Organization Horsepower

Thinking Like a Motorcycle Racing Team

Category: Performance (page 1 of 2)

The Role of the Crew Chief – A Memorial

Organization Horsepower was written based on my experiences in life and business. One of those experiences was the time I spent as a crew member on race team. In the book, I tried to keep things simple by concentrating on how a race team functioned in relation to performance. How successful I was at that endeavor I will leave to you, the reader. However, today I feel a tinge of regret that I did not more fully explore the people who served with in those roles. In all cases, those people defined the roles they played on the team and they served in those roles because of who they are, not because it was the role we had to fill.

One of those people, is Bruce Blake, Crew Chief for the Greg Hutcheson Racing team.

The reason why I feel compelled to talk specifically about Bruce is because he passed away the morning of July 16th. Much of what I know about motorcycle racing at the professional level I learned from Bruce, and to cater to cliché, Bruce had forgotten more about racing than I will ever know. In this article, I will analyze the role that Bruce played in the content of the book and try my best to honor his contribution.

Before we look, at the role of Crew Chief, it’s helpful to understand the context of that role by understanding the overall structure or Organizational Design of the race team. The following excerpt is from chapter 8, “The Crew”:

Organizational Design of a Race Crew

Organizational design (OD) on a race team is purposeful and lean and is comprised of specialists who are well aware of their contribution to the cause. Much like in business, a smaller capital investment means that each crew member must play more, less-specialized roles. However, as capitalization grows, the race team can scale based on its strengths. The overall structure of a race team remains flat. Everyone has a job to do, everyone knows why it’s important, and everyone is accountable. Most race crews are made of up of these four identities: team owner, crew chief, team manager, and specialists.

Bruce was an Engineer by trade, a motorcyclist by passion. He approached motorcycle racing from the perspective he knew best, with precision and a scientific understanding of the interplay of the mechanics of the rider and machine.

Of the many stories Bruce had to tell, it was never clear to me how involved he was with racing before his son Justin Blake got involved with racing, first in motocross, and then adding road racing. Justin was the Bo Jackson of motorcycle racing, riding at the professional level in both motocross and road racing simultaneously. In addition to role as Father, this is where Bruce first assumed mantle of crew chief.

Subsequent to Justin’s racing career, Bruce ran a successful racing focused shop with particular specialty in suspension. However, being the crew chief in a family-based race team meant at one time or another he played all the roles on the team, some at the same time.

This juxtaposition makes me wonder how much of our traditional corporate organizational design is influenced by traditional western family roles. Regardless, Bruce had a unique set of life experiences, combined with a perspective that made him our ideal Crew Chief. Once again, the following excerpt is from chapter 8, “The Crew”:

Crew Chief

Like the rider, the crew chief fills several roles in the structure of the race team. Before the race, the crew chief is a trainer and a coach, making sure the crew can execute exactly as they need to come race day. The chief makes sure the crew has all the parts and tools they need to their jobs. The chief works with the rider during development, interpreting for the crew what the rider feels he needs from the machine. The chief also acts as an advisor for the rider by providing the data needed to increase performance.

On race day, the crew chief is the head coach, directing and coordinating the efforts of the crew and the rider to maximum performance. The crew chief is the business equivalent of the COO (Chief Operating Officer), responsible for the execution of all the organization’s core competencies.

When a rider and crew chief work well together, they tend to stay together, sometimes even switching teams together as a package deal. It speaks to the complex but symbiotic relationship that can develop between the visionary and the operational aspects of a high-performing team.

When it works, you tend to want to leave it alone. This type of symbiotic relationship is also often seen at the upper echelons of corporations, with really great entrepreneurial officers who bring trusted operations leadership with them from company to company.

Bruce was meticulous in in his planning, he had checklists for what tools needed to be on pit lane, and had a special tool box to get them there. He ran drills with us on who stood where and how not to get in each others way. He knew that if we knew exactly what we were supposed to do, he could concentrate on the rider, what the rider wanted from the machine, and what adjustments needed to made for changing conditions.

Greg Hutcheson, the rider, is also an engineer by trade, and the relationship they were able to forge was able to reach that symbiotic level. They shared a common lexicon, and common understanding of speed and performance, but in a way that they both continued to learn from one another.

As for me, I learned a couple different jobs on the team, learned a whole lot about the mechanics of motorcycles, and even got to spend a couple race weekends where I was the rider and Bruce was my crew chief of sorts. Perhaps more important, I learned what it took and what it meant to lead an organization’s operational aspects. A lesson that I will today, and will forever aspire to embody.

