing they have a proven method of solving their problems. As a result, they stop hiding recurring problems, and instead see failures as opportunities.

Acton also says, “People have to understand that change may take a long time, but eventually they realize the ‘we’ is always smarter than the ‘I’. As a leader, it means having the confidence to draw on 10 people to wrap our minds around a problem and know we can all solve it. There is real value in having a shared methodology and shared vocabulary so that you can gather people from anywhere in the company and still get amazing results. And you know you’ve crossed the line when it comes to change because people have the confidence to tackle anything.”

Bottom line? By teaching their own people to solve problems once and for all, a company is freed from a cycle of recurring problems. They can then focus on achieving dramatic results by spending more time on finding superior ways of pleasing their customers. This creates a culture of empowerment, efficiency, innovation and most importantly – happy customers. Now isn’t that music to your ears?