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.
The importance identifying threats and opportunities and then quickly making necessary changes / improvements was discussed in our previous post, which defined this competency as organization agility.
An equally important component of sustaining a culture of improvement and change is the pursuit of knowledge. To develop new insights, new solutions, new opportunities for competitive advantage, we must actively mine for knowledge that can trigger solutions. In other words, learning can become a catalyst for change.
Here are five key areas in which this knowledge can be accessed:
Learn from the work. The most important knowledge of all is knowledge of your own value stream — he set of activities that move the value from your suppliers through your operations to your customers. Know it in detail — how long it takes, where it piles up, how well it is synchronized with the needs of the customers. In most organizations, there is a knowledge barrier that holds the waste in place: the people who know the work best are seldom in a position to know the big picture so when they see waste, they often assume there must be a reason for it. And if they know of better ways of doing something, they often lack the influence to make any significant changes. And those with the broader perspective and the influence do not really understand how the work as it is done today well enough to arrive at the ‘Eureka!’ moment. One of the fundamentals of the Lean approach is that you must “go to the work.” Don’t just talk about the results or listen to people talk about the work — go to the work. Look at the work, and learn from the people who do it every day. Without this knowledge, little can be substantially improved.
Learn from the marketplace. A prime example of learning from the market took place in the early 1980’s when Toyota believed that, to grow their sales in the United States, they would need to have manufacturing facilities here. But they concluded they did not have enough knowledge to do so successfully. So, they entered into a joint venture with General Motors opening the NUMMI plant in California to produce both the Chevy Nova and the Toyota Corolla in the United States. Having achieved their learning goals, Toyota went on to open plants in Alabama, Kentucky, Indiana and more. General Motors had the opportunity to learn the production systems that enabled Toyota to produce very high-quality product with low cost. Indeed, many individuals at GM learned a great deal through this venture. But in keeping with the practice of gathering knowledge by chance and then leaving it where it lies, GM gained little more from the venture than the cars that came off the assembly line.
Learn from customers. Customers may tell you what they want, but not necessarily why. What do they really value? How do they use or struggle to use what you give them? What are the things that you could do differently that the customers would not know to ask? They don’t ask because they know enough about your process to suggest it and you don’t know enough about their process to offer it. Contextual inquiry is a method of learning more about the customer needs than the customer could tell you by watching the customer use the product in context. It has been used by some software developers and systems designers for a number of years. But it can be used in many other circumstances. The staff of an assisted living facility was able to eliminate almost half the forms in the move-in process by spending time with the departments requesting the forms to really understand how and why they were used. With the new understanding, they were able to design a much simpler and less error-prone move-in process that also perfectly met the needs of the accounting, facilities, and medical departments as well.
Learn from the competition. In his book, “Benchmarking: The Search for Industry Best Practices,” Robert Camp described a methodology to learn and apply better ways of doing things by identifying and studying the best. His is a rigorous and time-consuming methodology, and companies must choose the most important aspects of their work to compare and try to improve. In addition to benchmarking, there are a number of quick and inexpensive ways to mine competitive information. Visiting competitors’ websites can increase knowledge and generate ideas about how you might leapfrog them by combining the best of the competitors with your own best capabilities and offerings. Visiting the competitor as a customer can also tell you a great deal about their customer service and how you can improve your own. The manager of a loan processing and underwriting group went to a competitor to apply for an auto loan — and was astonished at their speed and quality. This learning experience changed his mindset: “We were processing loans as fast as we can. Now I know we have to process them as fast as they can!”
Learn from the world at large. What is going on in technology? What methods are others trying out? How is it working for them? How could it work for you? In the mid-20th century, Toyota noticed that Ford auto workers were nine times as efficient as those at the Toyota plants. So, they sent Taiichi Ohno to study the Ford processes. Ohno concluded, however, that the capital-intensive Ford production model could not be applied to the Japanese automobile company. Nonetheless, Ohno continued to search for ideas for improvements. On one study mission, Ohno watched the bread replenishment system in a Midwestern grocery store and saw how he could adapt this method to make cars with low capital requirements. The Toyota Production System was conceived — a breakthrough achieved!
The speed of change noted in our previous post has had and will continue to have a profound impact on the business world. We have clearly moved into an era where the extraordinary becomes the expected and subsequently obsolete at an unprecedented rate, thus increasing the demand for much greater organizational agility.
Organizational agility is the ability to identify the developing threats and opportunities to our mission and to quickly align or realign resources to thrive in the new environment. In other words, to make necessary changes / improvements and do so quickly!
