Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Review: Six Disciplines for Excellence

I recently had the opportunity to review the book "Six Disciplines For Excellence: Building Small Business That Learn, Lead and Last," by Gary Harpst. As the subtitle implies, this book is geared toward small business that want to increase their effectiveness and results. I found the book full of practical tools, process outlines, and examples to help small business crystallize many aspects of their strategic and operating plans.

I was impressed with the breadth of tools provided, as well as the practical examples shown for many of the tools. The book takes you through various aspects of plan definition, tied to six focus areas:

  1. Decide what's important
  2. Set goals that lead
  3. Align systems
  4. Work the plan
  5. Innovate Purposefully
  6. Step Back

Within each area (or "Discipline"), there are guides to help you flesh out risks, dependencies, expense plans, and a lot of great information on establishing meaningful metrics and providing dashboards to the teams to keep them engaged and focused on the right things. There is also good benchmark data as backup to the techniques.

One thing that was different about this book: in the reviewer's kit I received, there was some additional collateral that talked about "Six Disciplines Leadership Centers," coaching, and other resources provided by the Six Disciplines Corporation. This didn't feel like your typical management book, so I decided to find out more. I contacted Skip Reardon, the Director of Marketing for Six Disciplines Corporation, and began a dialog to feed my curiosity about them.

If you are seeking help with developing your small business's strategy (whether you've read the book yet or not), I would like to share what I've learned so you can make a more informed choice about whether this book and/or Six Discipline's services are a fit for you. Here is a summary of our conversation:

Dwayne: How is "Six Disciplines for Excellence" different from other management books?

Skip: The book is just the tip of the Six Disciplines "iceberg." Where most business improvement authors drop the ball is writing a decent book -- and stopping there -- leaving it up to its readers to implement the ideas and hope for the best. We feel our book does provide proven core business-building techniques, and already know of some organizations who are taking the book, using the forms and exercises to improve their own business.

That's where Six Disciplines is unique.

Behind the book is Six Disciplines Corporation, supported by more than $10 million dollars of funding and 50 man-years of R&D, developing practical Internet-based technologies that make the Six Disciplines™ Methodology practical to use on a daily basis. But if we stopped there, we'd be just another software vendor -- and we're not.

To deliver the Methodology and the supporting Internet technologies, we're launching a nationwide network of Six Disciplines Leadership Center franchises, a premiere business coaching and strategic advisory service -- to help coach the best performing organizations to keep them on track using Six Disciplines. Our goal is to launch 70 Leadership Centers throughout the U.S. by 2012. We've just started the franchise recruitment process during the past several months, and we're on target to have five Leadership Centers open for business by Q1-2006.

Dwayne: Who is the target audience for the Six Disciplines methodology?

Skip: The target audience for Six Disciplines is small businesses, between, say 10-100+ employees, but easily scalable beyond that. It works best with top-performing businesses, those that have a passionate leader who has already had success, has a strong leadership team, has a disciplined approach to business, uses technology strategically, and engages in effective use of trusted advisor relationships. We refer to these as being 'ready & able" organizations; they understand the difference between building good products and services, and building an organization - that builds good products and services. These are companies that are ready to work on their business, not just in it.

Dwayne: You mention that some organizations are just working on their own using the book. What are the advantages of engaging with you?

Skip: "We found that organizations can use the Six Disciplines Methodology (or "any" business improvement process), but will probably stray away over time, as they are left to themselves to implement it across their organization. It can be done - but it takes everyone to understand, adopt and institutionalize the process. They could also use the Internet technologies by themselves, and again, just like using any other software, will get some value, but may not get the most out of it - or, more importantly - keep using it. The business coach at the Six Disciplines Leadership Center works with the leaders and team members at an organization to understand the Methodology - AND how to use the tools (software/technologies) that make the Methodology practical - and act as an external, advisor/ coach - to keep them on track. Helps them keep their commitment to "doing" it…over a long period of time -- leading to lasting business excellence."

Dwayne: How long does it take to get results with the methodology?

Skip: "Not long at all! In fact, for some of our Clients, it's only taken days to achieve key process improvements in some very specific areas of "pain." The key is not to try to "eat the whole elephant at once." The Six Disciplines Methodology, when brought down to its core, is an organizational learning loop. With the help of the Six Disciplines Leadership Center coach, the organization tackles one issue at a time - takes it, works to improve it, observes and measures the results - and goes on to the next process to be improved. We start all of Clients with the Methodology Suite first, as this is where the organization's strategy documents (mission, vision, values, strategic position, goals, etc.) are, and where each team member's Individual Plans are. Once certain key areas of the business are improved, the coach works with the Leadership Team to determine what area to work on next, as part of a holistic business improvement process. In addition to the Methodology, we also offer a comprehensive set of business applications suites, including Financial, Sales, Marketing and Service, Human Resources, Projects, applications. The technologies work as a web service, including Internet-based learning and assistance, even Internet-based paging - direct to the Coach. The entire system enables an organization to become more aligned, enables them to document processes, and enables them to become more effective between their strategy and execution."

Dwayne: What's the "time to results" of self-directed work vs. engaging with you for coaching?

