Category Archives: Change

The “Hard” Part of Continuous Improvement

In past posts we have discussed the fact that more than half of all change initiatives fail, and that most “continuous improvement” efforts have two things in common:

  1. They produce some improvements
  2. Then they peter out…

Therefore, “discontinuous improvement” is, at times, the more appropriate description of what actually takes place; and as noted in one of our previous posts, there are a number of reasons why organizations fail to make their improvement efforts cultural, which include:

  1. Neglecting aligning individual or team goals with those of the organization
  2. Insufficient communication between management, the workforce, project teams and CI leaders
  3. Delegating leadership, which is a responsibility that should stay with senior management
  4. Manager’s or Sponsor’s failure to remove obstacles
  5. Lack of quick success
  6. Letting-up on the “gas” when initial results are made

Along similar lines, in a recent article about “why process improvements efforts routinely fail,” author and educator Nicolas Argy, MD, JD, suggests that despite the numerous approaches to continuous improvement (i.e., LEAN, Six Sigma, etc.), “All these systems go in and out of vogue and, just like losing weight and the latest fad diet, all of them fail or only provide temporary results.”

Argy goes on to note that measurement, questioning and reporting, tend to influence and change people’s behavior. In support of this perspective he cites some well-known research.

  • Pearson’s law –“When performance is measured, performance improves. When performance is measured and reported back, the rate of improvement accelerates.”
  • Sentinel effect – The theory that productivity and outcomes can be improved through the process of observation and measurement.

These views are well-aligned with Dr. Deming’s fundamentals, such as the Deming Cycle, on which much of our work is based.

But regardless of your approach or beliefs, it’s apparent that the “hard” part of continuous improvement isn’t making improvements, but rather making it “continuous.”

If an organization can develop a culture in which making improvements is the constant “way of doing business,” then they can achieve break-through gains on a recurring basis as opposed to the ad-hoc improvements associated with an on-again/off-again effort.

 

3 Key Steps For Developing Leaders

Developing effective leaders within an organization is an important step toward achieving  sustainability, workforce engagement, and a culture of continuous improvement.

Many define leadership as getting people to want to do what needs to be done, and  providing the energy and mindset for change and the commitment to sustain it.

To develop leaders who are capable of implementing a strong style, and who can provide a straightforward path for bringing about change and continuous improvement, we’ve found the following three steps are necessary:

  1. Training — including an understanding of leadership styles and how to diagnose the circumstances requiring leadership so the most effective style can be applied. Important skills and behaviors, include:
    • Communication and listening
    • Optimism, energy and enthusiasm
    • Motivation
    • Risk
    • Delegation
    • Empowerment
  2. 360° feedback from peers, staff members and management is a popular and insightful component of the journey toward becoming an effective leader. With heightened awareness comes improvement.
  3. Coaching in a team environment. A project team or natural work group is the ideal place in which to exercise and improve leadership skills. Senior leaders must coach and mentor new leaders so they can build upon strengths and measure progress.

Workforce Capability, Management & Change

While identifying the right things to work on is a critical decision we must make each day, it’s important to also have the right people working on the right things if we hope to truly achieve breakthrough solutions. In other words, it is imperative to have a solid grasp of the team’s capabilities, strengths and  developmental  needs.

We’ve discovered that workforce assessments need to be done in an organized, comprehensive way that includes a strategic mixture of observation, one-on-one and small group interviews to cover a diagonal cross-section of an organization. Key activities include an analysis of layout, work flow, bottlenecks and yield, and also an assessment of people’s understanding of tools as well as how their work impacts the total organization.

It is also important to ask questions about the organization, how people feel they are treated and valued, and, in so doing, it’s important to assess their level of engagement.

Based on discovering the best opportunities for improvement, an improvement plan can then be implemented, which will involve making key changes in processes and behaviors.

Finally, it’s also necessary to review how people are being managed, as without engaged, effective leadership it is difficult to implement the changes that are necessary for achieving a culture of continuous improvement.

Reorganizations Can Work, But…!

In their book Reorg, published by the Harvard Business School Press, authors Stephen Heidari Robinson and Suzanne Heywood write, “A successful reorg can be one of the best ways for companies to unlock latent value, especially in a changing business environment – which is why companies are doing reorgs more often.”

However, they go on to acknowledge that most workplace reorganizations “just don’t work.”