Agility requires two components:
The ability to see and understand the external developments and what they will mean for us
The ability to quickly adapt our resources to leverage the emerging opportunities and to avoid the looming threats
Here are 5 specific steps leaders can take to develop and sustain a creative culture of change and organizational agility, based on findings published by New Horizons Learning Centers:
Encourage new ideas. Management must make it clear that they will embrace new ways of doing things. Managers whose default is to turn against new ideas will quickly stop creative thinking and negatively impact the pace of change. This simple habit alone is a critical first step toward developing a culture of creativity and change.
Allow more interaction. An innovative climate thrives when team members are allowed to interact with their own team mates as well as team members from other departments. Better questions are asked, useful information is exchanged, new ideas flow both ways and new views on old challenges are heard for the first time.
Tolerate failure. We have often noted that a culture of CI is one in which people must be given amnesty… a culture in which people are not afraid to fail. This holds true in an agile culture of creativity as well. While new ideas can sometimes prove too costly or might simply turn out to not be feasible, management needs to accept that time and resources will be provided knowing that the idea(s) might or might not come to fruition.
Provide clear objectives and freedom to achieve them. People or teams who are provided with clear goals will be motivated to meet them. The goals provide a purpose for their creativity. Set guidelines with minimal constraints gives managers a degree of control with regards to the cost and time to completion.
Offer recognition. Management must offer tangible rewards that send a clear message that creative behavior is encouraged, supported and recognized in their organization, and that the demands of the marketplace favor an organization that is, in fact, open to ongoing change (CI) and agile enough to make it happen quickly.
We all know the pace of change has significantly accelerated over the past ten years and is continuing to do so. This faster pace is often referenced as being exponential!
People most often agree that change is an important and necessary element of success but, truth be told, we don’t really like it. It is far more common to feel that “change is good and I think YOU should.”
Yet the value of change is clear. Consider that 100 years ago the average life expectancy in the United States was 53.1 compared to 78.8 today. Only 35% of households had electricity in 1920, and only 1% had both electricity and running water.
Business examples of what happens without change include Converse in sneakers, Kodak in photography, and Blockbuster in video. Each of these established and successful entities experienced significant declines in market share (or worse!) and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.
What Could or Should Be? We have defined “waste” as the difference between the way things are now and the way they could or should be if everything were right. While this definition still rings oh-so-true today, what has changed is the expectations many have of what could or should be.
Who, ten years ago, would have thought there could be self-driving cars? Who would have envisioned a supermarket without checkout stations? Who could have imagined a printer that could generate 3-D objects? Yet all of these things, and many others of similar proportion, have suddenly become real.
In the past 10 years we have seen an unprecedented acceleration of the rate of change, and you’ve probably heard people refer to the effect as “disruption” or “dislocation.”
“Disruption is when someone does something clever that makes you and your company obsolete,” says Craig Mundies, former chief of strategy and research at Microsoft, “Dislocation is when the whole environment is being altered so quickly that everyone starts to feel they cannot keep up.”.
Whether we are experiencing ‘disruption,’ ‘dislocation,’ or unprecedented opportunity, we have clearly moved into an era where the extraordinary becomes the expected and subsequently obsolete at an unprecedented rate. This acceleration of change has important implications for business — specifically for the organizational traits and capabilities that determine who will thrive, survive, or fail.
Thus “agility” has become a key component of sustainable success.
Many people say they would like to make their organizations more agile, but few organizations have a formalized strategy to do so.
For many leaders, the planning and management methods mastered on their way up the ladder were designed and effective in a different time, when change moved at a much slower pace. Others might lean more toward the entrepreneurial side, exhibiting high-levels of vision and enthusiasm, but not the team-building or other managerial skills necessary to develop a truly agile environment; and others may simply fail to stay the course.
To gain agility, today’s leaders must incorporate these four “agility enablers” into their operating model:
Fast and effective information flows so their enterprise can emulate Wayne Gretzky and “just skate to where the puck is going to be.”
Strong leadership and teamwork to turn insight into action; people at all levels must be engaged, involved, and accepting of ongoing change.
Relentlessly streamlined and simplified processes in order to handle the more rapid pace of implementation. If the processes that comprise the value stream are held together by patches, expediting, and human vigilance, or are full of inspection, rework, delays, over-specification, redundancies, excess inventory, complexity, etc. it will be very difficult to execute the necessary changes.
Flexible investments, as acceleration of change makes acquired assets obsolete faster, so both the investment and hiring strategy should reflect the need for flexibility.