Skip: "Well, to be honest, if all that was available was the book "Six Disciplines for Excellence", we wouldn't be offering anything new, different or unique -- from the hundreds of top-selling business improvement books that come out every year. As with most business books, the ideas are good - but only if you implement them, consistently over time. Our research shows that it's not enough to have a methodology - you also need technologies to make it practical, and coaching - to make it last, to keep you on track. The Six Disciplines Leadership Centers offer clients a close, trusted advisor, using the coach to act as a catalyst for organizational change and business process improvement. Organizations can read the book, implement the process themselves, and, if they're diligent, they'll see results. To fully appreciate the breadth and depth of what Six Disciplines is all about, using our Technologies to make it practical on a day-to-day basis, and using the coaching resources of the Six Disciplines Leadership Centers - accelerate the rate of change, improvement and the process toward lasting business excellence."

Dwayne: If someone chooses to engage with you, what should they expect?

Skip: "We use a series of presentations, seminars and 1:1 meetings to educate and determine whether an organization is "Ready & Able" to become a Six Disciplines Client. Since we feel strongly that it takes the combination of the Methodology, the Internet Technologies we've built, AND the local business coaching to make it work, we're not in a position where we can bring on new clients where we don't have Leadership Centers in place. The coaching element is one of the 3 lynchpins that make it all work - and while virtual works at times, being there as a local presence is the key. It's the trust and long-term relationship of a strategic advisor is what we're offering as a business improvement service."

Dwayne: How long does a coaching engagement typically last, and what happens after it's done?

Skip: The "engagement" that a Client has with a Six Disciplines Leadership Center is unlike that of management consultants or generic business coaches. These advisors are called in to identify and fix point problems. Rarely do they use a consistent, systematic repeatable process improvement methodology. Almost never do they introduce technologies that can be used everyday, just like how people use Microsoft Outlook today. The Leadership Center is the local coaching organization that provides coaching on strategy, planning, and execution - all within the framework of the Six Disciplines Methodology. Unlike management consultants and generic business coaches, we don't pretend to be "experts" in all areas of business.

The companies we work with - top-performing organizations - are the experts in knowing their business. Six Disciplines coaches are experts in helping organizations with strategic planning and execution around their businesses, enabling them to learn, lead…and last. Unlike consultants and generic coaches, the engagement that an organization has with a Six Disciplines Leadership Center, is more like that of a CPA or attorney - a long-term, trusted relationship, based on trust, integrity and the value added to the organization's performance improvement measures. As a result, the engagement doesn't end (or at least, it doesn't need to end) as long as the Client organization continues to derive value from the on-going relationship with the Six Disciplines Coach".

Dwayne: How is pricing typically structured?

Skip: "The pricing model that a Six Disciplines Leadership Center uses is also different from traditional management consultants, generic business coaches or even technology value-added resellers. Services offered by Six Disciplines Leadership Centers are categorized in three groupings:

  • "Activation Fees. Activation is the one-time "turning on" of a service offered by your Six Disciplines Leadership Center. By activating a Six Disciplines Business System Suite, you not only get immediate use of the software, you also get installation and implementation services, internet-based assistance, and online learning. Each of our Business System Suites is $5,000.
  • "Subscription Fees. Subscription is the monthly fee associated with an ongoing service offered by your Six Disciplines Leadership Center. By subscribing to a Six Disciplines service, you are able to "pay-as-you-go." It's very predictable, easy to budget for, and simplistic. There are low monthly subscription fees for the Six Disciplines Server, for each activated Suite, and for each named User, using the Six Disciplines Business System. The Server is about $300 per month, the fee per activated Suite is $150 per month, and the User Subscription fee is typically in the range of $60 - $80 per user per month, (typically less than the cost of a cell phone). This monthly Subscription Fee is a risk-reducer for Clients - if we don't add value every day, we are only 30 days away from being fired. We wouldn't have it any other way! (Pose that to other business improvement alternatives!!)
  • "Value-Added Service Fees. Individual service fees are the "a la carte" prices associated with specific value-added services offered by your Six Disciplines Leadership Center. By paying for a discrete value-added service (that is not included or covered by either Activation Fees or Subscription Fees), you are able to pay for a specific Six Disciplines service that brings value to your organization."

Dwayne: Do you have any case studies or reference stories you can share?

Skip: "As with any business improvement process, the proof is with how satisfied your clients are. At the same time, while we're "new" - the methods we use are certainly not unproven. Built-into every Six Disciplines Business System is the ability to create and administer email/web-based surveys to key stakeholders (e.g., employees, customers, suppliers, board members, etc.) Each of our Six Disciplines Leadership Centers uses this same system internally, and regularly surveys our Clients.

"We continually get very high rankings from Clients on the value of the Coaching provided by the Six Disciplines Leadership Center. That value is articulated by our Clients using accolades such as, "extremely responsive," "professional, friendly attitude," "continually high value."

"As we begin to document and publish our Clients' success stories, you'll seem them transparently published on our web site - and highlighted on our Be Excellent™ blog"


If your small business is looking for ways to improve focus and execution, and get a bit more "deliberate" about how you manage your business, this book is an excellent resource. It provides the information needed to go it alone, if you choose.  If you are really serious about improvement, go beyond the book and get help from an objective “outsider” with the chops to help you do what’s really needed. 

By all appearances, Six Disciplines provides ready access to methodologies, software and professional assistance from experts who can help. 

Note: I am not affiliated with the Six Disciplines Corporation.