Catalytic Mechanisms for Improving Organizational Performance

Here are some key points from an article summarizing Jim Collins research on catalytic mechanisms for improving organizational performance.

Catalytic mechanisms are galvanizing, non-bureaucratic links that turn objectives, such as Collins’ concept of the BHAG, into performance.

There are several characteristics of catalytic mechanisms.

First, they often produce results in unpredictable ways. “Unlike traditional systems, procedures and practices – which may lead to bureaucracy and mediocrity – catalytic mechanisms let organizations achieve greatness by allowing people to do unexpected things, to show initiative and creativity, to step outside the scripted path.”

Second, they have teeth. “In contrast to lofty aspirations a catalytic mechanism puts a process in place that all but guarantees that the vision will be fulfilled.”

Third, rather than being designed to get employees to act in the right way, “catalytic mechanisms help organizations to get the right people in the first place, keep them, and eject those who do not share the company’s core values.”

Fourth, they have an ongoing effect. “Unlike electrifying off-site meetings, exciting strategic initiatives, or impending crises, a good catalytic mechanism can last for decades.

Notes on Weekly Management One on Ones

One-on-one’s are weekly 30-minute meetings between a manager and each person that reports to him or her.

The guys at Manager Tools say that they are the most effective management tool that they know of. They have a series of three podcats on one-on-one’s along with a worksheet that provides some additional details.

I found the podcasts so helpful that I took some notes over them. Here are my notes.

The purpose of 1:1’s is communication. A culture of communication, in turn, is a key ingredient of organization-wide alignment and coordination across departments. Communication is the most important lever an organization has for performance.


  1. Regularly scheduled.
  2. Rarely missed. This means “always reschedule,” instead of canceling. [I would say that sometimes, it just won’t be possible to reschedule and a week will have to be missed.]
  3. Primary focus is on the team member.
  4. Take notes. Keep in a notebook or electronically, and in each meeting refer back to follow-up items.

Here is the standing agenda that seems to work best:

  1. 10 minutes: Them. Agenda items they bring and whatever they want to talk about.
  2. 10 minutes: You. Agenda items you’ve brought; updates that will be useful to them to know. Touch base on status of projects and quarterly goals if desired.
  3. 10 minutes: The future/development. (If there is time left for this.)

To prepare, they suggest that it can be helpful to review 5 questions. [What I basically do is review notes from the last meeting and pull together agenda items I’ve collected along other items that come to mind (updates that will be useful, etc.).]

Anyway, here are the five questions they suggest:

  1. What things in my notes from last meeting do I need to follow up on? Then write them on your agenda.
  2. What do I need to be sure to communicate to this person?
  3. What positive feedback can I give this person?
  4. What adjusting feedback am I going to give this peson?
  5. Is there something I can delegate? (“There is a gross under-delegation epidemic in America.”)