GE Work-Out

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What is GEWork-Out?

GEWork-Out is a framework, an approach, a methodology, that allows businesses to involve people who are closest to the work in improving how the work gets done.  It’s a hybrid problem-solving/process-improvement/change-acceleration process whose objectives are to bust bureaucracy, demolish barriers of rank, hierarchy and function, accelerate decision-making and get things done . . . fast.  It is the enemy of “business as usual.”

Where did it come from?

Work-Out was developed at GE, during the Jack Welch era of the late ‘80’s and ‘90’s.  After significant layoffs to prepare for more difficult business future that GE envisioned, something was needed to match the work that still remained to the fewer people remaining to do it.  So Work-Out’s first task was to help GE’rs re-size the workload to the remaining workforce, in other words, to get excess and non-value-added “Work Out” of the system – hence its name.

Beyond this, though, Work-Out’s goal was also to transform one of the oldest, top-down, “command-and-control” business cultures into a more resilient, speedy, and egalitarian one with the result, as Welch so famously put it, of  “engaging and involving every mind in the company.”  Work-Out enables seamless collaboration – GE called it “boundarylessness” – across  not only internal functions but between companies and their suppliers and customers as well.

Since its early days at GE, Work-Out has been adopted my many other companies and continues to be used widely as a highly-effective challenge-confrontation/change-acceleration strategy.  GE continues to train its managers in Work-Out at its premier management development university inCrotonville,NY.  And within the company – after 20 years! – proficiency in Work-Out is still considered an “essential leadership skill” for managers in the Company.

(For more on Gagnon Associates’ history in helping GE to implement Work-Out initially, as well as our track-record of introducing it to other companies since, please visit our GEWork-Out Core Capabilities web page.)

Why has it proven so effective?

Because it cuts through, pushes aside or demolishes the things that don’t matter – bureaucracy, formality, delay – and quickly and cleanly gets to things that do.  Because it gives people who have the biggest stake in and the most knowledge about a given problem or issue or challenge the opportunity to be heard and involved in fixing or achieving those things.  In other words, it gets obstacles out of the way and enables business organizations to harness the full power of the people working there – to get the engine “firing on all cylinders.”

It also accelerates decision-making by requiring leaders to render clear, real-time, public decisions on Work-Out team recommendations.  No long, drawn-out discussions or delay behind closed doors.  The very important result of all this is that Work-Out speeds things up and gets things done!

But it’s been around for over 20 years!  Isn’t it dated?

Physicians have been recommending regular aerobic exercise for years as a way of fostering cardio-vascular health.  Does that mean the recommendation is dated?

Work-Out is old in the sense that a “classic” is old, because it has been shown to be of enduring value and effectiveness.  It works today as well as it did twenty years ago because it responds to conditions, realities, problems, challenges that are endemic to organizations and businesses and probably always will be.  These challenges persist over time and so has Work-Out’s efficacy in dealing with them.

What kinds of problems can Work-Out address?

It is very robust.  But it is most effective with complex business issues that require individuals of varying expertise to collaborate across functional “silos” to improve or fix something or achieve some new challenge or level of performance.  It is less appropriate for issues of policy or strategy where the level of knowledge and responsibility more appropriately resides at the management level.  But when knowledge and expertise about the issue is distributed and multiple stakeholders will either be affected by or needed for implementation, Work-Out should be considered, especially if speed of execution is also a goal.

Here are some representative Work-Out Team Challenges:

“How do we reduce the repair cycle for one of our most critical machinery products by 30%?”

“How do we ensure effective implementation of our new Marketing Model across the country business unit in a manner that ensures clarity of all Marketing roles and responsibilities and effective Marketing execution?”

“How can we significantly reduce the company’s total spend for professional services, travel and telecom?”

“How do we improve the accuracy of our cost-tracking system across the build process of our most popular XYZ machine?”

“How do we eliminate NVA (non-value-added) work or simplify procedures and processes throughout the organization to free up resources for more value-added tasks?”

How does it work?

Work-Out starts with a complex, critical business issue that requires speedy attention.  The issue must be well-understood and the challenge in addressing it must be carefully and clearly articulated.  Once that’s done, you ask the question:  “Who are the people in our company who are closest to this issue, who know most about it, and who will be most critical in “fixing” it?  The answer to this question defines the Work-Out team.”  We call this the “Design” Phase.

Conducting the session – we call this the “Conduct” Phase – requires  someone with sufficient process facilitation skills to guide a Work-Out team (or teams) in its problem-solving or process-improvement work.  (As with the Design Phase, if skills in this area are not resident in your organization, you’d be advised to seek external help with your initial Work-Out attempts.)

Once a Work-Out team as studied its challenge, and developed and gotten approvals for its recommendations to address it, Work-Out enters the “Implement” Phase.  This is usually a defined period of time – most often 90 days – with regular, intervening checkpoints where team progress can be monitored, adjustments can be made, and “wins” celebrated.

Though in this description we’ve emphasized a single-team approach, for greater impact, Work-Outs can also comprise multiple teams that concurrently focus on different facets of a larger issue over the same continuous period of time.

(Visit our GEWork-Out Core Capabilities page for a more detailed description of the Design, Conduct and Implement Phases of Work-Out.)