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.
A young, seemingly fast-rising junior executive had been working at a large bank for just over six years. When he was asked about his job and how he felt about it he said, “The job’s OK.”
His lack of enthusiasm was evident, and when pressed to say more he added, “Well, I’m not really learning much anymore.”
When asked if he was fully-engaged he said probably not but went on to say that he still did a great job. “I still give 100% and consider myself to be a great employee,” he said. Then, after a short pause, he added,” But I don’t give them 110%… and there’s a big difference between 100% and 110% — at least for me.”
When asked if he was out looking for a new position he responded, “No…, but I’m listening.”
When asked whether he told his boss about how he was feeling he said, “Yeah, but….”
How many people in how many places feel like he does? He is bright, educated, skilled, well-liked, and might be an ideal candidate for a senior leadership position…if he stays.
But is he being made to feel like an important part of the team? Does anyone realize that he could be giving more? Is he being engaged in an intentional or formalized fashion?
Among the many documented advantages of an engaged worker are loyalty and the discretionary effort that they put forth; going the extra mile; the above-and-beyond attitude… giving 110%! How many innovative ideas might that extra 10% yield? How much more productivity? What impact might it have on customers or coworkers?
And if he doesn’t stay, the simple replacement costs are not the real issue. He is a potential super-star! He is a known-entity… trustworthy, dependable, low-risk. What are the real (or hidden!) costs associated with disengagement; the costs of not getting 110%… the costs of not only lost workers, but also of lost opportunities?
Several recent posts have focused on the benefits of measuring time, and on the best approach for launching time management improvements.
But a related, often overlooked measure that can significantly accelerate or compromise an improvement effort is “pace.”
In fact, the most common cause of delay in achieving results is the pace.
Some teams schedule an hour a week to work on an improvement project, which might sound like a good approach. But, under the best of circumstances, two months will pass before the project gets one day’s attention. It is also more likely that it will take three or four months to complete one day’s effort on the project because meetings get cancelled, or start late, and then a portion of each meeting is spent going over the status or covering old ground for a member who missed a meeting.
In addition, when a project progresses this slowly, priorities may change or resources might be reassigned without ever completing the work and gaining the improvements. Sometimes these teams feel like they’ve got analysis paralysis, but in fact very little analysis has been completed. The real culprit is really pace paralysis. And while the pace of their project may be slower than they’d like, the overall pace of business continues to accelerate… thus making the life-cycle or “window” of innovation that much shorter.
Bear in mind that the longer the project length, the more project overhead and rework time is expended and the lower the benefit, because every week of delay means a week of benefit is lost.
One proven way to avoid these pitfalls is to employ the Kaizen approach. A Kaizen requires planning and data gathering up front and then all the necessary people are pulled off their jobs for one day or several days to completely solve the problem: designing, testing, stabilizing solutions usually in under a week. The Kaizen approach requires good planning on the part of the leaders and facilitator, but makes good use of the entire team’s time while accelerating the benefits of the improvement effort.
Annual or semi-annual performance appraisals continue to be a standard component of many performance management programs, despite the fact that they are deemed a source of angst and dread by both managers and team members.
Consider that an annual or six-month review is very much like managing through a rear-view mirror, as the practice involves looking back at a person’s performance with the intent of identifying deficiencies and, hopefully, areas of accomplishment. While this may be a standard approach, the practice does little to impact day-to-day activities that, if modified on a timelier basis, could have positively impacted outcomes.
Along similar lines, Dr. Deming was among the early detractors of the annual appraisal, saying, “Individual performance appraisals nourish short-term performance, annihilate long-term planning, build fear, demolish team-work, and nourish rivalry and politics. Everyone propels himself, or tries to, for his own good… and the organization is the loser.”
And all these years later, Deming’s comments ring true. For example, when a bank implemented formal performance appraisals that evaluated Loan Officers on the dollar value of loans approved, and measured the Credit Department on ‘the quality of the loan portfolio’ (i.e. no defaults), it reduced profits and created dysfunction and animosity. The Credit Department was careful to take no risks, while the Loan Officers focused on quantity, hoping that something, at least would be approved. The bank as a whole suffered.
In addition, many people report that reviews tend to be late and are often “put off,” thus sending a poor message to team members (i.e., “you’re not as important as other things…”). They are also considered among the more onerous of management responsibilities, as it can be difficult to access relevant performance-related data that dates back a full year.
