Our previous post identified common impediments to Continuous Improvement (CI), noting that most “programs” tend to peter out after making a few initial gains.
Fortunately, there are specific steps organizational and CI leaders can take to prevent the downward spiral that can so easily plague improvement efforts, such as:
Success! The first principle is that nothing succeeds like success. So start out with carefully selected projects staffed with highly qualified people to ensure they are successful.
Communication! The second principle is “advertising.” If a team applies the CI methodology to great success but no one hears about it, the methodology as “the way we do things around here” will be slow to catch on. The goal is to communicate success and make sure that everyone learns from it and is ready to try for some more.
Rely on data! Use data to really understand the current reality and to test theories about underlying causes. The data will help you minimize the red herrings and wrong turns. People will want to substitute opinions for data because that is the way they have always worked. But the facts and data will help the team zero in on the real cause and the best solution more quickly than trial and error based on opinion.
Train at all levels! People readily believe that CI teams need some basic training. But team leaders need to be very well trained as well, so that they can ensure that the team follows the methodology, asks the right questions, gathers the right data, stays on track, and keeps the interest and engagement of the rest of the team. Organizational leaders should also be trained to understand their sponsorship, their role, and the soft side, making sure they meets with the teams and individuals regularly.
In past posts we’ve noted that many organizations develop improvement strategies but fail to execute and sustain those strategies. While there can be a number of reasons for this, the most common is that the “whirlwind of running day-to-day business” takes over… in other words, we ignore what might be “important” at the expense of what’s “urgent.”
In order to achieve maximum results from improvement efforts, people must implement and sustain a plan. 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 are outstanding at execution.
In several past posts we have referenced the 4 Disciplines of Execution, a book written by Sean Covey, Chris McChesney, and Jim Huling, as an effective guide to execution.
The disciplines, as defined by the authors, are:
Identify and focus on a Wildly Important Goal (a WIG)
Monitor and act on LEAD measures
Keep a compelling SCOREBOARD updated by the people doing the work
Develop a rhythm of ACCOUNTABILITY
While each of the ‘disciplines’ is obviously important, we have found that it’s the fourth one ― accountability ― that ultimately enables success. Without a cadence of accountability, the team will have a much more difficult time. By ‘cadence’ the authors mean an inviolable regular schedule, commitments, and expectations. The commitments can be modest, such as ‘what is the one thing I can do by next week to move forward,’ but they must be met. The threat, of course, is the whirlwind of running the day-to-day business that will consume all the available time.
If you’d like to improve your organization’s ability to hold all stakeholders accountable for implementing strategic plans, here are five key areas of focus that can help:
Get senior leaders to become actively involved
Identify clear project plans for delivering results, including measures and milestones
Engage team members and stakeholders
Set expectations and consequences — both positive and negative
Develop an organized structure and activity / accomplishment reporting / recognition plans – communication matters!
Continuing with our culture-related theme, we’ve found that the highest achieving organizations are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures.
When helping clients build such cultures, our approach begins by identifying the underlying assumptions, beliefs and values that cause people to behave the way they do (the practices).
Key steps in developing a high performing/high achieving culture include:
Identifying a clear link between individual/team/department performance and organizational goals.
Helping people develop a clear sense of purpose.
Management devotes the necessary time and attention to a proactive and consistent performance management regimen.
A work environment that supports high quality and productivity.
People at all levels understand the core values and beliefs which drive behavior.
Leaders promote practices that are in sync with organizational values and beliefs.
Roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities are clearly defined.
Managers are skilled to coach for improved performance.
While these steps might appear simple, they are not easy to implement; and nearly impossible to achieve without significant contributions of time and energy from senior leaders. A well-defined performance management process is also a pre-requisite, which will be the subject of our next post.
Among the highest achieving organizations we’ve worked with are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures of 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.
But it is important
for business leaders to recognize that some forms of communication are better
than others. In fact, as reported in a recent Society for Human Resource
Management (SHRM) article, a survey of 400 companies with 100,000 employees
each cited an average loss per company of $62.4 million per year because of inadequate
communication to and between employees. The article also referenced another
study showing that miscommunication in smaller companies of 100 employees cost
an average of $420,000 per year.
For example, many
organizations use suggestion boxes as forums. But the results are often
disappointing. While a suggestion box requires little time or effort to
initiate, its success relies on the ideas being completely and clearly
expressed in writing. Unfortunately, many people with good ideas simply
cannot express them well.
Furthermore, if a
suggestion requires more explanation or development before
it can be turned into a really great idea, the suggestion box does
not offer an opportunity for clarification, debate, or refinement. Even
worse, when the initial ideas are not fully formed or expressed, and management
doesn’t have an opportunity for clarification, the ideas are harder to act
upon, and often management loses interest. When people notice nothing
comes of the suggestion box, they stop offering ideas.