Their findings are consistent with our observations and experience, which indicate barely 20% of reorganization efforts deliver the expected benefits.

But it’s important to recognize that the concept itself may not be at fault, but rather the execution. In fact, too many implementations begin prematurely, thus sealing the fate of those involved.

Here are a few key steps that can help ensure your reorganization effort will be successful:

  1. Start with a comprehensive design that includes the strategic engagement of leaders at all levels, and that takes into consideration the critical processes that create value for customers.
  2. Use flow charts or value-stream mapping to identify critical processes as well as those that are error-prone or that fail to add value so your plan can encompass the redesign of both the processes and the organization.
  3.  Select an Implementation Team with overall responsibility for every step, and begin with an “impact assessment.”
  4. Communication must be open and widespread throughout the process so that people at all levels are aware, on-board, and prepared for the upcoming changes. Be sure to include reasons for the reorganization and appropriate information about the implementation plan in this ongoing communication.
  5. Provide training for people in new or redesigned jobs.
  6. Provide coaching to help people at all levels make the transition.
  7. Follow-up, to ensure that any gaps in the implementation plan are closed.

Study Your Work & The Work of Others to Promote Internal Change

Continuing to analyze the concept that “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, today’s focus is on what is arguably the most important source of that knowledge — your own value stream, which includes your organization’s work as well as the work of others.

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 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. Similarly,  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 (a.k.a. Gemba).

Look at the work, and learn from the people who do it every day. Without this knowledge, little can be substantially improved, and effective “change” will be difficult or impossible to implement.

Learning from the Marketplace to Promote Internal Change

As noted in our previous post, “knowledge” is one of the most powerful change agents, and all sorts of learning can become a catalyst for change.

One very effective source of knowledge is our marketplace, which includes our customers and competitors.

By learning from the market we can often see possibilities for innovation that have been overlooked. Of course learning is only the first step, as the gained knowledge must then be applied.

For example, in the early 1980’s, 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.

After they achieved their learning goals, Toyota went on to successfully open plants in a number of U.S. locations, applying their knowledge each time.  While General Motors had the opportunity to learn the production systems that enabled Toyota to produce very high quality products at low cost, and while many individuals at GM learned a great deal through this venture, GM gained little more from the venture than the cars that came off the assembly line.

Learning from the customer can also open our eyes to new possibilities. But it’s important to recognize that customers may tell you what they want, but not necessarily why.

So making the extra effort to go beyond just “what they need” to gain knowledge is critically-important. 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.

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? And consider that they don’t ask because they don’t know enough about your process
to suggest it, and you don’t know enough about their process to offer it!

Similarly, knowledge of the competition can produce a greater sense of urgency or a heightened “willingness” to change, and in many cases can give us better insights as to the best ways to satisfy our customers and achieve a competitive edge.

Learn to Change!

Much has been written about the importance of “change” within a business, and how developing an acceptance of it is a requirement to maintaining a culture of Continuous Improvement as well as a competitive position.

However, it is also true that people tend to resist change, even when they acknowledge the need for it.

While there are numerous methods for leading and managing change within an organization, “knowledge” is the most powerful of change agents. 

If leaders can make the practice of gathering and sharing knowledge more systematic, and initiate a systematic approach to pursuing knowledge not only about the outside world and marketplace, but also about the work itself, then they can more easily achieve breakthrough results as well as a more engaged and competitive culture.

Of course this contrasts with the more common business culture of focusing on individual learning.

But consider that a great deal of the learning goes to waste when in this model because much of what is learned stays in one place. An individual may accumulate a great deal of knowledge and skill in his or her work, but little is shared. One may master one’s own job, but know little about the work in supplier or customer organizations, which could help streamline the whole process.

To implement a systematic approach to making “learning” the organization’s catalyst for change, leaders can encourage people to learn from four key sources:

  1. Learn about the marketplace
  2. Learn about the competition
  3. Learn about the world-at-large
  4. Learn about the work

We’ll take a closer look at each of these sources of knowledge over the next few posts, and point-out how each can serve as a catalyst to change and Continuous Improvement.

Leadership Pitfalls

Several past posts have referenced the fact that strong, effective leadership is a “must” if we hope to build and sustain a culture of continuous improvement… a culture rife with innovation and high-levels of engagement.