One way to improve the effectiveness of performance reviews is to increase the frequency – possibly from annual to quarterly or bi-monthly. A number of managers and HR professionals we have spoken with said the shortened time-table tends to improve feedback discussions and results in more meaningful and less stressful exchanges. In addition, the enhanced time-line reduces the ‘rear-view mirror’ effect described above, and separates performance evaluations from pay raises.
Certainly studying work and work processes on a more frequent basis is more closely aligned with a Continuous Improvement philosophy.
Since many organizations tend to make strategic plans at the outset of a New Year, it seems an ideal time to reaffirm the fact that “planning” does little good without execution.
For many of us, this reality will apply to personal “New Year’s resolutions” as well.
Thus, as we’ve done in the past, it seems like a good time to reaffirm the importance of “execution” as presented in The Four Disciplines of Execution, an insightful book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling.
As you may know, the ‘Four Disciplines’ comprise a management system of making consistent and systematic progress on executing plans and achieving goals. An organization can have an excellent strategy but fail to execute effectively on that strategy. Almost always the reason is that everyone is BUSY, and that they 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 existing or new goals!
The book identifies four key elements of execution that can help any organization achieve steady progress on the strategic objectives:
The first discipline is to focus on the “wildly important” (WIG—Wildly Important Goals). It is suggested that we’re better off executing a small number of goals right instead of spreading ourselves too thin. It is also important to not only identify, but also communicate exactly what these wildly-important goals are so that everyone is working on what matters. Equally as important, each of these goals must be associated with a targeted completion date – in other words, they must be time-based.
The 2nd discipline is to set (and act upon) lead measures. While lag measures tell you whether or not you have achieved your wildly-important goals, in most cases, by the time the results are in, it’s too late to do anything about them. Lead measures are predictive; they tell you how the lag measures will move, and they are “influenceable” (you can do something about them).
For example, a person might set an important goal of losing weight. The lag measure will be to take periodic measurements of weight. But to influence the weight goal the person must act on the lead measures: exercise (calories burned) and calories consumed.
The 3rd discipline is to keep a compelling scorecard. The scoreboard shows the lead measures and lag measures 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.
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.
In addition, there are four important requirements to creating an effective scorecard that will truly promote execution and engagement:
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.
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.
It must show both lead and lag measures.
It must show “at a glance” how the team or players are doing.
The 4th discipline is to develop a “rhythm of accountability.” This is the discipline that enables you to win… without a rhythm or 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 setting a rhythm or cadence the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule to which everyone is committed. For example, teams should meet every week or every two weeks as opposed to “whenever something comes up.” It’s also best to schedule the meetings at the same day and time each week or every-other week. These meetings should never be 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.
As noted in the book, “without accountability, the whirlwind will win!”
Like many things in life, these elements are simple but not necessarily easy… but they do enable an organization to more easily achieve important goals in the face of the whirlwind. Or, as Ben Franklin put it, “Well done is better than well said!”
The tool can be used to track the potential return-on-investment of an engagement initiative, and also provides a report showing the estimated impact of improving employee engagement.
According to Allan Schweyer, Curriculum Director for the Enterprise Engagement Academy and founder of the TMLU professional learning platform, the ROI Calculator is based on “very conservative estimates of the impact of lower and higher levels of engagement created by the Center for Talent Solutions.”
Should you like to test this resource, you’ll see it is quick and easy. Simply follow the “five step” links across the top of the page, as each of these steps will enable you to enter relevant data about your organization.
In a past post we shared some perspective about assessing workforce capability as well as leadership when planning a change or improvement initiative. Among other things, it was noted that without engaged, effective leadership it is difficult to implement the changes that are necessary for achieving a culture of continuous improvement.
Effective leadership is about driving change. The ability to anticipate, lead and manage change is a critical indicator of organizational success.
But, of course, change does not “just happen.” It takes place when leaders at all levels see opportunities and get others to share their passion about what can be accomplished.
Strong leaders provide the initial and ongoing energy for change. Without strong leadership, most change efforts will fail. As noted in our previous post, implementation is the key step. Simply making speeches, declaring a new mission or vision and handing out short-term rewards alone will not cut it; management must advocate, lead and support change, and do so not only at the “launch” but throughout the implementation phase and beyond.