In Memory of Bruce D. Blake, 19??-2016

indy finish line


It seems that every month of the year has a theme these days.

In some ways this is a good thing, it creates focus on an issue that we cannot sustain over a greater period of time. Perhaps in that month we can move the bar just a little bit. If the theme carries through the next year, maybe you move the bar a little more, maybe it last a few weeks into the next month and so on.

On the other hand, the beard I started in November is still here in February.

Which brings us to the theme of this month, which I have heard from a few sources: Failure.

It’s talked about in business circles, it’s almost cliché.

Yet, very few business know how to do it, recognize it, or recover from it.

One of the reasons I wrote Organization Horsepower, was to give people non-business models or metaphors for performance issues. Of course there’s a whole chapter on failure.

Chapter 17: The Inevitable Crash

Just as there are a million different ways to win a motorcycle race, there are equally as many ways to lose. Business is no different. However, the more catastrophic the failure the more opportunity there is to learn. But we need to be ever mindful of the potential consequences of the risks we take.

There are only two kinds of motorcycle racers, those who have crashed and those who haven’t—yet.

Everyone crashes eventually.

Failure in this respect is not optional.

What is learned from those crashes will largely determine the resilience of the rider and team. No one has ever gotten significantly faster than everyone else without an epic failure of some sort.

This section was inspired by the notion that failure is not optional, it is not completely avoidable, but it can be very valuable as long as we don’t blow off the analysis of those failures. As with most analysis, we need data, but that data needs to be collected in such a way that we can make sense of it. We have to categorize it in a broad enough way that we focus the data we collect.

Low Sides, High Sides, and Off-Track Excursions

As advanced as motorcycles and riders have become, no one has invented a new way to crash nor have we eliminated any single type of crash. We are still crashing exactly the same way we were 100 years ago.

In an elemental sense, all crashes are caused by a loss of traction or the sudden and unmitigated application of traction; all other variations of the crash describe the conditions or severity of the crash.

Business isn’t finding new ways to fail either. Elementally failures in business can be distilled one way or another. Recently a colleague of mine at TiER1 Performance, Eric Lodor, attempted to categorize the types of failures a consulting business like ours can experience:

  • Project (missed deadline, malfunctioning team, over on hours….)
  • Financial (low margin, no margin or failure to maximize margin – failure to capture value)
  • Relationship (failed to establish, maximize or extend our relationships)
  • Account (lost the account, or did not maximize opportunity)
  • Technical (tools not working, huge support load)
  • Delivery (development successful, implementation was not)
  • Impact/Measurement (couldn’t prove ROI)
  • Adoption (built great stuff, nobody used it)
  • HR/Human Capital (wrong role, too many hours, lack of coaching/mentoring)
  • Innovation (missed an opportunity to promote, realize or advance innovation)

I suspect with some additional introspection, we could reduce this list even further, but it’s a good starting point. If we are then able to categorize the type of failure we can then further refine the type of data we want to analyze. Of course not all failures are created equal and some are more or less damaging/useful than others.

The most common of all motorcycle racing crashes is the “low side.” The low side occurs when traction is lost while turning and the side of the motorcycle that is lowest to the ground contacts first. In a low side the motorcycle appears to slide out from beneath the rider, and typically both the rider and bike will slide together on roughly equivalent trajectory for a distance largely dictated by the speed at which the incident occurred.

There is no such thing as a harmless crash, but if you had to choose one, it would be a low side. Low sides tell us physically what the limit is and the cause is almost always that we pushed too far over the line.

Of course with any search for causation, you run into limits. There is a point where it get hard to see the forest through the trees. A point of diminishing return.

Collisions and Racing Incidents

If you race long enough, you’re going to hit someone or someone is going to hit you, or maybe both. Collisions are rarely intentional but the net effect is a crash that will leave you struggling to identify exactly what to learn from the failure. Sometimes things are beyond the rider’s control at least until he’s good enough to remove himself from the potential risk.

In racing a collision is sometimes “written off” as a “racing incident,” a racer’s way of acknowledging that there is risk that increases when two riders are trying to occupy the same place on the track at the same time.

What’s needed is to find and acknowledge the point where the search for a cause exceeds the value of the information potentially gained. That’s not to say we bury our heads in sand, but there always new races and new opportunities to perform better.

I’d love to hear from you on what if anything I’ve shared here strikes a chord with you as you think about #FailFebruary. If you’d like to read more of the book it’s available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.

