Catalysts for Change

As everyone knows from Chemistry 101, a catalyst is an chemical agent whose primary role is to initiate and accelerate a reaction among the other agents in a particular process. In simple terms, it is the one chemical agent that starts the “launch sequence”.

Just as certain agents are catalysts for chemical processes, performance data can be just as effective in catalyzing organizational change and performance improvement. While much of the data we collect is aimed at monitoring and controlling our day to day processes (i.e.- compliance within control limits), there are other data that have a much bigger purpose. When we benchmark ourselves, for example, one simple data “gap” between you and other organizations (assuming the data is reliable and trustworthy) can initiate a process of exploration, best practice implementation, and major organizational change. All that from one very simple but insightful comparison.

Sometimes we get so caught up in using our data for management controls and day to day reporting that we dismiss much of the data that could be very valuable in our organizational change efforts. For example, performance gaps that may appear on the surface to be outliers- big gaps that we shrug off as being bad data, or rationalize as coming from a company too different to be relevant to us. But with a little work and exploration, many of these “outliers” can serve as catalysts for MAJOR leaps in performance.

I once co-facilitated a data validation workshop for a consortium of companies who annually benchmarked their performance vis a vis each other. The purpose of the workshop was to create a “challenge environment” where participants could openly challenge their peers on such things as definitional compliance and reporting consistency. During the meeting, someone pointed out what appeared to be an anomaly- a company who failed to report maintenance cost on a certain type of electrical breaker. When challenged, the respondent replied, “well, for that particular type of breaker, you’re right, we did not report any cost…” Before he could finish his explanation, the challenger blurted out a big “AH HA!”, which was followed by a wave of frustrated grunts from the audience similar to what you’d see in British Parliament sessions when dissension occurs. After the noise subsided, however, the respondent said softly, “that’s because we have found that this particular type of breaker is much cheaper to let fail and replace, then engage in a continuous maintenance cycle. There was little reliability or safety risk associated with the failure of the breaker, and the failure rate was so low, that we eventually decided to seriously scale back our planned maintenance on that piece of equipment…and that saved us a ton of money, with little if any drop in service level or quality.”

WOW- now that was an AH HA moment of biblical proportions. Talk about a catalyst. A year later many of the organizations had made changes to their maintenance cycle, most of which had resulted in serious cost reduction. All from what appeared to be one erroneous piece of data.

Are you looking at your performance data simply as a component to your management reports, or as potential catalysts for change? As you go forward, try and remember that the real value of performance information is usually deeply hidden, and its your job as performance managers to uncover that hidden value and to leverage it to the greatest extent possible.


Author: Bob Champagne is Managing Partner of onVector Consulting Group, a privately held international management consulting organization specializing in the design and deployment of Performance Management tools, systems, and solutions. Bob has over 25 years of Performance Management experience and has consulted with hundreds of companies across numerous industries and geographies. Bob can be contacted at

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