Category Archives: Change

Ten Key Questions for Optimizing Our Continuous Improvement Effort

One of Bill Conway’s favorite sayings is, “The most important business decision people make every day, is deciding what to work on….”

While at first glance this might seem a simple questions, upon reflection most of us will realize it is not necessarily an easy one to answer.

Possibly the following ten questions can help us move forward in a fashion that enables us to get the most out of our improvement efforts:

  1. What should we work on?
  2. What process should we use to decide what to work on?
  3. How should we prioritize?
  4. What is our “readiness to change?”
  5. What do we do now?
  6. What do we do next?
  7. How do we go about it?
  8. Which tools will best enable us to achieve goals?
  9. Which methods will best enable us to achieve goals?
  10. How can we increase alignment?

Increasing the Desire to Change

head in the sand

Our previous post noted that Continuous Improvement involves change and that, in a high percentage of cases, people tend to resist change. A past post also recognized this fact, and shared a popular change management method known as ADKAR, which is an acronym representing five steps for making successful changes:

  • Acknowledgement
  • Desire
  • Knowledge
  • Ability
  • Reinforcement

Despite the hopes of many, simply getting people to “acknowledge” the need for change has not proved to be sufficient for brining about the “desire” to change. Fortunately, there are things that organizational leaders can do to motivate people to accept change or to increase people’s desire to change.

During a recent discussion with Continuous Improvement leaders, various approaches to the motivational component of change management were shared. Some of the key points made include:

  • Financial enticements or rewards did not necessarily produce the best results.
  • Recognition of desired behaviors exhibited by some can increase motivation for change in others; however, timeliness and making the recognition public are important factors.
  • Peer-recognition programs often increase people’s desire to change.
  • Communication is a critical component of successful change, and the recommendations for daily conversations about progress and achievement during change initiatives were unanimous.
  • Motivation for change is often easier to achieve if leaders shift their focus beyond individual measurement and instead focus on group or system achievements. As Deming said, over 90% of problems are caused by the system not the person.
  • Frequent communication about what an organization needs greatly increases the odds that people will be more motivated to implement and accept change.

Ready, Set, Change!

change

Spring boarding off of our previous post about engaging people around the work, it’s important to recognize that achieving new and improved ways of completing that work requires change.

But despite the fact that change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success, it is not always perceived as being good. In organizations of all types, people tend to look with skepticism at innovations and new methods, processes, policies and procedures; and people at all levels sometimes cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss. Examples include: Converse in sneakers or Kodak in photography, each experiencing significant declines in market share and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

The first step in any change effort is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success — a readiness for change. This step typically involves assessment, positioning, and establishing “why” change is necessary (and good!).

Additional steps that can help people prepare for and embrace change include:

  • Making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture…that gets people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act
  • Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work
  • Effectively using various statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation
  • Enlisting the help of people operating the work processes
  • Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders
  • Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee engagement
  • Reinforcement

The goal in successful change efforts is not only a change in how people think, but also a change in how they feel about the changes you’re trying to make. As John Kotter, a recognized pioneer in leading change put it, “The most successful change initiatives involve winning over both minds and hearts.”

Sustaining Improvements

sustaining improvements

Sustaining improvements is a fundamental aspect of Continuous Improvement and, as pointed out in our previous post, we must avoid the costly pitfall of allowing people to “backslide to the old way of doing things” after a project’s completion.

Sustainability, ultimately, is a function of consistency and management attention. For example, when the CEO or plant manager walks out on the shop floor, it is a fantastic opportunity to notice and reinforce the gains, and to ask about what other possibilities people see. This practice in itself is a good first step for avoiding a backslide.

Two additional concepts that can also help avoid backsliding are “stickability” and “spreadability.”

Stickability is what makes improvements last. Some proven ways of achieving it include:

  • Management follows achievement with recognition and communication of the success.
  • Involving the people doing the work in the improvement project. This is particularly helpful when a snag with the new process arises.
  • Faithfully following a formalized implementation plan such as our 8-step process or John Kotter’s process for “leading change” that was mentioned in our previous post. By taking a more formalized approach project leaders and organizational managers will have the data to manage new processes and measure progress, thus becoming aware of any movement toward a backslide more quickly.