Organization Horsepower Author Movie

HR Analytics: Find the Why

WhyRecently I’ve come across two studies that have been rather critical of the current state of HR Analytics. A recent study by LFR Inc. Human Resources Research Report ( reports only 13% cited Big Data and Talent Analytics as important. While a Bersin By Deliotte study ( found: “86 percent of companies say they have no analytics capabilities in the HR function. Moreover, 67 percent rate themselves as ‘weak’ at using HR data to predict workforce performance and improvement.”

This got me thinking, If Big Data is so important to HR, why aren’t they paying attention?
The operative word here is “why”.

Turns out, I could think of lots of barriers without too much trouble:
• Lack of expectation
• Low skill on analytical practices
• No capacity for analysis
• Immature tools sets with unreliable data
• Lack of process around analytics
• No incentive or motivation
Think about which if any of these things are true in your organization, and I would guess you’ll find at least two that resonate.

Truth is we don’t — and can’t – “do analytics” just because it’s trendy; we have to find business reasons that make sense. With very rare exception, being good at analytics is not a product or service that our company sells; it’s not our core competency. Yet, it’s hard to deny that analytics are critical to determining the effectiveness of the things we work to improve.

“What gets measured, gets done” is backwards. It’s consequence driven. In an accountable, incentivized- culture, Measurement is what tells us the effect of our efforts. The “why” in what we measure has to be integrated into the initiative and has to align with strategic business goals.

According to the annual CEO Challenge study by The Conference Board (, the #2 concern of CEOs in the US is Human Capital, with the following initiatives being top priority:
1. Raise employee engagement
2. Provide employee training and development
3. Enhance effectiveness of the senior management team
4. Improve performance management processes and accountability
5. Increase efforts to retain critical talent

Nowhere on that list is “Get better at Big Data and HR.” Yet the need for analytics is clearly present and critical to the success of each of the initiatives. Regardless of the strategy to move the bar on any of these initiatives, you’re throwing money into a black hole if you can’t find a meaningful way of measuring results.

The classic argument against integrated analytics is that sometimes you don’t need the number to tell you to do the right thing. That’s honestly a legitimate truth in a lot of cases. However, let’s imagine for a moment, that you’ve made great strides on an initiative and made real progress. The next thing to do may not be so obvious, and not having any measurements from the past is going to hurt your ability to make good decisions moving forward. It may not be today, but eventually having good analytics is going to be important.

Low analytics maturity in HR may be an indicator that we are currently focusing on initiatives that have more obvious immediate benefits, but that will quickly change. It behooves all of us to find some legitimate “why” to start improving our analytics practices. The tools may get better over time, but the discipline is never going to get any easier than it is today.

58 Quotes, Facts, Benchmarks, and Best Practices on People and Analytics

For the last 18 months, the consulting team at Media 1 has read tens of thousands of pages of research, presentations, and white papers on analytics as it relates to people and performance. When we came across especially interesting content, we added it to a master list of resources. The following 58 Quotes, Facts, Benchmarks, and Best Practices on People and Analytics where curated from that list in the hopes that people will use them in support of creating great places to work.

Thoughts from Performance Excellence Week 2014 (PEX)

IMG_20140120_172747_378Having just returned from a few days at PEX Week 2014, I would like to share a few of my thoughts. This will not be a blow-by-blow recap, but rather an attempt to collect my thoughts into a set of themes and takeaways that I left the conference with.

Visually, I was struck at this conference by how many people were wearing suit and tie, buttoned-down business wear. I know that seems like a shallow impression to lead with, but I think it speaks to how seriously people who are engaged with process excellence take themselves and their craft. I admire the pride, but I can’t help feeling that particular display is getting a bit dated.

There was a tremendous focus from the vendor community on tools and software for the process mapping or process tracking standpoint. As a first time attendee of the conference, I was impressed with the functionality of many of the tools, but as someone who is also interested in usability and user experience, there were some really abhorrent interfaces and design schemes.

I believe that some aspects of the software design reflect a continued undervaluation of the people side of process improvement. While black belt and green belt professionals are the primary architects of process improvement, the vast majority of the users of those processes are blissfully unaware of the intricacies of continuous improvement and the language it uses to describe itself. We must never lose sight that even when we seek automation, the human aspect of change is still our ultimate goal. As Brad Power said in his keynote on the first day of the conference: “Build people first, get results second.”

The truth is that if you don’t build people first, you will still get results; they just won’t be the results you were looking for.

Another theme that I noticed was that technology driven disruptors continue to affect process excellence and improvement. Mobile, Social, Cloud, and Big Data technologies are all causing many to reevaluate some long-held and stable processes. However, it is up to us to look at these disruptors as either threats or opportunities. Some process can still be leveraged through continuous improvement, while others are disrupted to the point where we really should start over.

