Meet the M-Prize winners—three case studies in management innovation honored by Gary Hamel’s Management Innovation eXchange

Here is an excerpt from an article co-authored by Gary Hamel and Polly LaBarre for The McKinsey Quarterly, NOVEMBER 2010. It is art of the “Dispatches from the front lines of management innovation” series.

To read the complete article and check out other outstanding resources, please click here.

The Management Innovation eXchange (MIX) is a Web-based open-innovation project dedicated to catalyzing the creativity of thinkers and practitioners interested in reinventing management. That’s not an undertaking for any one individual or organization—it’s everybody’s problem, which is why the MIX is designed as a collaborative platform both to surface bold ideas and make progress on a set of make-or-break challenges.

Earlier this year, the MIX introduced the first-ever management-innovation contest, the M-Prize, around three such challenges: redefining the work of leadership, increasing trust, and taking the work out of work. MIXers from all over the world contributed hundreds of entries. Few of the submissions are world changing, some are half baked, and a couple are truly off the wall. But so many of them are bold and original, sometimes even audaciously imaginative, that they confirm our deeply held belief that everyone wins when everyone shares.

Judges for the M-Prize included CEOs and thought leaders such as Bill George, Terri Kelly, John Mackey, Tom Malone, and Leighton Reid. McKinsey is a knowledge partner of the MIX but was not involved with the judging. Here are three of the winning stories, which offer insights for management innovators everywhere. Readers interested in learning more about these stories or about other winning entries not described here should visit the M-Prize home page.

[Here is a brief description of the first of three M-prize-winning projects.]

Redefining leadership in public housing

Portsmouth is one of England’s largest and most densely populated urban areas—once home to Charles Dickens and

Arnold Schwarzenegger and now to “17,000 blocked toilets and 100,000 dripping taps,” says John Seddon, an occupational psychologist and management thinker. Several years ago, he began working closely with Owen Buckwell, who as head of housing for the Portsmouth City Council manages those toilets and taps, as well as all of the upkeep for some 50,000 people living in government-built council homes.

In late 2006, Buckwell and Seddon began pursuing a single compelling purpose: “to carry out the right repair at the right time” for tenants. The lever of change was a new management system designed to respond quickly to demand, measure value created for tenants (rather than costs or government-mandated targets), and reflect actual work flows (rather than fitting work to rigid standards and protocols). Within just a few months, Buckwell and his team built a process in which tenants could call up for service, get a real human being on the first ring, and schedule service at exactly the time they desired (not a half-day window, a two-hour window, or even a 15-minute window). The tradesperson providing the service would show up equipped with all the correct parts required to do the job—and ask if anything else needed fixing.

Buckwell and his team accomplished this feat by shifting away from a paper-based daily printout of jobs for plumbers, glaziers, carpenters, and other craftsmen. A sophisticated visual system now matches the demands of customers (which ones want what jobs at what times) with the supply of tradespeople by highlighting when each is likely to come free from his or her current job. Large screens at headquarters provide transparency, and “the system works as a single piece flow, with each tradesman getting one job at a time” to avoid bottlenecks and delays.

The result: astonished customers, intense gratitude, hand-delivered flowers and chocolates, and a growing sense of trust between tenants and council. The story by the numbers is equally impressive: days to complete a repair dropped from 60 to 7, while the proportion of problems fixed on the first visit rose to 99 percent, from 45 percent. The proportion of calls from tenants complaining of failure shrunk to 13 percent, from 60 percent, and the tenant satisfaction rate rose dramatically to 9.93 out of 10—all while the cost per repair was slashed by more than half.

Finally, the housing council’s culture has shifted from one of “learned helplessness and cheating to meet targets” to one that encourages employees to show up with their initiative and imagination fully engaged; a new ethos that emphasizes action has taken hold. “Owen always had a sneaking suspicion that people go to work to do a good job,” says Seddon. “It turns out he was right.”

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Gary Hamel is Visiting Professor of Strategic and International Management at the London Business School and the innovation architect at the Management Innovation Exchange (MIX). Polly LaBarre is a coauthor of Mavericks at Work and the editorial director of the MIX.

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