It’s also important to remember that people will only follow leaders if they trust them, if they see the need for change, and if they are involved in creating the change. Change is brought about by a combination of strong leadership, human relations systems, beliefs, values and cultural practices. They are the true catalysts to sustained change and improvement.
People often make “New Year’s resolutions” with good intentions, but then fail to follow-through.
Similarly, and as we’ve discussed in previous posts, many well-intentioned organizations find it difficult to execute and sustain their Continuous Improvement or strategic plans… these challenges have been highlighted in many publications, ranging from the well-regarded book “Four Disciplines of Execution” by Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, and Sean Covey, to our “Discontinuous Improvement” newsletter.
To achieve and sustain a culture of Continuous Improvement, execution is the key. Even when people excel at identifying major opportunities for improvement, if they don’t execute, they don’t make gains. In our work with hundreds of organizations, we have observed that the most successful organizations are outstanding at execution. Here are a few of the common threads among those organizations:
Senior leaders become actively involved
They make prudent use of prioritization tools
Consistent structure and reporting
They set expectations and consequences — both positive and negative
They identify clear project plans for delivering results, including measures and milestones
Consistent and timely monitoring of progress
Recognition of team members’ accomplishment
Corrective action models (not punitive) when results are sub-par
Strategic actions to lock in the gains
As we’ve often observed, the hard part of Continuous Improvement isn’t making improvements, but rather it’s making the effort continuous.
A previous post focused on five steps for improving our use of time. In that post it was suggested that using “time” as a measure to find and focus opportunities for improvement has three big advantages:
Time drives important business results
Time is universally applicable
It is very simple to do
Should you decide to launch a time management improvement plan in your organization, it will be important to prepare people by ensuring that the following points are thoroughly understood:
The waste in the system is not the fault of the people doing the work; it is there because of the way the process is designed or because of the way that the supplying processes are designed.
The people closest to the work can help you find and fix what is wrong with the way the processes are designed.
Recognizing non-value-adding work does not mean that you can simply make it go away. It only means it is a candidate for elimination or reduction. An effective solution may not yet be at hand. That’s OK. Recognizing the waste is the first step to searching for a better way.
Value-added work is not as plentiful as people might think – on average, only 20% of all work is truly value-added. Keep in mind, every process will contain “necessary” work that is not value-added. The goal is to optimize time spent on value-added work, reduce time spent on other work, and eliminate waste.
Someone who has never done this before might find it difficult to identify non-value-added work during their analysis because it is hard to recognize the waste in standard operating procedures. “If we have always had to do something, it usually seems that it surely must add value,” they will likely think. In addition, rework typically compensates for a problem that is so familiar that everyone takes it for granted. Recognize and improve as much as you can, then circle back and look again.
With practice and coaching (and amnesty) people can identify more opportunity.
Everyone must have amnesty. If people are afraid for their jobs, either because they might be blamed for the waste or be no longer needed if the work is streamlined, there is every disincentive to find and eliminate waste.
Successes in reducing cycle time or saving time overall should be measured and celebrated!
Our previous two posts focused on the decision-making process, as outlined in a Wall Street Journal Article by Robert I. Sutton, a professor in the department of management science and engineering at Stanford University. The premise is that “how” leaders make decisions is just as important as the decisions themselves.
In his article Sutton identified four bad habits associated with “how” bosses make decisions. As discussed in our previous two posts, the first of these pitfalls are:
Telling people they have a voice in decision-making when, in reality, they don’t
Treating final decisions as anything but
The final two habits to be avoided are:
Moving too fast: While some leaders suffer from indecision and procrastination, some decisions require more careful thought— “especially risky, important and complicated ones that are costly (or even impossible) to reverse,” Sutton says. Despite the fact that employees most often like working with managers who are confident and don’t waste time, they are also leery of snap decisions, which are likely to turn out wrong. These decisions are also more likely to undermine employees’ faith in their leader and the decision, and can make employees less motivated to implement the decision. It’s the difference between a smart, confident decision and a rash one, possibly made without proper research or without sufficient facts and data.
Using decision-making as a substitute for action: “A decision by itself changes nothing” says Sutton. Simply “deciding” to change a protocol or process doesn’t help unless someone actually does it! The gap between “knowing” and “doing” is real, yet too many leaders act as if, once they make a decision, and perhaps spread the word, their work is done.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement