Could continuous improvement (CI) be simpler than you thought?

Continous Improvement HD

Imagine if you could build continuous improvement (CI) into your business simply and easily? Since I’ve been seriously involved in performance improvement I have seen so many organisations get themselves all “Lean, Business Process Re-engineered, or Six Sigma’d up, then the teams who are now qualified go out and get little or no results. I have seen plenty of organisations who have so much potential but for many different reasons just never get the results.

Continuous Improvement vs Top Sports People

As an ex sports person (I’m now a has been!) I remember jumping in the pool at 18 and not being able to swim two lengths. At the time my aim was to be a decent triathlete, I asked my squad coach how long it would take to get my 1500 meter time down under 23 minutes in the pool. The coach was a nice guy and also trained the commonwealth games swimmers, bizarre I asked given at that point I couldn’t even swim two lengths. Anyway, the coach told me probably 3-5 years, so I set a goal to break the initial time asap, and nine months later I had broken it then within two years had my time down under 20 minutes.

Follow a proven process…

So how does this relate to CI, well like sport what’s crucial is you have a process you are going to follow that’s a proven process. This can be incredibly simple though, for example in a business it might just be that from this point on we are going to run a whiteboard system that tracks production performance week on week. We will have meetings with the key leads, on a monthly basis set specific stretch goals and do a lessons learned on the prior month. In the pool knew I needed to swim better and that it was going to take some time, once I had a process, action was really all that was needed. In the pool there was actually very little I knew about what would speed me up, I just needed to trust the process effectively following the rules on the whiteboard our coach put up each morning. Most other starters actually never did this, they made up their own rules and or often varied from the process as they felt they “Knew better” etc.

Jack Welch (ex) CEO of GE and the man that really put his money where his mouth was around CI, shares 2 mins and some simple thoughts about CI -and keeping it real…

How about just starting?

Don’t wait until you have qualified people, don’t wait until you have all the answers, start a CI process now ASAP. The number of organisations I see trying to build the perfect CI model, and or a strategy for CI that will at some point (once the function is fully built) bring massive results. Just Start!

DMAIC

One example simple 5 step model for continuous improvement is the DMAIC process, its simple, the steps include:

Define – identify, prioritize and select a specific area / project to work on
Measure – key process characteristics, the scope of area you want to enhance
Analyse – identify the key causes and process determinants of the current state
Improve– change the process in order to optimise performance
Control – if/once it works lock in the changes by creating a new process

Okay, sure there are books 1700 pages and longer on DMAIC and related process improvement methodologies. However, like swimming if you follow a simple version and, use it consistently it will actually still work. You already have your subject matter experts SME’s – (Like the swim coach) and they already have the answers. Most people that came to the swim squad were not consistent, they were lazy or focused on too many different things. When one guy came and was worse than anyone he’d seen in ages, but coming back his performance improved much faster than most others.

We all need to improve our game…

Major benefits of a process like DMAIC include the fact that improving key process & or business issues is something every team member is faced with sooner or later. DMAIC’s logical approach can make it a simple backbone of effective process improvement initiatives. Having a simple structure like this is good for high-risk areas, without structured implementation, issues will likely return when people decide to do it their way either because it suits their project or it is the ‘way we have always done it’.

A process like this helps find root causes, so effective countermeasures can be formulated and it is designed for creating sustainable results. (See future article on finding root causes) It also makes improvements part of how we do our business as usual work.

In conclusion like the Triathlete who couldn’t swim but wanted to, often it’s just about about getting on with it not necessarily waiting until you have all the answers. Serious improvement and results are possible in many areas in most organisations and on major projects. I’m continually surprised by what people in organisations put up with. It would be great to hear your stories about teams that took action, and saw change occurring fast through the use of a process that was proven and with consistent effort.

  • What successes have your teams had?
  • Why have you had CI failures and what lessons did you learn?

Author: Hunter Dean

Authoritarian or Collaborative?


So we have a Restructure how do we make it work?

Its 2009 and most major organisations in the Asia Pacific region are currently going through some form of restructure. So what’s best who should we listen to, why and when? Some organisations get it right, that is the performance of their teams usually reduced in size increases significantly. Organisational change, performance interventions and restructures need to be done well so you keep your best and let go of those who want to be elsewhere.

Others get it wrong, often those who think they know what’s needed either intuitively or after what they consider to be significant research, but who ignore the troops and what’s working best inside, often they go with the “latest and greatest” fad or style for the time.

Why does it really matter? Well this entry will argue that you better get it right if you’re to be remembered by your people and your board if you are the one making the decisions. So what different ways of doing things are there and how do you decide so that your “Troops” head in the same direction you intended and performance leaps by 25-40% not 5-10%!

1) School Room Style – We Make the Decisions – You Do What You’re Told – Authoritarian Approach

Use a style that’s become popular in some organisations of late, you decide on what’s best behind closed doors what will in your personal opinion and that of those around you work, so long as the teams get into gear and pull their “fingers” out.

Like when we were at school and were told look you are welcome to do it how you like, so long as you follow these guidelines. But the guidelines were pretty stringent, ironically killing much of the innovation and often the people who may have been genius’s complete their work then don’t offer to help anyone else because they may be worried if they do they may get it wrong when teaching then be in trouble themselves.

So what can happen is little or no change. People end up in an environment of fear uncertainty and protecting their own turfs. Results well you don’t have to be Einstein to understand that when people are scared they are not operating at their best. In fact results drop off and senior leaders use any excuse they can think of, to justify the lack of results.

2) The Collaborative Approach – Old Style Consult the Masses – Trust the People

Another approach taken is the trust the masses approach, where you run a little blind. You know that change is needed but are not 100% sure of the solution. You decide to listen to what your people tell you they think they need. Great in theory but often the blind spots in the team may stay blind. For example if some of your people are scared of approaching major new clients and starting new deals from scratch, they may be unlikely to promote this as the next big area of focus.

Major benefits though come from understanding where your teams feel like they are excelling and where they feel they are falling down. If you have a great relationship with your team and know all the numbers coming out of the system around productivity and or sales dollars, then you can link these across to key behaviours that become of great value to significant and fast business changes.

3) A Combination Process – Knowing Some of the Answers – Consulting on Others

This approach is one that is seldom well used and when it is often swings to far toward 1 or 2 above. Imagine as a leader actually pulling your head in for one minute and acknowledging you don’t have “All the answers” and understanding that your job is actually to find them out.

By mapping what you consider might work, then consulting the masses you can actually create an environment where people really buy into the process. The problem often is we have the answers first then rush in and implement before we have really consulted. Or we tell the people we have taken on their feedback, when we have not, or have listened to 10% of the feedback from the people but implemented only 5%.

The we change the business structure and 12 weeks later it’s a mess, the people are unhappy and no one is any better off. Everyone starts to blame each other and the only way to fix it is for those that made the decisions to get out there and put a rocket up the regional managers …

Ironically this fixes nothing, people end up leaving due to underperformance all caused by a lack of true consultation. So if you’re down that path or can feel yourself heading in that direction what can you do? Call in a major consulting firm like McKinsey, Bain and Co. or Accenture etc, well its one solution, and have them build a roadmap out of where you now find yourself. Guaranteeing you’ll have access to some global smarts in the process is a great way to rest easy until they’ve gone, but then its back to you.

Conclusion

How about thinking first, mapping a solution based on your best internal people, (do you have a talent identification & management process?) reading and speaking with other external people who are cutting edge in your industry. Contacting heads of similar businesses in different countries to build relationships with people who don’t compete in your market where you can share different ideas and research. Build these into your solution, get rid of senior team members who don’t consult or who are not good at building internal relationships with the people at lower levels who actually do the work.

Change your team so that you respect your people from the bottom up not just the top down, start getting granular, don’t accept excuses from senior team members like oh its not my job to know that process, it is there job to get results. Benchmark everything you do so any significant decisions results are plain and simple to understand. If someone rolled out a new process, performance program or new system that did not work what were the real costs and why, what can we learn from those? How many people have we lost due to poor leadership and why were those the leaders we choose in the first place? Then involve your best people in everything you do, ensure their input becomes “How do you run your business”. Stop trying to pretend you “Know all the answers” you don’t. Only through true consultation and understanding of everything your people are selling, processing and facing daily then leveraging this are you going to get that answers that will give you real results.

Good Luck – You Can Do This!

Performance Mngmt Why?

Performance Management – Why Get Good At It?

Over the past 10 yeas I’ve experienced many organisations where senior executives shy away from having the “Crucial Conversations”, the reasons are often similar.

“Look I don’t think you really need to “Fire” people, or its not really in our culture, we don’t feel its necessary to force people to change etc”

This entry is about why the better you are at Performance Management the better you’ll be at anything your business throws at you at all, in fact the better you’ll ironically be in your relationships outside the business also. At the end of the day if something in a business or any other relationship is not working if all parties concerned are not wanting to change or pretend they are when they’re not then stop wasting your time. When you consider implementing processes around talent identification and talent management seriously consider how good your best people are around the following areas.

Three Keys to Strong Performance Management

1) Consider a proper format

In some organisations development plans are a waste of breath and hence when someone falls down there is little if anything to benchmark it against other than their peers actual business metrics. This often though may not stack up though, as people often have excuses like, I deal with different clients, products or systems and hence its different for me.

In order for your personal performance development plans to actually be of use, keep them simple make sure you look at things like what are the top three key things to focus on?

  • Why are you falling down on them right now?
  • What knowledge resources or skills do you need to change this by Friday?
  • Are you prepared to make those changes?
  • Can you make them?

Either people can or cant do whats required in a Performance Management setting, lets be honest actually there is little in between. The problem most leaders have is a lack of courage to ask specific enough questions to ensure a proper answer and therefore result from the team member.

2) Ensure its self perpetuating

There is no point spending a whole lot of time working with a person then leaving them to work on themselves around an area only to find that later they go away and on Friday when you check they have done nothing. Performance Management work must be self perpetuating in the eyes of the person receiving the “Coaching” otherwise its nothing more than the kind of serious telling off your parents used to give you years ago at home.

In order to make Performance Management systems self perpetuating consider starting to get better at your own ability to communicate with people over tough things. Look at some managers who are naturally angry people, meet their children you’ll find anger. Then look at how they performance manage and you’ll see it was easy for them, they just had the meeting spoke very loudly and intensely, to the person until they gave in and agreed to everything asked of them. Then they went off and the employee went off to do his/her own thing.

“Problem is they then don’t, and nothing changes”

Many managers in fact believe that people “Cant” change which makes performance management a little tougher. Look at how good you are at your own tougher communication skills, how good are you at telling your best work mate they have screwed up so badly they have almost lost their job?

3) Understand the things that matter

In many cases managers are trying to council a staff member on something they themselves have no idea about.

For example selling 20% more of a product line in an area where the demographic is such that it cant be done. So they coach and coach then find unfortunately that it would have been much better to ask more questions up front, in which case they would have learned more about the problems being faced. The solution may actually be to sell a different product which can often then result in more revenue than that earned prior anyway.

Make sure you get skilled in the use of tough conversations don’t blame your team members, you are the one that needs to be able to coach them, if they are not performing then perhaps you are the one that needs to have a serious look in the mirror first, not them!

Psychometric Tools – Be Careful!

Make sure you get it right so your team becomes what it should be!

This post is going to cover a couple of key things about a tool called the Inventory of Work Attitude and Motivation iWAM and some other general thoughts on Psychometric type assesment tools used in some organisational change programs. When this tool was first introduced into Australasia we used it inside of many large organisations and had some great successes. iWAM had some real advantages over other tools in that it did not try to box people into one of four category types. Boxing people is not in of itself a real issue but when your final aim is actually to either:

  1. Change the behaviour of your teams
  2. Get your teams to learn more about each other
  3. Understand more about your people

Trying to bundle them all into one of 4 or 8 categories can be a great way of setting in stone what people think of themselves. For example tell someone they are best working with systems and processes and not people, how hard are they now going to try to get along with others?

What we liked about iWAM on the other hand is that it gave a scaled story on what the key drivers were inside a person. One of the great iWAM reports ranked people from their highest work preference to their lowest preference. For example some people are very focused on systems at work and perhaps on money or finance issues.

What has amazed me since I started my study into the field of Psychology 18 years ago was that almost all the other Psychometric tools excluding iWAM, seemed to just assume that the way a person behaved at work would be the same as that in other areas of their lives.

However this seemed to be contradictory to most people I knew who may be systematic at work but have a mess at home, or were extroverted sales people at work but at home around their loud partner they were submissive and more introverted.

When you are deciding on a Profiling Tool seriously consider the following 10 factors.

  1. What are you wanting the tool to do in your business or team?
  2. How many case studies does your proposed consultant have of clients you can speak with, who have had success?
  3. Does the consultant you are using have a formal degree in Psychology or a related discipline?
  4. If they are not professionally qualified how can you trust their judgment
  5. Do they have a website with case studies and significant independent research proof?
  6. What are you going to measure as success factors that actually matter to your business?
  7. How can you be sure that when your people know more about themselves this will benefit your business?
  8. Some organisations are talking about Qualitative and Quantitative measurement through tools like iWAM but what does this mean and how did they prove it?
  9. Once you choose a tool can you bench mark team members on the same graph to easily compare peoples strengths and use this information to buddy them up with people who have different ones?
  10. Finally are you going to get a serious return for your investment, one that can be ongoing and used by all your senior management team, and if not why not?

How are your best people going to use this information to get better business results in the next 4-8 weeks? The talent identification and talent management process often uses tools like these to be able to better identify and then use people operating in many cases far below their capability. Just be carefull as often high fliers may not look like this on some tools.

Having worked extensively in this field for many years, I hear over and over of companies that use tools such as those mentioned above and although great at the time they are not continually used. Ironically in 18 years of working with all sorts of different clients we find that 80%+ of the time its the highest performing leaders that are the ones that will refer back to reports generated by these devices.

Good luck in digging out the tools that work if you want to find out some more feel free to look at some of our research at http://www.behaviourchange.com.au/IWAM.html