Skip to main content

Transforming Your Organization with the Three-Box Approach

| November 1, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Today’s Tuesday Reading “Transforming Your Organization with the Three-Box Approach”reports on a conversation with Vijay Govindarajan and Brian Goldner.  Govindarajan is a professor of internation business and founding director of the Center for Global Leadership at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmath.  Goldner is president and CEO of Hasbro, Inc.

Like last week’s reading, today’s reading is about getting to the future.  Beginning with his consulting work some 30 years ago, Professor Govindarajan developed what he calls the Three-Box model.  The model is designed to help you manage “reinvention” which requires that you explicitly focus on the present, on getting to the future, and on that future.  The starting point to using this approach is to look at the projects for the coming year.  You divide the projects into three clusters or boxes:

Box 1:  Manage the present.  Projects having to do with improving the performance of existing core systems go here.  Typically, most of an organization’s work goes here.  The key is to insure that it is focused and delivers real increased value to the clients.

Box 2:  Selectively forget the past.  Projects in this box are geared toward overcoming your organization’s dominant logic of “we’ve always done it this way.”  Here is where you try out new approaches, where you augment staff expertise, and where you pilot and experiment.

Box 3:  Create the future.  Those innovative projects which could fundamentally change the way your business is done, go here.  This is the real creative work of building your future.

If you sort your projects – your personal work, your team’s work, your organization’s work – this way you will likely find that you are over emphasizing work to improve current performance at the expense of not doing enough to get to the future.  Rebalancing the work so that it is appropriately distributed for your organization and where it is on the technology curve, is something that you will need to do often.  For example, I believe that most would agree that higher education today needs to be investing considerably more than it is in boxes 2 and 3.

Because of our tendency to focus on today,and because the work of the future is more difficult, we tend to put the work for the future off, “we’ll have time to do that later.”  Govindarajan and Goldner argue that you need to determine how much of your resources to put into the future (their example is 20%), and then  “you need to put a ring around that 20% and not touch it no matter what.”

If you choose to use the Three-Box approach to help you think about your work, in the time each week you review your calendar you need to ask whether you are devoting enough attention to boxes 2 and 3.  And, in your management meetings, you have to allocate time for projects about the future in addition to those about current operational issues. 

While I have no personal experience in using the Three-Box approach, I can see where it would have helped me stay the course and not “steal” resources from the future to address current issues.  So, you might want to take a look and see whether it would be helpful to you.


.  .  .  .     jim