Category Archives: Culture building

An Often Overlooked Tool for Driving Continuous Improvement

A vitally-important tool for bringing about a culture of continuous improvement and engagement within a workforce is communication, which many people agree is the most frequently-used skill in today’s workplace.

Aside from standard team or project meetings, there are a number of ways leaders might go about accomplishing this. For example, employee forums are an ideal way to engage people around their work and contribute to the building of a high performance culture of continuous improvement.

Consider that one of the most obvious yet often overlooked requirements for high performance is a setting for employees to share and discuss problems and ideas for improvement.

But too often, managers and leaders tend to believe that if someone has a really great idea for improvement, they will raise it.  Yet when we talk to people close to the work, we more often hear ideas they have carried around for months or even years but never found the right time or place to share; or felt their idea would not be welcomed.

Even worse, when no forum for sharing improvement ideas is provided, people adapt to the way things are and stop noticing the waste—the elephant in the room—and stop trying to think of better ways.

A number of other examples of effective discussion forums that were shared during one of our Partners in Improvement sessions included:

  • Monthly safety talks at the end of which the company president discusses pertinent issues with team members and provides input as well as support
  • Weekly one-on-one session between management and team members during which leaders not only offer ideas and support, but also gather feedback on successes and challenges
  • Regular “town hall” meetings where he shares information about what is going on and what to expect, and also provides an opportunity for people to raise questions or concerns

It is also important to recognize that some “forums” are better than others, which will be the subject of our next post.

Engagement, Motivation & Work

Enterprise engagement has been a frequently-addressed topic in this blog, and a recent post shared some of our Partners in Improvement group’s thoughts on an important element of an engagement strategy — rewards and recognition.

In that post, several points were made about being careful with the use of extrinsic, or monetary rewards as motivators.

To add some additional perspective,  the Enterprise Engagement Alliance shared information from a past New York Times column “The Secret of Effective Motivation,” in which authors Amy Wrzesniewski, Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Yale School of Management, and Barry Schwartz, Professor of Psychology at Swarthmore College, suggest that the most effective type of motivation in terms of actual long-term results is action based on an internal motive — that is, “the pleasure derived from the activity and results themselves rather than from an instrumental motive such as the desire for fame or money.”

“Helping people focus on the meaning and impact of their work, rather than on, say, the financial returns it will bring, may be the best way to improve not only the quality of their work but also… their financial success,” the article states.

This viewpoint is well-aligned with our “Engagement Around the Work” approach, which involves specific steps for achieving a
culture of engagement that is linked with team productivity, performance, and job satisfaction.

This approach incorporates a clear objective of engaging people around the one thing they all have in common—and the one thing that can bring about increased profitability and a sustainable competitive edge—the work.

As Bill Conway often said, “It’s all about the work!”

Read “Engagement Around the Work” white paper.

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… 

5 Steps for Developing a Creative Culture of Continuous Improvement

In a previous post we shared some thoughts on how creativity can be a desirable trait of a good CI Leader, and how it can also be a tool for helping people to accept and adapt to change.

Although not often associated with a leadership goal, establishing a creative culture of continuous improvement can help managers at all levels to achieve higher-levels of performance.

Here are 5 specific steps managers can take to develop and sustain a creative culture, based on findings published by New Horizons Learning Centers:

    1. 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 ideas. This simple habit alone is a critical first step toward developing a culture of creativity and change.
    2. Allow more interaction. A creative climate thrives when team members are allowed to interact with their own team mates as well as team members from other departments. Useful information is exchanged, new ideas flow both ways and new views on old challenges are heard for the first time.
    3. 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 a 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.
    4. 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 invested the creative behavior.
    5. Offer recognition. Create individuals prefer to work on tasks that actual motivate them. This also means they, like all other staff, like to be rewarded for a task well done. Management must offer tangible rewards that send a clear message that creative behavior is encouraged, supported and recognized in their organisation.

 

Motivating for Performance

Our previous post referenced how high-achieving organizations are able to develop and sustain high performance cultures in which team members are engaged and highly-motivated.

During a recent discussion with Continuous Improvement leaders, various approaches to the motivational component of performance management were shared. Some organizations focused on the individual quantitative measurements to motivate individuals and to encourage them to achieve important goals. For example, tying individual goals to the organization’s KPIs was cited as an effective way to align behaviors with goals and make sure everyone knows exactly what they are expected to do.

However, others said that group rewards and recognition were more effective than individual metrics. For example, one participant described how teamwork deteriorated to the detriment of the organization as a whole after his organization switched to individual metrics and rewards instead of rewarding everyone based on achievement of the company’s key strategic metrics.

We also discussed experience with financial rewards as opposed to intrinsic rewards, such as recognition. Financial rewards did not necessarily produce the best results.

One participant explicitly pays people for participating on improvement teams in some of their plants, while one of their Midwestern plants is prohibited from paying for participation. The Midwestern plant relies on intangible rewards such as recognition and “thank yous.” Surprising to many, the Midwestern plant had a much higher rate of participation than the others, seeming to demonstrate that intangible or ‘intrinsic’ rewards can be more effective than monetary rewards.

