Category Archives: Working on the Right Things

Why An 8-Step Improvement Plan?

While organizations in most sectors work at making at least some ongoing improvements to their work and work processes, most industries or vertical markets consist of leaders and followers.

People often ask about what makes the difference between the industry leaders and the follow-behinds.  In our experience, there are two things:

  1. What they work to improve
  2. How they go about the improvement

Industry leaders tend to “work on the right things,” which, as we’ve noted numerous times in this blog, is the most important decision we all must make every day. They also go about making improvements in an effective way. By working on the right things and following a proven effective improvement process, an organization can get further faster.

We recommend an 8-step process for studying and improving the work. While it is possible to make improvements in fewer steps, the more comprehensive eight-step process helps to ensure people are working on the “right” things, and also that the improvements will “stick.”

These steps are:

  1. Identify and quantify the waste you want to eliminate
  2. Clearly define what you want to do (including problem statement, objective, measurements, scope, team, and plan)
  3. Study and measure the current situation
  4. Analyze the root causes and evaluate and plan solutions
  5. Implement
  6. Study the results and take appropriate action until objectives are met
  7. Stabilize and standardize the improvement so that it stays in place and is used throughout
  8. Evaluate and learn from this improvement effort and plan the next

As noted above, some people think this seems like a lot of steps and wherever we go we meet people who want to “streamline” this process . We call them the “two-fivers” because the improvement process they follow is simply:

  • think of something they believe will improve things
  • implement it

Two-fivers eliminate 3/4 of the steps we recommend! Possibly a good, or at least workable idea… but the whole point of the eight steps is to make sure people are working on the right thing, that they get to the right solution, and that it sticks. If you can do without that, by all means, be a two-fiver.

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.

“Classified” Decisions

A past post focused on how we make decisions, and noted that while people often think they could make better decisions if they had more facts and data, in practice the presence of “too much information” often complicates decision-making.

In fact, behavioral economists report that “data driven” decisions tend to increase confidence in the decision far more than the quality of the decision.

While the above-mentioned post shares a five-step process for making critical or complex decisions, a simpler approach might be equally as good for certain decisions. Consequently, we might want to first consider the “type” of decision with which we’re faced. In other words, if we “classify” the decision first we can then proceed more strategically.

For example, in their book “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making,” authors  David Snowden and Mary Boone explain that decisions can be categorized by context:

  • Known knowns: That is, we know what information we need in order to make a good decision and we can acquire that information. These decisions can be mapped out with simple decision-trees to reliably and quickly produce good outcomes. For example, a supplier selection process can be mapped out and reliably executed to produce good results.
  • Known unknowns: The problem is knowable, but not simple. We require an expert to gather and process the information to arrive at a reliably good decision. Decisions about how to design a website to maximize traffic or where to position a power plant relative to cooling sources are examples of “known unknowns.” Snowden and Boone refer to these as “complicated decisions — the domain of experts.”
  • Unknown unknowns: Complex decisions, in which we may not even know all the right questions, are increasing in frequency. Many strategic decisions organizations face today carry a great deal of uncertainty. Since best practices are by definition past practices, we have little to go on when faced with unknown unknowns. Thus the more detailed 5-step decision-making process outlined in the above-referenced post can help us achieve the best results.

 

 

 

 

Sales Process Productivity – 20 Questions?

Our previous post focused on applying the fundamentals of CI to the sales process, and included some proven best practices that can help boost field-day efficiency.

But the sales process extends well-beyond a day in the field, as it encompasses everything from identifying a lead to delivering a solution.

Considering this broad spectrum, it is really not surprising that the largest waste in most commercial and industrial organizations is lost gross margin that results from sales not made, sub-optimal pricing, and excessive costs in sales-related processes.