Innovation, change, continuous improvement, and engagement only take place when leaders empower people at all levels to unleash their creative skills, seek new and better ways of improving their work, and share their passion about what can be accomplished.
Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change, and people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, if they believe change will benefit “all” parties, and if they are involved in creating the change.

While two of last year’s posts identified specific steps managers can take to develop and sustain a creative culture and also a culture of continuous improvement, there are also behaviors that organizational leaders must avoid.

In a recent SmartBrief article, John Stoker, Author and CEO of DialogueWORKS, Inc., shares several pitfalls that can result leaders undermining their credibility and effectiveness.

These “behaviors to avoid” include:

  • “You can tell me anything, but…!” This statement is made (without the “but”) to solicit input or feedback on a particular idea or course of action.  But, sometimes leaders will completely discount the idea or opinion offered, especially if it’s something with which they don’t immediately agree.
  • Coercing support. Sometimes in an attempt to win approval for an idea or decision, leaders will say something like, “I need you to support my position today in the meeting. You have to back me up!” Often there’s an implied, “Or else.” Such behavior destroys candor, honesty and team morale.
  • Solicitation without action. Simply stated, solicitation implies action. When a leader asks for ideas or solutions, it is implied that the leader will do something with the ideas or solutions that are provided. This doesn’t mean that a leader has to implement or take action on every idea that is offered, but it does require that the leader share what they might do and why. This reinforces the importance of contribution and collaboration. To solicit ideas or solutions and then do nothing signals to individuals that their ideas are not important. Do this, and it won’t be long before people quit speaking up or offering ideas.
  • Manipulation. Sometimes a leader will ask people for ideas and then use them as evidence that the leader’s original idea was the best idea. This ends up feeling like manipulation. If leaders ask for ideas, then they should be open to exploring those ideas.
  • Giving feedback at the wrong time and in the wrong place. The proper place to give any kind of negative feedback is in private! Some leaders feel it is appropriate to give negative or critical feedback to a person on the spot and in front of others.  Some of these managers have said that they like giving feedback in this way because it is motivating to others. But in reality, such behavior strikes fear into the heart of any conscious team member who learns to dread interactions with these managers or leaders. Sharing negative or critical feedback in front of others is highly disrespectful and does not inspire candor or openness. In fact, it will likely cause people to keep bad news to themselves and hide their mistakes.

Read the full article… 

Is Your Team Capable of Achieving Breakthrough Results?

While identifying the right things to work on  and using the right tools are critical decisions we must make each day, we must also have the right people with the knowledge and skills working on the right things if we are to truly achieve breakthrough solutions.

Taking an objective overview of employees’ capabilities, strengths and needs on a periodic basis can help us recognize both the strengths to build on and improvement areas for training and coaching.

As part of the employee capability assessment process, it’s best to use a strategic mixture of one-on-one and small group interviews to cover a diagonal cross-section of the organization.

Generally speaking, the objective is to talk with people about the organization, how they are treated and valued, and assess their level of engagement. Meeting with key people who manage and work in various areas is also crucial, as is seeking to understand how the organization’s strengths can form the basis for the creation of a systemic continuous improvement process.

Ready to Change?

Change is a critical component of growth and ongoing success, yet two-thirds of all change initiatives fail.

In fact, 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 cringe at the suggestion that there might be a different or better way to do their jobs!

Yet without change comes stagnation and risk of obsolescence and loss, a-la Kodak, Polaroid, Blockbuster, and so many other once-robust organizations that experienced significant declines in market share (or worse) and profits as competitors introduced new and improved, lower-cost alternatives.

Long-term, the goal is not only a change in attitude, but behavioral change. The first step is to help people develop the right mental attitude and understand that change is a constant part of long-term success — to help them develop a readiness for change.

One way to achieve these objectives is to involve people at all levels in ongoing organizational change by making continuous improvement a permanent part of your corporate culture… by using the fundamental principles of continuous improvement and workforce engagement in a way that gets people at all levels to change the way they think, talk, work, and act… by educating and empowering people to improve both the work and the workplace – their work and their workplace!

People tend to become engaged when they feel productive… when they feel like they are achieving success and that they are an important part of the organization’s success; when they feel that they have a voice in creating a better, more productive workplace as well as a better future.

Make this type of measured pursuit a part your culture and the results can be astounding!

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