Dec. 29 2006 11:29 AM

I have the privilege of having one foot in the "real" world and one foot in the "academic" world. Since my primary job is to manage a variety of operations for Portland General, I'm always looking for research that identifies what really works in the everyday work world.


One of the most exhaustive and practical research projects I've come across was conducted by Clinton O. Logenbecker and Jack L. Simonetti and documented in their book entitled Getting Results. Their project included one survey of over 5,000 managers across many industries and then a second survey and interview of over 1,600 high-performing managers. When they analyzed the results, they discovered five absolutes for getting high performance and great results. Embedded in these five absolutes are the best practices of high-performing leaders.


Absolute 1. Get everyone on the same page: Focus on the purpose of the organization.

This involves creating and maintaining a clear focus on desired results for yourself, your people and your operations, and creating a means to measure progress.


One key discovery I have made can be summarized in the following saying, "You can choose to be mediocre, or you can choose to strive for excellence the choice is yours."


To be a high-performance leader, you must choose to pursue excellence, and to make that choice a reality, you have to develop and communicate the vision to everyone within your organizational team.


Some of my operations at Portland General have been blessed by receiving positive national recognition. The teams involved have worked hard and smart to make many positive changes and create additional value for our company and its internal and external customers. One thing that I did was to articulate an intentional desire to excel. Here is a sample mission and values statement from one of my operations.



Our mission is to be a "world-class" provider of printing and mailing products and services. We desire to be recognized as a premier service provider that is comparable to any operation of similar size anywhere in the country.


Our purpose is to provide timely, high-quality products and services at a cost equal to or lower than any other potential provider. We desire to achieve a consistently high level of customer satisfaction and to maintain a working environment that dignifies and motivates our staff.



We value customer satisfaction. We want to meet and even exceed customer expectations. Quality of our products and services is a priority. We are results oriented and will do what it takes to get the job done.


We believe our most important asset is our people, so we strive to treat each person respectfully and to train, develop and promote a positive work environment. We believe in being professional, empowering our employees and in having fun.


We believe in the TQM concept of "continuous improvement" and are constantly striving to improve all aspects of our operations. We also believe in "continuous learning" and are constantly striving to learn more about best practices, technology and ways to better meet our customers' needs.


Absolute 2. Prepare for battle: Equip your

operation with tools, talent and technology.

Progressively staff your operation with high-quality people, develop effective planing practices, provide ongoing training and education for your people and ensure people have the tools they need to get the job done.


Some people have found the following three "Ps" keys to operational excellence as a helpful guide. To excel in an operation, we must continuously learn and continuously improve in these key areas:

1) Physical assets and technology (Try to be "leading edge" but not "bleeding edge.")

2) People (The most valuable resource of any organization.)

3) Practices (Learn and apply best practices.)


An ongoing challenge for all operational leaders is to justify the resources we need to excel and to continually add value to our organizations.


Wes' 10 Tips for Justifying Resources

  1) Identify important goals and business needs of your organization, then figure out how to help meet them.

  2) Find ways to save money for your organization.

  3) Know all of your costs and how they compare to the external market.

  4) Work with vendors for creative ideas to improve your operations and justify resources.

  5) Partner with other departments in your organization.

  6) Develop positive relationships with internal "service providers" that influence decisions.

  7) Take the budgeting process and other tasks seriously.

  8) Understand your organization's capital budgeting and approval system and process.

  9) Track your volumes and document increases.

10) Excel in operations and enhance your team's reputation.


Absolute 3. Stoke the fire for performance: Create a climate for results.

To be effective leaders, we must create an operational climate that provides ongoing performance measurement and feedback, motivates people and removes barriers to performance in an ongoing and systematic fashion.


One essential ingredient to create the climate we desire is to remove the fear of making occasional, inconsequential mistakes. The reality is that we all make mistakes, and mistakes can actually be helpful if we learn from them and avoid similar errors in the future.


As leaders, we want to promote calculated risk taking. One of my sayings is "The wise take calculated risks ... fools take careless risks ... the cowardly take no risks at all." Let's not be careless or cowardly, but master the art of taking calculated risks in striving for better results.


10 Ways to Motivate Employees (adapted from Blanchard training and consulting firm)

  1) Personally thank employees for doing a good job one on one, in writing or both.

  2) Be willing to take the time to listen to employees.

  3) Provide specific feedback about performance of the person, the department and the organization.

  4) Create a work environment that is open, trusting and fun (note: check out

  5) Provide information.

  6) Involve employees in decisions, especially those decision that affect them.

  7) Provide employees with a sense of ownership in their work and their work environment.     

  8) Give people a chance to grow and learn new skills.

  9) Celebrate successes of the company, the department and of the individuals in it.

10) Recognize, reward and promote people based on their performance. (Not politics!)


Absolute 4. Build bridges on the road to results: Nurture relationships with people.

This Absolute challenges us to identify, foster, nurture and sustain relationships, practice effective communication and foster cooperation through the practice of trustworthy leadership with the people you need to get results.


To build relationships we must focus on helping others. Giving our employees and other people in our lives our "BEST" will result in stronger relationships:

            Believe in them

            Encourage them

            Support them

            Trust them


Absolute 5. Keep the piano in tune: Practice continuous renewal.  As leaders, we continuously need to improve and renew ourselves, our processes and our people and maintain balance in all facets of our lives for long-term success.


There are two twin philosophies that can be applied to the operations we lead and also to our personal development:


Continuous Improvement We need to continually strive to get better at what we do. It includes the realization that none of us or the operations we lead are perfect.


Continuous Learning There is always something new to learn, so keep on learning until the day you cease to exist (i.e., be a "life-long learner").


There are many sources to help us learn and improve. A few sources that I have found very helpful include participating in conferences like MailCom, reading trade journals, being involved in professional and trade organizations like MSMA and the local Postal Customer Council, reading good books, developing relationships and sharing information with peers and just being on the lookout for new ideas and better ways to do things.


Good luck as you continue on your journey to become an even more effective and high-performance leader!


Wes Friesen, CMDSM, ICP, CMA, CM, PHR, APP, CCM, CFM, manages the Billing and Remittance departments for Portland General Electric, a utility based in Portland, Oregon that serves over 740,000 customers. For additional information or for more of his leadership tips, please contact Wes by e-mail at