The first step toward improvement — that is, moving from “where we are now to where we’d like to be if everything were right” — is to identify specific areas of waste, and a good way to start might be to answer the following 20 questions:

  1. What is our current market share?
  2. What are our customers’ requirements?
  3. How well are we meeting these requirements?
  4. What would it take to truly delight our customers?
  5. How long does the sales process take from lead to sale?
  6. What is our lead conversion ratio?
  7. What were the top 3 reasons for lost sales over the past quarter?
  8. How many calls do our sales people make, on average, each day?
  9. How much time do we spend talking with uninterested or unqualified leads?
  10. How do we continually improve our sales team’s skills and habits?
  11. What percentage of prospects contact us first?
  12. How does this percentage (#11) compare with industry data?
  13. Does the sales process take less time to complete for inbound leads? If so, how much less?
  14. What is our response time to customer or prospect inquiries?
  15. How many customer complaints do we receive?
  16. How much time do our sales people spend interceding or responding to complaints?
  17. What is done with the information associated with customer complaints?
  18. How do customer complaints or how does customer dissatisfaction impact our ability to make sales?
  19. How often are discounts extended, and what is the average discount?
  20. Are discounts offered due to competition or in response to dissatisfaction?

Clearly there are many more questions and steps associated with analyzing and improving an organization’s sales process, but these twenty questions are a good starting point.

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.

4DX & Engagement Part 5: Accountability

Our previous few posts have focused on “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, and how the disciplines impact achieving goals as well as employee engagement.

These previous posts have shared perspectives on disciplines one, two and three. However, the fourth discipline ― accountability ― is the discipline that enables you to win.

Without a cadence of accountability, teams will have a much more difficult time and will tend to become less engaged. The threat, of course, is that the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.

By ‘cadence’ the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule, commitments, and expectations.  Teams should meet every week, and it’s best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each and every week. These meetings should never canceled ― they must be viewed as important and productive, thus promoting strong feelings of belonging, commitment, productivity, and accomplishment, which are all drivers of engagement.

At the end it is all about employee engagement; working on the right things in the right way and in a way that involves understanding and applying some paradoxical insights:

  • The fewer the goals, the more you get done.
  • Clarity of goals increases engagement, even when a vague goal seems safer.
  • Know your LAG measure, but find and act on LEAD measures to get the results you want.
  • People play differently when they are keeping score and they know if they are winning or losing; the commitment, consistency of focus, and the resulting sense of productivity are all key drivers of engagement.
  • Without a rhythm of accountability, the whirlwind will win.

4DX & Engagement Part 4: The Scoreboard

As we’ve noted in recent posts, the effective execution of improvement and other strategic initiatives results in both goal achievement and workforce engagement. Thus it is to any organization’s advantage to promote and enable effective execution… as presented in “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

The first two disciplines are setting Wildly Important Goals (WIGs or lag measures) and Lead Measures (activities).

The third discipline, which has a strong impact on engaging people throughout the organization, is a scoreboard.

The scoreboard shows the lead measures and lag measure defined in the first two disciplines.  This scoreboard must be ‘a players’ scoreboard’ not a ‘coach’s scoreboard’. It must support, guide, and motivate the players to act effectively on the lead measures and influence the lag measures (WIG’s). It must have the feel of a game — people play the game differently when they are keeping score, and they play differently if they are keeping the score themselves!

In fact, the action of recording their own results has proved to have a strong effect on people ― fostering ownership, engagement, and a deeper appreciation of the impact of their effort.

However, as authors Covey, McChesney, and Huling point out, there are four important requirements to creating an effective scorecard that will truly promote execution and engagement:

  1. The scorecard must be visible. If it is out of sight, on your computer or on the back of the door, it is less effective at aligning the team to focus on moving those measurements.
  2. It must be simple, showing only the data required to ‘play the game’ ― to let the players know how they are doing day to day.
  3. It must show both lead and lag measures.
  4. It must show “at a glance” how the team or players are doing.

This scoreboard helps the team to both recognize their progress and also identify the next actions required to achieve the WIG’s; it also displays their achievement for all to see ― two critical components of engagement.

From a communication perspective, the scoreboard also plays a role in promoting a sense of accountability, which we’ll discuss in our next post.

4DX & Engagement Part 3: Lead Measures

Continuing our theme of how effective execution of improvement and other strategic initiatives results in both goal achievement and workforce engagement, today’s focus is on the second of “The Four Disciplines of Execution,” as presented in a book  by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

Our previous post focused on the first discipline, the Wildly Important Goals (WIG’s).

The second key discipline is to focus on the lead measures, which are the activity or process measures that predict and influence the results measures (WIG’s).

We monitor the WIG’s or lag measures, but we must act on the lead measures to achieve the desired result goals (WIG’s).

