Wednesday, March 18, 2020

The Do's and Don'ts of Catchball


The catchball is an important part of any planning process, but it is something that is all too often just glossed over. When done properly the catchball encourages leadership and team members to dialogue about a particular topic in an efficient and productive manner. It can help to break down the walls which are all too often placed between management and the team members, and it can also help meetings progress much more smoothly.

Unfortunately most people misunderstand how catchball is supposed to work, and what it is supposed to accomplish. Let’s consider a few do’s and don’ts of the catchball approach.

What You Should Do
  1. Establish a Strategic Vision. At a leadership level, the organization needs a strategic vision. This may be considered the organization’s “true north,” one interpretation of the words hoshin kanri. Along with the vision, establish key performance indicators (KPIs) that will be used to track progress toward the vision, with specific targets in a limited number of areas. These overarching metrics are often reported on the organization’s balanced scorecard, which is generally monitored and addressed on a monthly basis.
  2. Communicate. As with all continuous improvement efforts, Hoshin Kanri implementation starts with communication within the team of the vision and intent along with training as needed on concepts and tools. The idea of catchball communications is pretty simple, but may be quite novel in typical hierarchical organizations that utilize primarily top-down directions. Catchball starts by ensuring the strategic vision is understood and deemed achievable throughout the organization.
  3. Understand the Current State. Another important element of Hoshin Kanri is having a clear understanding of the current state. Comparing this to the strategic vision helps to identify various gaps. Using the catchball process, the team identifies tactical plans aligned with the strategy and executes actions to close the gaps.
  4. Prioritize. Typically, organizations find they want to achieve more than is possible with the people, resources, and money they have available. Rather than setting unrealistic top-down expectations, the catchball process is ideal for deciding upon and communicating priorities in a way that considers both the organization’s needs and capabilities.
  5. Get Engagement. Make sure that everyone who participates in, contributes ideas to, and leads continuous improvement has the opportunity to engage in the catchball process. In other words, help the entire workforce to become engaged. While shopfloor input might not be elevated in a typical organization, catchball collects and synergizes valuable ideas from anywhere and everywhere.
  6. Utilize Evidence. The catchball process uses fact-based communications. Real-time process performance monitoring is made visible, identifying needs for attention or reinforcement. At the overarching level, key performance indicators show how the gap closure activities are adding up to make progress toward the strategic objectives.
What You Shouldn’t Do
  1. Don’t Create a New Strategy Each Year. Once the Hoshin Kanri process has been implemented and a strategic plan has been established, it should become the foundation for regular review and updates. Instead of using just an annual planning cycle that creates a one-time budget, catchball keeps an ongoing process of gap closure toward strategic objectives alive at all times.
  2. Don’t Layer on Unachievable Top-Down Goals. The whole point of catchball is to share communications, solicit input, establish trust throughout the organization, create agreement and commitment to plans, and to implement and monitor progress. If business pressures force top management to arbitrarily impose new financial or other requirements, the system collapses.
  3. Don’t Rush. Allow plenty of time in the catchball process for people to digest and respond to input they have received from others. Include enough back-and-forth iterations to ensure understanding is developed and consensus is achieved.
  4. Don’t Ignore Real-Time Issues. While your team is engaged in the important activities of setting long-term strategy and defining tactical plans, day-to-day business must obviously be attended to. At times, current issues might trigger a need to revisit the strategic vision. For example, if planned activities are not delivering results, if technology or other breakthrough changes trigger market shifts, or if new opportunities become evident, the catchball process helps to identify what needs to change, rather than waiting for an annual budgeting or planning review.
  5. Don’t Get Too Hung Up on Nomenclature. Hoshin Kanri is simply Japanese for “policy management,” but it is and sounds like an odd term to most folks. Even “catchball” is not commonly used in English. If your team is more comfortable calling the process strategy deployment, policy management, or some other more comfortable name, it’s okay to adopt that name instead. Nevertheless, share the vision and process and use the up-and-down communications of the proven catchball Hoshin Kanri approach. Having an ongoing integrated drive toward strategic and tactical objectives with high levels of engagement throughout the organization will be useful regardless of whatever name you give it.
The ultimate benefit of Hoshin planning is that it helps organizations to eliminate the disconnects and resulting miscommunications that often happens as a result of strategic plans being made at the C-level without consideration as to how those plans will be executed across the organization. Because the consensus and buy-in are emphasized from the start, a feeling of ownership is fostered across the organization. Your company operates as a “united front” and your key priorities become personal agendas of employees.

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