In this Business Excellence Article I have decided to tell you the story about when I was involved in helping Santa and his Christmas Organization to perform better. It is not every day that you have a personal visit from an old elf asking you very politely to come to a meeting with Santa at his North Pole headquarters.
I met Santa himself and we had a really candid conversation, where he gave me a good picture of both his and the organization’s situation. He had heard that I had helped some large and important organizations in my time, and that I help children with my charity work. Naturally I agreed to help him to increase his organization’s efficiency.
The demand for Santa has increased in the last decade or so. It is especially in so Asia where there is an increasing need for Santa’s help in giving presents to children. Africa is another emerging market, with the promise of more in the coming decades. All this is pushing the Santa Organization to the limit. They work full time and the organization has started to grow out of Santa’s control.
The organization is divided into geographical regions, called divisions. Each division is responsible for collecting information about children and whether they have been good or bad during the year. Each division is also responsible, within its region, for making all the preparations before Santa arrives on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, depending on the region.
The different divisions have different ways of doing their work. The manager of a division is a Master Elf and he needs to make sure that his division is performing at the top. Performance is most important for the Master Elves because according to tradition the Senior Master Elf is selected from one of the Master Elves.
The quality has been decreasing at the same time as the market has increased. It seems like the different ways of doing things in the different divisions, have been hard to cope with for the North Pole Manufacturing Centre (NPMC). The NPMC has to translate a lot of the information that is sent in from the divisions, and also try to integrate the good-or-bad intelligence with the incoming orders.
The different ways of performing regarding the preparations for Santa’s delivery also presents a problem. Santa feels that he is put under more pressure these days than ever before. The quantity of hot cocoa consumed in the sleigh has increased massively. Santa has a feeling in his stomach that something is not right – and he has quite a large stomach in which to have a feeling.
All the ambiguous ways of receiving Santa and the tighter time schedule has also increased the pressure on the reindeer and also on the sleigh. The reindeer consume more magic flying dust today than they did before and maintenance has to be performed during the hectic Christmas delivery run.
To sum up, the organization is under pressure and the division into different structures with different ways of working has not favoured efficiency.
Santa and I had prepared the work very well, ready for a meeting with the management team. We met at the North Pole headquarters. We agreed at the meeting that there is no problem at all with motivation within the organization. Everyone is doing their best and really wants to help the children. We therefore did not need to focus so much on the personnel involved. The only thing remaining was to get the Master Elves to understand their part in the whole operation and not just in their division. We got the management team, containing Santa, the Senior Master Elf, the NPMC production managers, and the Master Elves, to understand that their assignment in the management team is not to defend their own turf, but to take responsibility for the complete Santa operation.
During six months we went through all the processes in the business. We looked at the current flow in the different divisions and also in the NPMC. It was clear that there were several different approaches for the same tasks, so we decided to collect people from the different areas and design a new common and better flow. Santa bought the whole idea of having the process organization as the main structure, and letting the line organization fall back.
The new structure was at its highest level, designed like the figure below.
The new organization focuses fully on the creation of value, it aligns all the work and also makes sure that the work is done in the same way all around the world. The culture difference that is needed is built into the processes. A team, containing the Master Elves and some business developers, makes sure that the business is constantly developing. That ensures that they feel responsible for the development and that they also focus on the processes, and not on their old divisions.
When the processes were put into operation during the fall, everyone in the business was involved in one way or another. Some documented the detailed processes with instructions and more, others worked with aligning the operational systems to the new demands from the business, and others made sure that the skills required where mapped out. It will take a large part of next year to set up the first version of the processes and to be fully operational. There will be a follow up and adaption after Christmas 2013.
Santa and the team are really proud of what they have accomplished so far. Now it is up and running for the full-scale operation, when it is time to deliver the Christmas presents this year.
Speaking for myself, this has been the most magical assignment I have ever been a part of. It feels like time flows slower when you are around Santa and his team. It is really a nice organization to work with. I wish them all good luck, especially now when it is time for their show. The new way of working is going to give them more time to sit by the fireside and celebrate with good food.