Another organization found recognition, sometimes coupled with small gift cards, was an effective method for their organization.

Generally, it was agreed that the keys to effective use of recognition as a motivational method are timeliness and making the recognition public.

One successful example involved a peer-recognition program, in which people were empowered to recognize one another by giving-out stars for helping an internal or external customer. When someone receives a certain number of stars, they get a gift card and the ‘star of the month’ gets a party, recognition, and a preferred parking space. It was noted that guidelines for the awarding of stars were set in advance.

Another perspective relative to timeliness involved making motivational and performance management activities an “everyday job,” and basing strategies on more than just past data.

Over-reliance on past data when crafting improvement or motivational plans was referenced as working through the “rear-view-mirror.” A better approach not only enables managers to identify opportunities for team improvement based on analyzing past activities and results, but to also identify preemptive action steps and strategies that can impact outcomes and future results.

Conclusions

  • Performance Management and motivation must be about much more than individual performance measurement. As Deming said, over 90% of problems are caused by the system not the person. To manage performance, we must manage the system by which people, plant, process interact to produce results.
  • Frequent observation and feedback is more helpful to people than more formal annual reviews. Motivation and engagement levels were consistently rated as “much higher” when team members received frequent, consistent feedback on their work, and also when they felt they had input to improvement plans.
  • Frequent communication about what an organization needs and wants greatly increases the odds that the organization will get what they need and want.
  • Group rewards encourage teamwork, while individual rewards encourage an individual to optimize his or her own goals even if it may sub-optimize the organization as a whole.
  • Tying money directly to performance appraisal can be a two-edged sword – raising stress and reducing the intrinsic rewards and personal satisfaction from doing a good job for the team.
  • Intrinsic rewards tend to increase motivation over time as opposed to financial rewards. Recognition is among the most effective. The keys to effective use of recognition as a motivational method are timeliness and making the recognition public.
  • Avoid performance management in the “rear-view mirror.”

Building a Performance Culture Infographic

Our previous post listed ten behaviors that have proved effective when taking a formalized approach to employee engagement.

But as noted in that, and other posts, engagement alone is not enough if the goal is to improve performance in a measurable way.

Not surprisingly, some of the highest achieving organizations with which we’ve worked are those that have successfully leveraged their engagement effort to develop and sustain high performance cultures.

The info-graphic  summarizes  steps you can take in order to achieve a high-performance culture.

Within this type of culture, people at all levels are encouraged to continually look for better ways of doing their jobs.  They are continually educated about, and coached to use, the tools of improvement; and to understand the link between individual or team performance and organizational goals.

Leaders within such a culture make available the necessary resources for helping people at all levels to understand the core competencies, values and beliefs which drive the culture.  These leaders also devote the necessary time and attention toward encouraging an environment that supports high quality and productivity, and toward effective performance management.

Leading a Culture of Innovation & Continuous Improvement

Tying recent posts together, and spring-boarding off a good comment shared about “the biggest waste lying in the ranks of poor leadership,” this post focuses on the critically-important role leadership plays in developing and sustaining a culture of innovation and continuous improvement.

Simply stated, given the challenges of creating a consistently effective innovative organization, nothing is more important
than leadership.

It requires powerful leadership skills to empower and unleash an organization’s creative talents and energy. In an organization without strong leadership, inspiring and empowering people to contribute their ideas innovations will be scarce. An innovative culture is not the default position — it must be carefully created.

But empowerment, important as that is, is nowhere near enough.

Leadership must also create a challenging vision around which to rally the organization’s creative energies. This vision must be grounded in a deep understanding of the market and of the daily struggles of the people who make up that market.

Understanding the market is much easier for a small company where everyone deals with real customer needs every day. But as organizations grow, they expand like a balloon — more mass and less surface area. The surface area has the chance to get close to the external customer’s needs.

So, as a company grows, leadership must maintain or create a mechanism that will ensure that an  understanding of the customer’s needs can penetrate beyond the surface area into the heart of the organization. The same is true of internal functions that work together like a chain of customers. As organizations grow, departments grow and they too develop ‘more mass and less surface area’ — creating the familiar silo phenomenon.

In addition, leadership of innovative organizations must, without stifling creativity, challenge the organization’s efforts with the necessary, market-driven constraints. Without the right constraints,
empowerment cannot succeed. It is too easy to become satisfied with a creative idea before it has been developed into something really workable. An organization that tries to empower innovation without creating the right market-driven constraints, can easily suffocate in an avalanche of incomplete or impractical ideas.
Because they are not fully developed to address the real, but perhaps unspecified, constraints, the ideas cannot be implemented and quite soon people cease to feel empowered.

This is a tall order, and it becomes easy to see why innovation isn’t easier to come by despite all the human talent and energy brought to bear. But creating an innovative culture is, in itself, a creative challenge. By increasing our understanding of the challenges and constraints, we increase our ability to focus our own leadership talents on the right things to make it happen.

Silo Treatment?