My primary interest in attending PEX was to network and get a sense of where companies are with process improvement as it relates to people and more specifically, traditional “HR” roles.  As I talked to people, I got a lot of reactions that HR was “really broken” and I saw a lot of light bulbs go off that HR could really use a process improvement touch.

One of the best sessions of the entire conference for me was Christina Gasperino from Cott Beverages, who spoke about HR service Delivery transformation. She’s doing at Cott what I had hoped to see more companies doing—a series of people- and process-centric improvement projects aimed at bettering employee’s experiences with service delivery and reducing cost and waste at the same time.

Process improvement in the HR space is clearly something most companies have a large potential to benefit from. While there weren’t a lot of HR practitioners present, I don’t think the topic should be out of bounds for anyone who is focused on the betterment of their business through process excellence.

The Five Stages of Human Capital Maturity

Based on existing theory about Human Capital Analytics and levels of organizational maturity, and thousands of hours of our own primary research, these are the levels of maturity that we believe every business leader will need to move his or her organization through in the process of transforming the Human Resources organization into an empowered driver of business strategy.

Let’s take a look at the levels of Return on People Maturity, starting from the lowest level of administrative processes and moving to the highest level, where HR dictates strategic decisions based on data about the organization and the market – a discipline that we refer to as People Analytics:

Return On People Maturity Levels1. Operational Provider

Traditional employee-focused Human Capital Management (HCM) is occasionally aligned with Line of Business.  HR is a tactical, administrative, and human relations cost center that:

  • Transacts basic HR services such as payroll and benefits.
  • Enforces policies, compliance, and legal matters related to human resources.
  • Provides “back office” administrative support to front line leaders.

2. Strategic Service Partner

Strategic enterprise-focused HCM serves organizational leadership as well as employees.  It focuses on a value-driven approach for the “Front office” HR services provided directly to the business. Other characteristics may include:

  • Scorecards, dashboards, and benchmarks are used to provide targets for specific improvements.
  • HRBPs (Human Resource Business Partners) consult with business units to define and set compensation strategies, recruit sought-after talent, and coach leaders.
  • Shared Service Centers consolidate and automate processes and enforce standards.
  • Centers of Expertise ( COEs) exist to maximize efficiencies in targeted areas.

3. Integrated Enabler

Enterprise-focused HCM converges around talent integration. It creates a single view of Human Capital value for leadership and the workforce and helps the organization make the best business decisions.  This includes:

  • Effective data gathering, analysis, and reporting systems.
  • Analysis of data to allow development of targeted initiatives to increase performance.
  • Focus on root causation and solution mixes to drive employee behaviors and results.
  • Talent management strategies and employee life cycle models.
  • Integrated back office services, processes, and systems.
  • Advanced shared services environment with Centers of Expertise.
  • Effective analytics capabilities to interpret data.

4. Predictive Driver

Enterprise-driven predictive HCM anticipates changing market conditions and the company’s ability to leverage human capital to produce bottom line results.  Predictive Drivers promote:

  • Constant monitoring and data generation around market conditions that will place new Human Capital demands on the business.
  • Continuous assessesment of the workforce against anticipated future demands.
  • Advises the business about emerging trends that will affect its ability to perform optimally in the near and far term.
  • Providing key Human Capital insights to the company.

Measured on its ability to help the company anticipate and supply enough skilled, engaged, and motivated employees to meet business needs and drive future business decisions.

5. Empowered Driver

Fully integrated continually improving Human Capital Management (HCM) in which HR:

  • Regularly gathers data and provides trend information that is used for improvements and agile business adaptations.
  • Is an integral business function through which the business optimizes the value it receives from its Human Capital assets.

These stages lay the groundwork to transform the HR function into a strategic player in the business. To request an assessment to find out where your organization fits into the maturity model, call us today at 616-935-1155 or email

3 Things Your Center of Excellence Isn’t

Centers of Excellence (COE) are the hottest thing since Corporate Universities, and as a result you can’t dig any more than three layers into most organizations before running into one. As a concept they are fantastic – it makes sense to gather your best resources around an area of expertise to provide guidance around a stalled or lacking business target.

However, some organizations misinterpret or stretch the COE definition and then wonder why they aren’t seeing the benefits that they expected. While there is a wide range of valuable activities a COE can engage in, there are a few things that a COE is not and cannot be if it hopes to remain effective.

  1. There is no such thing as a one-person COE. When you have one person who is more competent than anyone else in your organization in a given area of practice, that person is a Subject Matter Expert. A COE is a group of people who bring together different viewpoints and can analyze an issue in a more complete way than an individual. A true COE is composed of people who have strengths that complement one another and are therefore able to meet the needs of a focus area from a higher level perspective.
  2. A COE is not a call center. A group of people performing similar functions can be called a center, but the excellence part only comes if the majority of that group’s time is spent improving the process or skill that the center is responsible for. Simply calling a functional area a COE without competence dedicated to improvement will not result in that center delivering returns above its volume capability.
  3. Not every problem needs a COE. Some problems can be fixed by making and supporting change. Problems that benefit from a COE are constantly evolving, complex and require intervention over a longer period of time. But nothing says a COE has to exist forever. If the area has met its goals or new goals have taken precedence, there is no reason it has to remain part of your organizational landscape.

Like most things in business, we have to constantly re-evaluate the approaches we take to solve problems and be very clear about the results we expect. In terms of the creation of a COE, make sure your efforts are contributing to the context or environment you are trying to address.

Applying this to the performance grid, your COE should directly focus on two left uppermost boxes and to a certain extent the incentives and consequences. When your COE crosses the line and becomes about individual skill, capability, or motivation (as the three examples above), it will probably miss the mark.

Making The Shift From Knowing To Doing – Thoughts From Learning 2012

My post-conference perspectives are always interpretations on the themes of the conference rather than a blow by blow recap of the things I went to and what I learned. This post will be no different. For a comprehensive back channel digest, I recommend David Kelly’s (@LnDDavecurated digest.

There was plenty of talk at this year’s conference that continues to reflect the themes of retention, gaming, “fun” learning, and engagement. There was also a continued emphasis on video, and informal production of small learnings and those enabled through corporate implementations of social communities. Around the edges, in the visible fringes, there are grumblings about transformation of not just the learning function, but also the organizations, systems and processes, the root cause of the need for training.

When we look at why we need training, when we flip it on its head and focus on outcomes, it becomes clear that the emphasis of evaluation needs to be on “doing” and much less on “knowing.” Leaders should place value on measurements of behavior and performance above whether employees simply know the correct procedure or the preferred interpretation of policy.

If you don’t act and interact in accordance with what you learned, why does it matter if you remember the training? Retention can’t be the goal and certainly isn’t a good measure of effectiveness. Validating my perspective on the shift to performance, there were several sessions on performance consulting and both a keynote highlight and joint session with ISPI.

I did appreciate the continued conversation around story telling- not because I think it helps with retention of knowledge, but because stories make learning situational and provide the context needed for when to apply knowledge so that it equates to performance. General Colin Powell (Ret.) displayed this in his keynote by stringing numerous and memorable stories spanning his entire career. These stories make General Powell a must see public speaker if you are given the opportunity.

I want to continue the dialogue about the evolution of the training professional into performance-centered consulting, where resources are curated, designs are user-centered, and results are measured in actions.

Root Causation: 4 Steps To Finding The Truth In A Story

I am currently waist deep in a broad ranged process transformation effort with a very recognizable brand, and this company has the most passionate staff I have ever encountered. We are in the beginning of a diagnosis phase in our methodology, and we are asking for stories about processes to identify where the process in place falls short.

I never want a diagnosis session to turn into an airing of grievances, but people tend to make their stories personal. A few times during our diagnostic processes, the passion of the people involved combined with the personal nature of their stories has led to tales of processes gone awry.  A challenge in consulting is to pull the root cause out of a story without allowing the truth to be obscured by embellishment.

I follow these basic steps when I evaluate stories:

  1. Assess Risk – Sometimes the risk of something out of ordinary is low enough and the risk it represents is small enough that you just have to let it go. Bad things happen. Sometimes process can prevent it, but what is the cost to the organization vs. the risk it represents?
  2. Determine Repeatability - If this risk is great enough, did it happen more than once? Do the conditions still exist that it could still happen again? If so, you’re going to have to dig a little deeper.
  3. Identify Measures – If it can happen again, how will you know when and how often it happens? This is especially difficult in something that you want to measure in terms of cost avoidance, since the measure is the lack of an occurrence.
  4. Find the Triggers – Most people tell stories in a linear way from beginning to end. Look at the story and try to find what went wrong first. If you can identify and address the initial trigger, then subsequent triggers may be irrelevant. A good way to get someone to self identify triggers is to ask them “what would you do differently?” If someone remembers a story vividly, chances are he or she has spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to prevent the problem from happening.

Sometimes a story is just a story, but stories can also be parables that tell exactly what we need to know and what to do about it. An expert will be able to find the truth in the tale.

Older posts