Spreadability, which is the second half of Step 7 in our implementation process, occurs when we stabilize and standardize the improvement throughout the organization. This can be challenging because, by definition, standardizing across organizations involves implementation by people who were not part of the development team. Consequently, achieving spreadability requires a steadfast effort by senior leaders and managers at all levels.

A few best practices for making improvements spreadable include:

  • Encourage people to go around and visit other sites or functional areas to learn and adopt implementation ideas.
  • Recognize and give credit to those who implement improvements even if the new process was not their original idea.
  • Keeping the improvement projects small and tightly scoped, which will help to keep them more spreadable.
  • Communicate frequently and widely to promote both recognition and awareness, and to make it clear that Continuous Improvement is the “cultural” way of doing business within the organization.

Two Steps Forward… And Then What?

John Kotter Quote

“Two steps forward and one step back” is a phrase with which you might be familiar. It implies the inevitable fact that when we make improvements things are not likely to simply “go as planned.” Instead, unexpected snags, complexities, or opportunities for making even more improvements are likely to arise.

However there is another risk we must avoid – that being the devastating “backslide” to the way things were before the improvement was made.

Sustaining improvements is a fundamental aspect of Continuous Improvement. When the gain has been celebrated and attention shifted elsewhere, how do we keep the improvement from sliding back to the old way? To maintain the gains we have to stabilize the new process and new behaviors or the process will slip back out of control and people will slip back into old habits. How do we extend the improvement to other areas? How do we adapt the improvement efforts so they survive over the long term — getting better and better?

These “sustainability” questions are at the heart of ‘Step 7’ of Conway’s eight-step improvement process, and also align with the 8th step in John Kotter’s model for leading change.

Several forces can undermine sustainability, and prudent leaders must be prepared to both recognize and address them quickly. Among the most damaging are:

  • The issues and pressures that triggered the change are no longer visible or apparent to people.
  • Attention moves on to something else before the improvement has been effectively stabilized.
  • Sometimes those who initiated the change or participated in the analysis and improvement leave the organization and the on-going success of the improvement may be dependent on their understanding and adherence to the improved process.
  • Sometimes replacements inadvertently introduce variability.
  • Organizations can lose their focus. This can sometimes jeopardize the entire CI effort. Loss of focus is more profound ‘when an organization engages in strategic maneuvers.’ People’s roles are redefined, organizations, equipment, tools, teams are all in flux, creating mounds of waste that needs to be studied and removed — just when the teamwork needed to do it is at an all time low due to job anxieties.

In addition to avoiding the negative outcome of “backsliding” there are two concepts that leaders can (and should!) promote: “Stickability” and “Spreadbiltity,” which will be the subjects of our next post

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Leading Change

You may be familiar with John Kotter, the Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School, and the founder of Kotter International, a management consulting firm based in Seattle and Boston. He is a thought leader in business, leadership, and change.

He is known for speaking passionately about the difference between “managing” change and “leading” change.

“Management makes a system work,” Kotter explains. “It helps you do what you know how to do. Leadership builds systems or transforms old ones.”

Kotter is also well known for his 8-step process for leading change. Here is a graphic depiction:

“In a change process of any kind you must win over the hearts of people and the minds of people,” Kotter is famous for saying. “The most effective change efforts are able to get people to not only think differently, but also feel differently about the initiative.”

How to Improve EQ

EQ

Our previous post focused on Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and the role it plays in leadership, Continuous Improvement, and developing a high-performance culture.

Most of us are able to identify people who posses a high EQ, and some of the prevalent traits were listed in our previous post. But what about those who don’t exhibit a very high EQ?

Fortunately, according to data compiled by Richard E. Boyatzis, a pioneering researcher into leadership and emotional intelligence, Emotional Intelligence can be taught and improved.

Drawing on Intentional Change Theory (ICT), he describes five steps to the type of personal change required in order to increase emotional intelligence, which are listed below. However, it is important to recognize that the pursuit of improving EQ, like the pursuit of any sustainable change, must be intentional. The requirement is a desire for change; without that, no sustainable improvement is possible. People with no interest in developing EQ will not do so, but if they are motivated to change, the following steps will help them:

  1. Identify the ideal self. In a way, this is analogous to imagining the future state of an organization — what it would look like if everything were right — but the ideal self is much more personal. One person’s ideal self, building on his or her core identity and aspirations, will be different from another’s ideal self. Personal change starts with envisioning the ideal self — the way one would like to be, to work, and to be perceived. This has three elements: awareness of one’s strengths, an image of the desired future, and a sense of hope that the desired future is attainable.
  2. Identify the real self. Where is one, relative to one’s goals today. This step is not as easy as it sounds. The greatest challenge is to see oneself as others do. Using multiple sources of feedback, such as 360-degree evaluations can be useful.
  3. Develop a learning agenda. In contrast to a list of to-dos and complying with agendas of others, the learning agenda is development focused. It provides structure for exploration and learning.
  4. Experimentation and Practice. Practice, look for feedback, and practice again.
  5. Form helping relationships. Coaches, mentors, or guides are very helpful to someone aiming to transition to the ideal self through practicing greater EQ.