People tend to focus their attention on the WIG’s ― sales goals, weight loss, yield, etc. ― because they are what matters most and because they are typically more easily measured.

But these are not directly “influenceable”.

For example, to influence your weight goal you must act on the lead measures: exercise (calories burned) and calories consumed.

In addition, determining the right lead measure(s) is essential to influencing the lag measures and achieving the WIG; and it is not always obvious what each lead measure should be and how we should measure it.

For example, if increasing sales ‘from x to y by mid year’ is your WIG, the most predictive and influencable lead measure might be the number of sales calls. The team could work on increasing the number of sales calls in order to increase the sales. But at another organization or a different time in that same organization, the best lead measure to influence might be quality of preparation for the sales calls or the messaging used by the sales team during the calls.

Similarly, at another place or time, prospect targeting or lead quality might be a better choice of lead measure.

Thus the team must understand enough about the process to choose a good lead measure to act on, one that both predicts and influences the lag measure. They must also constantly monitor their effect on the lag measure to ensure they are working on the right thing in the right way. The simple combination of being empowered to identify activities and being involved in measuring progress is a critical component of the engagement process. People tend to be more engaged when their goals as well as their contributions are clearly identified.

Notice the clarity of action we are building as we implement these disciplines. Instead of many vaguely measured goals, we have 1‒2 clearly defined ― ‘x to y by when’ ― goals (WIG’s). Instead of obsessing on the WIG’s, we focus all our efforts on the lead measures, which are more easily influencable or actionable.   This clarity is what enables us to carve time out of the busy day-to-day environment or whirlwind.

Our next step is to create a compelling scoreboard that will enable us to accurately measure  and recognize “activities,” which will be the subject of our next post.

4DX & Engagement

Not long ago during a meeting with our Partners in Improvement we discussed The Four Disciplines of Execution, an insightful book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.

As you may know, the ‘Four Disciplines’ or 4DX is a management system of making consistent and systematic progress on the vital few, a term derived from the Pareto Principle, which indicates that many defects come from relatively few causes.

Our conversation centered on the best ways for an organization to put the disciplines into practical use to improve business results.

An organization can have an excellent strategy, but fail to execute
effectively on that strategy. Almost always the reason is that everyone is BUSY. Organizations experience a conflict between all of the demands to keep the business running on a day to day basis (the ‘whirlwind’) and the time required to move the organization forward to accomplish something great, to make the organization
better and better… to achieve goals they’ve never achieved before!

The book identifies four key elements of execution that can help any organization achieve steady progress on the strategic objectives:

  1.  Identify and focus on a Wildly Important Goal (a WIG)
  2. Monitor and act on LEAD measures
  3. Keep a compelling SCOREBOARD updated by the people doing the work
  4. Develop a rhythm of ACCOUNTABILITY

Like many things in life, these elements are simple but not necessarily easy… but they do enable an organization to apply Deming’s Plan—Do—Study—Act cycle in the face of the whirlwind. They can also serve as catalysts for workforce engagement, as people become increasingly engaged when their goals are clear, and when their progress and productivity are measured and recognized.

We will take a closer look at each of the disciplines in upcoming posts.

Focusing on Waste vs. Improvement?

Ted Williams was considered the greatest hitter in baseball….

His .406 batting average for the 1941 season is legendary, and he finished his playing career with a .344 overall average, 521 home runs, and a 0.482 on-base percentage — the highest of all time.

A newspaper reporter once said to Ted, “Gee Mr. Williams, you’re the best batter the game has ever seen — you must be a great student of hitting.” Ted replied, “No sir, I’m a great student of pitching!”

Just as there is a difference between focusing on hitting versus pitching in baseball, there is a big difference between focusing on “improvement” versus “waste” in the Continuous Improvement arena.

One of the key differences in Conway Management’s Right Way To Manage© approach has always been a focus on the waste, as opposed to simply improvement.

What’s the difference?

Most of the big waste is hidden in plain sight — long-standing business practices that compensate for a problem that has
not yet been solved. The root causes of the problem have not been addressed, and compensating steps have been built in to avoid bad outcomes such as poor quality or lost productivity.

It’s the understanding of what waste is, and how to search for it, that makes all the difference… which will be our focus in the next few posts.