Bill Conway always said, “The biggest waste is found in the interfaces and interstices.”

Or, said another way, the waste is found at the seams of the value stream as it crosses  different organizational boundaries, which are often referenced as the “silos” in which many of us work.

Some time ago, we were involved in an exercise in streamlining office work and had set up an order processing operation that had lots of obvious waste analogous to the sort commonly found in office processes. The simulation was conducted a number of times, usually in one large room with different departments in different areas of the room.

Participants were always able to identify large amounts of waste, because it really is much easier to see waste in someone else’s process than in one’s own. The simulation helped participants to see the waste and then to draw analogies to opportunities they had overlooked in their own work. So light bulbs would go on and participants would generally be able to redesign the process to increase throughput up to ten-fold!

Then one day, the training facilities were different: no large room, just one mid-sized room and a number of breakout rooms.

Even more realistic, we all thought… the Credit Checkers were in one room, the Order Processors in another, and so on.

But when we reconvened to debrief, everyone seemed oddly comfortable with the whole process they had been executing. They identified little things they could improve within their small group, but they missed the elephant in the room — perhaps because it was in next room, or rather the hallway where no one owned it.

As Bill always said, the big waste was in the “interfaces and interstices… and, as noted in a previous post,  “It is easiest to think outside the box, when you are from outside the box” (or silo!).

Innovation & Cross-Functional Collaboration

Continuing with the theme of innovation, the breakthrough process innovations that achieve order-of-magnitude improvements almost always require cross-organizational collaboration.

So it’s not surprising that this level of innovation is difficult to achieve because, while cross-organizational improvement efforts present substantial opportunities, they also pose some formidable obstacles.

Three of the most common barriers to cross-functional success, along with some ideas on how to overcome them, are:

Too many people… One of the basic facts of accomplishing cross-organizational work is that we must involve more people.  This size factor alone can make the project more difficult to execute. The larger the group, the more effort is required to ensure that good working relationships develop among the team members.  Scheduling meetings becomes more difficult, and individuals may take less responsibility because with a large group it is easier to assume someone else will pick up the slack.

To better-manage larger project teams, leaders must pay close attention to organizational tools and methods, such as forming a proper charter, clearly-defining roles, maintaining consistent communication with top management, scheduling meetings well-in advance and on a regular time-table, distributing meeting agendas in advance to promote awareness and preparedness, and adhering to effective meeting management protocols.

Cumbersome logistics… Cross-organizational improvement projects frequently involve multiple locations, different time zones, and different cultures. Not only can these factors pose scheduling challenges, but also bring about issues with respect to team-building and communication.

To overcome or minimize these challenges, leaders can schedule the initial meeting in person and invest in intensive team-building up front.   For remote meetings, they can add interactive visual communication and employ a more interactive facilitation style; scheduling can “rotate” to accommodate different time zones as well.

Conflicting priorities… The biggest impediment to accomplishing cross-organizational improvements is the power of competing priorities, which can make it hard to form an overall consensus or gain buy-in to the overall mission and vision.  The danger of shifting priorities is many times larger with cross-organizational projects as well, making it more likely that new urgent demands will arise before the project is complete, and resources become overloaded and start missing meetings and skipping action items.

To address these challenges, leaders can begin by conducting a thorough analysis that highlights the enterprise-wide benefits that are at stake. Engaging top level sponsors is also a must. While sponsor engagement is essential to the success of most change efforts, it is more critical for a cross-organizational improvement project. It is also important for all parties to respect the inevitable differences in priorities and operation models, and to avoid the appearance of being judgmental or of telling others “how they should be doing their jobs.”

Finally, nothing succeeds more than success! Achieving some quick wins, and sharing the details, is a great way to start.  Successfully addressing chronic problems is especially great for keeping people engaged and ready to do more. Facilitators are also sales people for the facts, data, methods, and for getting buy-in for the team’s recommendations.  But be sure to leverage every success to encourage more participation.

 

Continuous Improvement & Snow Cones?

In an earlier post, we shared six common reasons why so many continuous improvement efforts fail to be continuous.

This discontinuous improvement concept was nicely described in a recent LinkedIn post by KaiNexus, an improvement software company based in Texas, in which they compare an organization’s improvement effort to a snow cone… if you neglect it, it will melt!

People at all levels are likely to agree that continuous improvement is a good thing —“Always getting better is overrated, said nobody, ever,” the post jokes.

But no matter what you call it or which specific method predominates (i.e., Lean, Six Sigma, CPI, TQM, etc.), a high percentage of initiatives aimed at gaining greater efficiency, quality, speed, and/or customer delight have two important things in common:

  • They generally produce some improvements
  • Then they peter out

Solutions?
The key to solving this problem is effective leadership. Simply stated, while a culture of continuous improvement must involve people at all levels, it must also start at the top.

If leadership maintains a constant vigilance over alignment, an early pursuit of quick wins, a determination to identify and remove obstacles, and consistent, effective communication of the vision, strategy, successes, and next opportunities, then improvements can continue forever.

See related article…