Here are some
additional examples of costly miscommunication in business environments
identified by Helen Wilkie, a consultant and author specializing in profitable,
Long, boring, poorly planned unproductive meetings that reach no conclusion and serve no purpose
Sales presentations that show no concern for, or understanding of, the client’s needs
Wasted time due to miscommunication about time or scheduling
Badly written e-mail messages that cause misunderstandings, ill will and wasted time
The email habit of unnecessarily “replying to all”
Employee alienation caused by managers who don’t listen
Lack of understanding between people of different age groups
Lack of understanding between male and female employees
Ultimately, the best
forums are regularly scheduled gatherings in which people can surface and
discuss problems, waste, and opportunities for improvement.
Examples of effective
discussion forums were shared during one of our Partners in Improvement
sessions, which 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
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
Our previous post identified the role that trust plays in an organization’s success, and referenced it as “the soft concept producing results that are hard to beat.”
While trust may seem too soft a concept to produce a competitive edge, the facts indicate otherwise.
In fact, a high level of trust is essential to creating an agile, highly competitive organization and here are four reasons why.
1.)No Trust — No Speed In a world where new challenges arise very quickly, it is the failure to act, failure to improve, and failure to innovate that poses the biggest risk to a company — not the risk of making a mistake. However, to an individual in a low-trust environment, by far the biggest risk is making a mistake. For these individuals, trying something new is much riskier than doing what’s been always been done. Innovation or even simple improvement is not going to happen. The whole organization slows down.
Covey, in The Speed of Trust, puts it this way: “When trust is low … it places a hidden ‘tax’ on every communication, every interaction, every strategy, every decision.” People don’t fully hear what their leaders are saying, because they factor in guesses about the leader’s intentions. They wonder how transparent their leader is being. Employees don’t buy-in to decisions that they don’t trust.
Aron Ain, author of WorkInspired, How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work, and CEO of Kronos (a leading global provider of workforce management cloud solutions), points out that lack of trust places “a huge overhead burden on a relationship.” He insists that when you employ someone, you should go ahead and trust them! Will you get burned on occasion when trusting people?
“Absolutely!” Ain says, “But almost always my trust in team members has proven well-founded. And the benefits are numerous.”
By building a culture where employees know they are trusted and where they trust their managers and teammates, Kronos has created an organization where it is safe for people to be creative and to aim for the best possible outcomes, continuously getting better and better.
2.) No Trust — No “Exposing Reality” Exposing reality means trying very hard to look at things the way they really are, rather than the way we wish they were. As Ain points out, “the faster you see things as they really are, the faster you can get to work on improving them.”
But in a low-trust environment, people are especially motivated to gloss over uncomfortable truths and to declare victory and move on rather than checking to see if they did or didn’t get the results they expected. Trust enables us to admit what we don’t know, recognize and recover quickly from mistakes, and to put uncomfortable information, questions, and contrary opinions out in the open, where the team can work through them with honesty and passion to arrive together at the best strategies and decisions.
3.) No Trust — Poor Results In a low-trust environment, employees hold back information or ideas that seem risky to share, so leaders make decisions based on incomplete information and without knowing all the potential consequences. And when employees believe their managers are making decisions without all the relevant input and information, they often question or even slow-walk the decisions.
Covey cites polls showing that only 45% of employees have trust and confidence in senior management. Lencioni, in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, places lack of trust at the foundation of his pyramid of dysfunctions culminating in poor results. Without trust among a team, people keep their cards close to their chests. They are afraid to admit the limits of what they know, afraid to admit any vulnerabilities. Because they don’t trust one another, they fear conflict and withhold uncomfortable information and dissenting views. Without complete information, these teams make poor decisions, and the decisions they do make are poorly executed because they do not arrive at a shared commitment to the decision unless they have aired and resolved dissenting views. Thus, a lack of trust leads to both flawed strategies and poor execution.
4,) Trust Inspires and Engages Covey observes that “trust is one of the most powerful forms of motivation and inspiration. People want to be trusted. They respond to trust. They thrive on trust.”
This is exactly what Ain sees happening at Kronos. “Because we place so much faith in employees,” he explains in WorkInspired, “they return the favor, placing a remarkable degree of trust in us. Their trust in turn leads to far better performance — more innovation, quicker recovery from mistakes, more energy and enthusiasm at work.”
The next step, of course, is identifying the best way to build a “culture of trust,” which will be the subject of our next post.
You might call it a “secret weapon” but, to be honest, it is the exact opposite. Because unlike a weapon, it is constructive rather than destructive; the only harm it could do a competitor is to leave them behind.
And it is anything but secret!
In his recent book, WorkInspired, How to Build an Organization Where Everyone Loves to Work, Aron Ain openly shares the pivotal role it has played in Kronos’s amazing growth story.
This “secret weapon” is trust — the soft concept producing results that are hard to beat.
The role that trust plays in an organization’s success has been written about before by keen observers of human and organizational dynamics.
Patrick Lencioni in The Five Disfunctions of a Team identifies the lack of trust among a management team as the root cause of most poor performance.
Stephen M. R. Covey in The Speed of Trust: The One Thing That Changes Everything passionately echoes this view, citing research indicating high-trust organizations out-perform their low-trust competitors by 300%, because a lack of trust increases costs while simultaneously reducing an organization’s speed and agility.
What’s different about Ain, CEO of Kronos, a leading global provider of workforce management cloud solutions, is that he can tell us how trust is working in action today and about the tools and methods in place to support the practice and enhance the effectiveness of trust.
At Kronos, everyone is expected to give trust both within and outside their functional areas and to practice behaviors that earn the trust of their employees, teammates, and managers. According to Ain, the culture of trust contributes to much more than high engagement and retention, as important as those are, but to amazing business results.
And the results Kronos has achieved are great! Revenue has tripled; Kronos has surpassed 35,000 customers worldwide, innovations are rolling out faster than ever, and employee engagement scores are through the roof. Kronos once again occupies the #1 spot in the Boston Globe’s Top Places to Work list in Massachusetts. It received an award from Fortune Magazine for Best Workplace for Millennials – 2018. It is on both Glassdoor’s and Fortune Magazine’s lists of top 100 places to work and has received numerous other awards for workplace engagement.
Based on a recent newsletter by our associate Sheila Julien, our next post will share four specific reasons why “trust” works and why it is essential to creating an agile, highly competitive organization.
Waste within an organization often hides, and people are frequently surprised when the realize how much of it actually exists. The waste falls into four categories: time, capital, material, and lost opportunities.
During recent discussions with our Partners in Improvement, it was unanimously agreed that, in order to develop a culture of Continuous Improvement, people throughout an organization must feel free to try new things, challenge current methods, and express new ideas without fear. Otherwise, the organization will likely miss out on many opportunities for improvement or growth, thus increasing what is typically the biggest form of waste — lost opportunities.
In order to develop and sustain a culture of Continuous Improvement, leaders must drive-out fear so that the people closest to the work will approach their jobs with the above-mentioned curiosity… with a mindset of continuously finding new ways to improve, and with a mindset that it’s okay to challenge the status-quo and to make mistakes.
In a recent article, Career Coach Jan Johnston Osburn outlined several indicators that an organization is being ruled by fear and, consequently, missing out on opportunities. This list included:
New ideas don’t pop-up very often
The office is silent when the boss is around
Meetings take place before the “real meetings” so people can make sure they don’t say the wrong things in front of the boss
Too much consensus
People hide mistakes and play the “blame game”
The article goes on to suggest that fear within an organization slows down progress, causes hesitation, reduces productivity, and leads to stress.
“Fear-trodden employees hold your business back,” Johnson Osburn says. “If you have any fear in your organization, employee potential is drastically reduced.”
To further support this perspective, a quote from Thomas J. Watson of I.B.M. fame: “If you want to increase your success rate, double your failure rate.”
In our previous post we referenced the cultural change that takes place within highly-successful organizations, so that continuous improvement becomes the new way of working rather than “just a program.”
Not surprisingly, some of the highest achieving organizations with which we’ve worked are those that have successfully planned and developed high performance cultures.
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.
This perspective was nicely summarized in a recent article in which Tony Burns, author and CEO, noted his concerns about an organization in which only designated “experts” took on the responsibility for making improvements.
Burns wrote, “Dr Deming recognized this problem when he advocated breaking down the barriers. We need to get all employees working together on quality, rather than building divisiveness. Quality is everyone’s responsibility, not just a few… Everyone should be trained in quality.”
As explained in our previous post, Emotional Intelligence (E.Q.) is the phrase used to describe the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways.
It is also a capability that leaders can leverage to drive a culture of Continuous Improvement. Consider that creating a culture of continuous improvement requires a resonant leader who can:
Communicate a vision
Drive out fear
Create a safe place for people to exercise a passion for high quality, highly efficient work
E.Q. can be applied extensively by leaders to accomplish these objectives, and to institute a culture of Continuous Improvement. By exercising their ability to align and motivate people around a common vision and plan, emotionally intelligent managers and team members are very valuable in organizations desiring to create continuous steady improvement.
Equipped with a heightened awareness of the most common traits associated with higher-levels of E.Q., senior leaders can enhance their ability to create a culture of continuous improvement by seeking-out and engaging those within the organization who exhibit those traits.
In addition, there are ways for helping people to develop stronger emotional intelligence, which we’ll share in our next post.
Our previous post shared fundamental steps for building a high performing culture – a culture of continuous improvement; and a key element of doing so involves engaging the workforce.
There are 4 underlying principles to build engagement:
Understand the various factors that motivate people
Have excellent 2-way communication
Build a great workplace
Work at engagement every day
These steps may seem simple, but they are not necessarily easy. Consider that in order to understand people and develop effective two-way communication leaders must create a systematic way of interacting with team members so they can cascade information to (and from) their reports and throughout the organization.
At the core of this communication mission is the ability to plan, run and follow-through on effective meetings, which we’ll discuss in upcoming posts.
Challenges and best practices associated with continuous improvement