Weekly Read Chapter 3
Welcome back to Weekly Read, where I share snippets of my upcoming book, ”The 5 Truths for Leaders”. This week we’re going to dive into Chapter 3 or Truth #2 A small number of people, carefully selected, well trained, and well led, are preferable to larger numbers of troops, some of whom may not be up to the task.
So what are the lessons that to be learned in the growth of AMG from two man operation to global motorsports power player?
Diamler as a company likely employs hundreds of engineers to design the latest generation of engines for use in their vehicles. These engineers have access to information about consumer preferences, governmental regulations, and upcoming technology. And their primary focus will be the broader buying public, the 80% of the 80 - 20 rule. With such a broad focus inevitably comes compromise. Of course, you want performance, but fuel economy is important as well. You want to display technology that's been developed over the last three to five years and even with Mercedes being a luxury brand pricing can never be forgotten. With the end result being one that is less defined, less specific and for more general.
In comparison, AMG's singular goal was building racing engines. Cost, be damned. Standard driving norms went right out the window. These men wanted an engine that would make them contenders on the world stage. Period. And with minimal resources in comparison to their competition; they were able to develop, test and put in to place engine configurations that the larger, wealthier and more advanced brand could not. Here the size of the team directly contributed to their ability to remain laser-focused. All the team members knew exactly what they were working towards. The goal wasn't lost or minimized because the team grew too large to remember the core problem being solved. Smaller, more committed teams are better equipped to avoid distractions that typically pull resources from the primary goals and objectives.
Far more Nimble
Diamler is a massive worldwide company, responsible for several brands across multiple continents and Mercedes Benz is just one of those brands. Can you imagine the number of meetings and conference calls necessary to develop a new engine platform? By most accounts, the work for a new engine platform will begin several years before being deployed and every department will have some input. The marketing team will want something that sounds sexy, the performance guys will want to beat their competitors at all costs. Don’t forget the safety engineers and last but not least - the accountants. Everyone is lobbying for what’s important to them and this doesn't begin to include any normal corporate red tape. Now take all of that and drop it into a competitive sport where winning the next season may require the design, testing, and completion of a new engine in just three months. Have fun trying to get those signatures.
Alfrecht & Mercer weren’t bogged down with the same levels of red tape and politics that you typically see with larger teams. I imagine that any engineer who wants to stuff a massive V8 inside of a luxury sedan and race it in 1965, is not the type of person who is fond of multiple meetings, conference calls, and checklists just to put an engine in a car. What would have taken Diamler three or more years to develop, test and deploy; AMG was able to do in half the time. Stuart Marburg CEO of MessageMedia on flexible small companies, "Flexibility in the workplace is very important – it’s crucial in allowing creativity to become a part of every day; encouraging innovation and improving efficiencies. Business opportunities can be taken hold of quickly and employees feel more valued and, in turn, are more accountable – productivity increases as a result. The focus is put on the quality of work, rather than the hours of work, which also allows retention of a superstar workforce."
To that point about quality as a benefit of a smaller more nimble team, you can see that in Mercedes AMG today. As part of the AMG culture, each AMG engine is built by a single individual to ensure the original racing heritage is maintained. AMG could easily pump out tons of engines daily now that they have partnered with Mercedes, instead, they’ve run against the grain and decided to keep the volume low and quality levels high.
There is no doubt that the majority of the engineers who work for Diamler Benz are living out their dreams. They get to participate in work that literally sets the standards in the automotive world for decades to follow. What happens to those engineers if their team leaders don't have the same experience? Do those team members feel disconnected? Does their work suffer in response? More often than not with most large organizations, the decision makers are brought in from outside the team and their lack of experience within the team can lead to less than desirable chemistry.
By comparison, with a smaller team, you can almost be guaranteed that those leading the team have come from the ranks of the team. They know the work at the same level as the most junior team member and can jump in and help if necessary. What this does for team chemistry is immeasurable. Knowing that your management team has experienced the same frustrations, hurdles and setbacks means when they give advice - you can trust it. It’s advice meant to move the process and the team forward. Remember it took AMG nearly 20 years to grow their team beyond the first dozen or so employees, which meant by the time they were acquired by Diamler the company identity, as well as team identities, were already established. Resulting in a workforce that understood its purpose and would be able to execute on that purpose day in and day out, irrespective of who owned the company.