Santa’s Workshop Remodeled by The Ready
Welcome to the North Pole — it’s the busiest time of the year. Outside the snow lies crisp, even, and deep, but inside Santa’s workshop the pace never slackens. Here at the world’s biggest toy production and distribution center, the workforce is under intense pressure to fill the long list of outstanding orders for the Christmas Eve deadline.
While Santa and the elves are hard at work, I wrote a brief diagnostic of how they structure and organize their workshop. As the team is probably busy processing the gifts of some two billion children from around the world, I’ll keep it snappy.
Santa’s workshop, here is your OS Canvas diagnostic:
Mindsets and behaviors to maintain
Santa’s workshop is working with a massive transformative purpose in mind — providing every child around the world with what they want for Christmas.
By working for a bigger purpose than themselves, Santa and his elves are already setting the tone. They’re not there for a year end bonus or salary bump. Each member is at work because they remain committed to bringing forth the vision of children getting what they want for Christmas.
This massive transformative purpose at Santa’s workshop is a clear mission that guides their daily work, goals, and decision-making process. They must do whatever it takes to make that delivery happen. A vision of this sort is a higher calling than merely assembling toys. It brings chills and thrills to what might be a very mundane grind and keeps the elves moving on the coldest and snowy winter day.
Only Santa’s workshop can be bold enough to provide every child with the items listed in their letters to Santa.
Beyond just getting those gifts delivered, Santa and the elves also know that they affect the lives of girls and boys worldwide. Children play with toys, and cherish memories with family and friends all year round thanks to the work they do. That impact on billions of lives around the world is why elves hop out of bed smiling every morning. It’s no coincidence that Santa’s elves sing a variation of heigh-ho, heigh-ho, because it’s off to work they go.
A massive transformative purpose combined with meaningful work is a sure pathway to trust in the workplace. The co-mingling of these mindsets and behaviors creates an environment where elves feel intrinsically valued. Santa rarely needs to say what he believes in. The elves know.
The behavior and interaction between Santa and his coworkers is based on preserving a message of trust, respect, belief in, and value for the work they do. Yet despite Santa’s longstanding popularity and unmatched contributions to the world, there are increasingly whispers that he has unfairly snagged all of the fame and glory of his workshop wonders.
For this and a couple other reasons, I have some thoughts to offer on how Santa could change that, per the OS Canvas.
Mindsets and behaviors to improve on
Build better teams
The nature of Santa’s workshop hierarchy means that he ends up getting all the credit. A flat structure for the other coworkers means that there’s no career ladder for the elves to climb. There can only be one Santa, and many elves.
Instead of lining up the elves along a conveyor belt, Santa should create tribes of no more than 150 elves solely tasked with leading one part of the workshop. Each tribe would be divided into agile squads, of no more than nine elves, tasked with fulfilling the tribe’s mission.
Tribes can look after incoming requests for gifts, ordering toy parts, managing the technology and hardware on the workshop floor. The squads can focus on digitizing the letters, improving inventory sensors, or processing machine defect tickets.
The way those teams interact means that they’re less likely to share affinities with factory clockwork and grueling targets to pump out more toys. Instead, machines do most of the the work and the elves become part of a self-managing team of teams, connected to the massive transformative purpose. This new structure shifts the attention and accountability of the work from Santa to the team’s performance. In this new setting, Santa has less self-aggrandizing status and assumes the roles of brand ambassador, giving the elves a share of the credit.
Hierarchy of roles
Forget about factory based production lines. Instead divide the elves into mission based teams with changing work responsibilities where lateral moves are common so they can increase their skills and abilities. That means going beyond flat and horizontal organizational structures to create a network of teams and roles that are extremely fluid and always changing as needed. Niels Pflaeging calls that a federative org structure that can best adapt and respond to market demands.
Fix your customer engagement process
Right now, children from around the world mail their letters, addressed to Santa. Elves have to then sort through all of them to decide what toys need to be made. This is a very inefficient and laborious process.
The elves can digitally scan all of Santa’s letters as they arrive. Next, a howdy.ai bot sends a notice to the order management system and electronic orders for new parts that are moved and brought forth by Kiva bots in the warehouse. Using the information from the letters, A.I. bots automatically order toy parts and finished goods from Santa’s many warehouses in the North Pole, or call on one of Makerbot’s 3D printers to manufacture it.
All of this is done with minimal elf intervention, leading to a reduced buffer stock of toys that are now ordered on demand, as they are required.
The Internet of Santa’s Things (IoST)
Does Santa’s factory still evoke images of long wooden tables with hammers, nails, glue, and paint? If so, it’s time to retool the workshop into a real 21st century factory.
Assembly lines are fully automated with software that manages process to make the factory super effective and adapted to quickly make toys, rapidly fix defects, and widen Santa’s product catalogue. Service offerings by Siemens and Cisco can connect digital and physical supply chains to generate even greater operational efficiencies. The increased automation across Santa’s workshop means that elves only need to have a specific knowledge of how to use the machine and software in order to make more products, more quickly, at a lower cost.
21st century teaming tools
Each team needs a communication stack to manage their workflow. This should commonly include Slack, Trello, and Google Drive.
Trello boards are a transparent tool for other elves to watch the progress of each project team’s engagement with the work. That means that any member can check and update the Naughty and Nice list without waiting on one person to communicate it.
Slack is an open-communication tool where information is organized according to public and private channels. The elves are part of whatever project they are working on, but they can also see how communication happens in other channels.
Google Drive acts as a collaborative tool, where all of the workshop’s information is accessible.
This stack means very little ends up being locked in individual silos.
This diagnostic isn’t meant to be exhaustive, and certainly doesn’t mean that Santa’s workshop can be transformed into a perfect organization overnight. But in the spirit of creating adaptive, abundant, and meaningful ways of working, this represents a first step forward to how Santa’s workshop could operating if it used some of the principles and behaviors outlined above.
My ask this Christmas is that when Santa finishes depositing his parcels across the world, he would go over the diagnostic and send a squad of elves to be trained by The Ready, while also smashing through the organizational debt holding them back.
Should he decide to swing by, a customary glass of Spätburgunder and a plate of pepparkor will be waiting to welcome him.