As noted in previous posts, the start of a new year is often a time for making resolutions or strategic improvement plans, which is another way of saying “a time for change.”
As we all know, change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success; and, to be effective, change initiatives must involve not only a change in attitude, but also behavioral change.
But, as we also know, change 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.
Readiness… the Right Attitude 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. We have found that this “readiness for change” is best brought about through assessment, communication, education, empowerment, measurement, and recognition.
Components of helping people prepare for and embrace change include:
Making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture so that people at all levels change the way they think, talk, work, and act
Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work
Clearly identifying the necessary or desired changes to actions and behaviors
Effectively using statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation and to measure improvement
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
The point has been made, in prior posts, that “change” is not always perceived as being good, and instead tends to promote fear, uncertainty, doubt; and even resentment!
Consider that, in organizations of all types people tend to look with skepticism at new policies and procedures, and look with deep concern at new compensation plans or updated benefits programs. Similarly, in their daily quest for new customers, sales people constantly struggle to overcome buyers’ comfort with the status-quo; and people at all levels regularly cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!
Yet without change comes stagnation… and potentially worse things too. Current-day examples include Polaroid in instant photography, Blockbuster in video, Xerox in copiers, or the Yellow Pages! Each of these household name enterprises experienced significant declines, or worse, as competitors introduced new and better alternatives.
The cassette tape replaced the eight-track, but was then outdone by the compact disc, which was undercut by MP3 players… and the list can go on.
A Selling Mission… If we’re to learn from these examples, then we must accept the fact that change — either in the form of innovation, continuous improvement or both — is a critical component of growth and ongoing success. Without innovation and change we run the risk of losing our competitive position or potential obsolescence.
“Whatever made you successful in the past won’t in the future,” said the late Hewlett Packard CEO Lew Platt.
But if people tend to resist change as previously noted, how might managers or business owners best go about getting the team to accept it — to buy in? How can we help people more readily embrace improvement programs, try new protocols, accept new pricing models or generally believe in the up-side of change?
Simply stated, we must sell it.
Just like the sales and marketing experts who create the “new and improved” ad copy, slogans and selling presentations, we must sell the concept of change to our staff members before trying to present or roll-out new policies, procedures, campaigns, programs or plans.
And just like any sales mission, this will require forethought and planning.
We might start by identifying how the team will benefit from a proposed change. What’s in it for them? What are the consequences of not changing? What will it cost? What opportunities might we lose?
What’s the competition doing?
The next step is to determine how to properly position a proposed change. Since we know there is a tendency toward defensiveness, it’s important to make people understand that they are not the problem. In other words, a change in policy or approach need not mean that the team has been doing things the wrong way. Rather, it means the world is changing and we must change too, lest we fall behind.
Finally, once the presentation is made and the new whatever is launched, there must be follow-up reinforcement and assessment. Has everything worked as we’d hoped? Should we modify the new plan? Are there unforeseen consequences? While we don’t want to send a message indicating we’re not resolved to the new program or approach, it is also a good idea to let everyone know we’re fair and open-minded — that at the end of the day we’re all on the same side.
Change may be unsettling, but without it our futures are at risk; and there are clearly ways to minimize the negative effects. It will require effort, planning and, like any selling mission, persistence, as behaviors and attitudes are not easily influenced.
Margaret Thatcher may have summed it up best when saying, “You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it!”
Our previous post explained the concept of “confirmation bias,” which is the tendency to pursue and embrace information that matches our existing beliefs.
Here are some general examples of how confirmation bias can creep into our day-to-day thinking, and three proven ways to avoid the pitfall:
Decision-Driven Data As previously noted, the inclination to look for supportive data can easily lead us to serious mistakes. Social scientists report that analyses of investments we favor inexorably take on a rosier look than investments we are doubtful about.
Many small choices go into collecting and crunching data and analyzing opportunity and risk and presenting results. Absent a conscientious effort to avoid confirmation bias, small choices — all valid on their own — tend to be made to support our initial opinion. We think we are making data-driven decisions, but we are really collecting decision-driven data.
For example, author Daniel Kahneman once described a study of high-performing schools to determine if size played a role in quality of educational outcomes. The data indicated that the top quartile in educational performance contained a disproportionate number of small schools, supporting the hypothesis that small schools provided better quality education. This led to some expensive policy decisions that produced no educational benefit. It turned out that small schools are disproportionately represented in the worst performing quartile as well, due to the statistical tendency of larger populations to “regress to the mean” or basically become more “average” and thus to be under-represented in the top and bottom quartile.