Drive Change Initiatives by “Feeding the Brain”

learning

A high tech firm was studying a group of competitors and one of the team members explained that when the firm sent people to visit other companies, each person was given a specific “learning goal.”

In addition to their task at hand, the visitor was expected to learn as much as possible about a particular issue and then share it within the firm. The organization believed their competitiveness could be improved largely based on how effectively they brought knowledge into the company.

Consequently, they invested in gathering, disseminating and using learning as a catalyst to change.

Similarly, we recently saw how powerful knowledge transfer can be when conducting a “Lean Office” training session during which we helped a cross-functional group map their value stream. All the participants had thorough knowledge of their own piece of the process, but no one really knew much about the processes of their internal customers and suppliers.

Value Stream Mapping is inherently a ‘knowledge sharing’ or learning process, so there were plenty of Eureka’s! When individuals learned how their work fit into (and often slowed or hindered) the work of other parts of the value stream, they were able to identify ways to shrink the time required to deliver their service by well over half.

To quote the innovator, Doug Hall, we must ‘feed the brain’! In order to develop new insights, new solutions, new opportunities for competitive advantage, we must actively mine for knowledge that can trigger solutions.

All sorts of learning can become a catalyst for change. Learning about the market and the customers can help you see possibilities for innovation that you have overlooked before.

5 Steps for Managing Change

ADKAR change model

Recent posts have focused on various aspects of the rapid pace of change that permeates our world, our lives and businesses.

And while people generally accept the fact that change is, in fact, a constant and necessary factor, most of us struggle with applying the logic. Instead, we tend to resist change.

One way leaders can better manage the process of helping people deal with change is the Prosci ADKAR® Model, which is a goal-oriented approach to change management for individuals and organizations.

The ADKAR® Model was created by Jeff Hiatt, founder of Prosci, a change management solutions provider. It is an acronym that represents the five “tangible and concrete outcomes that people need to achieve for lasting change.”

These outcomes or steps are:

  • Awareness of why change is necessary
  • Desire or a willingness to support the change (often requires steps 3-5)
  • Knowledge of how the change will be made
  • Ability to apply or work within the change, possibly through skill development
  • Reinforcement to help make the change stick

This approach has proved to be an effective way for leaders to both facilitate change and support team members (and possibly themselves!) throughout the process.

Driving “Agility” with Quick Wins a Must in the “New Normal”

Recent posts have focused on the pace of change and the critically-important role of organizational agility.

One way to both reinforce and drive agility is to achieve “quick wins.”

According to John Kotter, author of Leading Change and The Heart of Change, creating “quick wins” builds momentum, defuses cynics, enlightens pessimists, and energizes people.

The key elements of a “quick win” are right there in those two words: it’s got to be quick and it’s got to be successful.

A “quick win” must be completed in 4 to 6 weeks at most, but many are implemented much faster such as in a kaizen blitz where a small group focuses full time on an improvement for a day or two, or half-time for a week.

For a solution to become a “quick win” it is almost always an improvement that can be completed with the people closest to the work and with the resources close at hand. Sometimes a “quick win” is a high value improvement executed with speed. But even an improvement with small dollar impact can have a great ROI — because the time and expense invested is so low and the organization begins reaping the benefits so quickly.

Because of the speed imperative, if a solution requires a significant capital investment, it is not going to be a “quick win.” If it requires a large team or cross-functional buy-in, chances are it will be a slow win if it succeeds at all. Many “quick wins” do not require a formal team; often a natural work team can identify the problem and implement a quick solution.

Given shifting marketplace expectations and the rapid pace of change with which we have all become accustomed, finding new and better ways of eliminating waste and satisfying customers, and doing so quickly, is likely to be a “must” in the new normal.