Continuing with the theme of our previous post on “discontinuous improvement,” we have identified three additional causes of Continuous Improvement derailment.
As you’ll see, all three are preventable. But, like many things in life, simple things are not always easy.
For example, removing barriers or obstacles to Continuous Improvement seems a simple and straightforward objective. Yet there are many instances in which the people in charge fail to do so!
One barrier that commonly falls into the ignored category is that of an important individual in the organization who is simply not on board. The individual may feel uncomfortable or threatened by the new way of working and leading; or may simply not agree with one or more key principles of a continuously improving organization, such as the import of what the customer values, or the way to treat employees, or the imperative of constantly improving the work, or using facts and data instead of just opinion. When someone in a position of influence is not on board, he or she creates a misalignment between what people hear and what they see.
If the misalignment is not corrected, the situation has the potential to bring the CI journey to a close.
Similarly, while communication and alignment are essential, they are never really sufficient. People also need the training and skill development to follow the organization’s improvement methodology. Lack of capability or training will prevent people from progressing very far.
But personnel policies or practices can also easily obstruct productivity improvements. Sometimes jobs are defined so narrowly that managers cannot easily move people around to take advantage of productivity improvements. When managers are rewarded financially or in organizational prestige based on the number of people who report to them rather than how efficiently and effectively they operate, managers have powerful disincentives to increase productivity and move their people to where they would add more value.
Often organizations lack an effective mechanism to match up the skills and capability that one department has in excess resources with the needs of another department with a need for resources. To move resources effectively to their point of maximum value, you must develop a system of information about the skills and capabilities of your workforce. A thorough and cross-functional knowledge of people and their skills can enable an organization to move freed up resources to where they can contribute the most value rather than laying off the excess people and snuffing out motivation for further improvements.
No one but the leadership of the organization can remove the barriers to effective continuous improvement. Careful monitoring of progress to identify and remove barriers is essential to achieving a culture of continuous improvement.
Lack of quick success or “quick wins” is another common cause of CI derailments.
Early successes are the nourishment required to keep improvements going. If improvements are too slow, people get discouraged. People begin to adjust the pace of their effort to the slow pace of results.
Third, letting up on the gas after successful improvement initiatives is a more common occurrence than one might think!
In other words, success often carries with it the seeds of failure: the greater the success, the less urgency is felt for further improvements. Without a continued level of urgency, momentum toward improvement will disappear. People will be pleased with the level of performance they have achieved and turn their attention to other things.
To achieve a continuously improving culture, you must never rest. The leaders must continue to reward success, and identify bigger problems or opportunities. They must continue to strengthen the organization in continuous improvement and begin promoting based on skill at improving the work.