First Impressions Confirmation bias also plays an important role in the inordinate impact of first impressions. A first impression provides a very tiny and possibly serendipitous sample of a candidate’s qualities and qualifications. Yet, people who believe this is a very intelligent candidate before the interview tend to notice more signs of high intelligence.
Here are three things we can do to protect our decision-making process from conformation bias and potential distortion:
Recognize the bias and remind yourself to look for it in your decisions and analyses. Remind yourself that the authors of everything you read (including this article) are making a point that is supported by the data they present, but is not necessarily by data they do not present — and in fact may not even have seen if they did not look hard enough for contrary data. Remind yourself that the talented and well-meaning people providing you with analysis and recommendations are also subject to confirmation bias. Ask for contrary data.
Ask “what else could it be?” Think creatively about alternative explanations and alternative solutions. Explore the whole feasible set, if possible.
Encourage the expression of contrary views and ideas. “If you value the differences in people, the differences will produce value.” Aggressively seek out and try to understand contrarian views. For many people, the first impulse is to refute contrarian views and argue our own. But the best decisions are likely to be made by those who “seek first to understand rather than be understood.”
We are often asked about how organizations can optimize the value of their Learning & Development programs, with many C-level leaders looking for ways to increase training-related behavioral change as well as their return on investment.
A recent VitalSmarts webinar addressed this subject quite nicely, and shared several perspectives that are well-aligned with ours. For as long as the recording might be available, you can listen to the webinar here.
Alternatively, here’s a brief summary:
First and foremost, the webinar’s over-arching premise is that Learning & Development must become a strategic partner of the C-suite in order to bring about improvement and real behavioral change. In addition, there must also be a C-level commitment to consistent L&D programming. As the presenters said several times, “Training, or L&D, must be treated as a process rather than an event.”
In case anyone needed convincing, some thought-provoking statistics were then shared.
For example, only 7% of Learning & Development leaders measure the bottom-line effectiveness of their training programs. Possibly more troubling, only about 10% of all Learning & Development executives have met with the C-suite; and only a few align their training plans with the organization’s strategic plan.
In addition, only 35% of the US workforce receives any training at all! And even then, the average is three days of training per year.
Finally, without effective reinforcement and ongoing development, only 14%-15% of the information shared in training “sessions” is applied in the workplace. Instead, people most often do nothing differently or make a few changes for a while and then revert back to whatever they were doing in the past. Clearly this enormous “gap” represents significant waste, which was referred to as “learning scrap.”
Next Steps: 3 Best Practices For those determined to improve the value and effectiveness of their Learning & Development programs, that is to increase learning transfer and reduce learning scrap, three best practices were suggested:
Define the role and purpose of Learning & Development within the organization. To begin this process, the first couple of questions might be, “What would translate to a breakout year for L&D?” “This training will be a success when… (complete the sentence”?”
Build the Learning & Development platform on defined and agreed-to business outcomes. It was pointed-out that most L&D managers plan their programming on what they “hope people will learn.” But the real focus should instead be on “what people will do differently as a result.”
Recognize that L&D is a process, not an event. The process must include ongoing measurement and support to ensure the business outcomes are achieved. This means coaching, reinforcement, and accountability on multiple levels:
C-level must be committed and allocate resources for appropriate levels of learning as well as for reinforcement and ability coaching
L&D leaders must align with business outcomes, and move the “finish line” of their training to include an achievement phase.
Front line managers must provide reinforcement and support
People at all levels are accountable for applying what they’ve learned and related behavioral change
Rapid acceleration in the pace of change has taken place within the business world over the past ten years. This fact has also accelerated the need for organizational agility, in both thought and behavior.
Agility and change are inextricably linked. The goal in most change efforts is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change.
But of course change is not always perceived as being good. In fact, people at all levels tend to react with fear, uncertainty, and doubt (the “FUD” factor) when new ideas, processes, policies or procedures are introduced; and many cringe at the mere suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs !
Yet without change comes stagnation and potential loss.
The first step in any change effort, and in maintaining organizational agility, is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that timely change is a constant part of long-term success — this readiness for change will require:
Making continuous improvement a permanent part of the organization’s culture…
Getting people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act, and fostering a culture of open-mindedness and amnesty.
Establishing new perspectives on work, work processes and value-added work.
Effectively using various statistical tools to identify, analyze, understand and communicate variation.
Enlisting input from of people operating the work processes.
Quantifying how continuous improvement benefits all stakeholders.
Improving leadership and coaching skills that lead to increased employee capability and engagement.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement