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

Why values are so important?

I was speaking with a client the other day about how an organisation he knew needed to better understand its existing values prior to moving forward. There is model that has been used by hundreds of thousands of organisations globally. It’s called Spiral Dynamics and looks at how values affect groups. Working on a series of levels, this 5-minute video gives you a serious look at your own business population and what your people value. Is your organisation at Level 1 to Level 5 or Level 7 – have a look and consider. Almost certainly there will be attributes that cross the levels, and certain tenancies will also be rife – ENJOY.

I thought I’d pen a few thoughts on this topic. I think there are at least five key things to consider:

  1. Do you know what values currently drive your people & how would you find this out?
    One way is to use a values survey or values measurement tool or group session on understanding how people feel the organisation treats them and what’s driving their current behaviours.
  2. How do you change them?
    If the current values are different to what you thought they’d be, how do you then change them? This is where things start to get interesting. Suppose you spend 4 hours in a room with your top 5 execs coming up with “SEVEN KEY ORGANISATIONAL VALUES” and then post them all over the place. Can and does this work?
  3. Involve the masses, but make sure you have a strategy to narrow down the results!
    If you use a survey as suggested above, rank the areas people have rated as “Most Important” and then look more into how these match the organisation. A specific intervention might take the form of a workshop where significant numbers of people (or an example population) go through the results and are asked for feedback on any extremes.
  4. Bringing “values” to life!
    Don’t just rest on your laurels once you have some traction. Have your managers consider how those values in every area of the business will and do affect them and what this means. E.g. Integrity is a great word, but what does it mean in the context of your business unit and how might it affect your internal talent management strategies?Often I see execs performance managing team members for taking too much sick leave or annual leave at crucial times, and then a week later they execute a key change management piece and take the following off because it had been “planned for ages”.
  5. Be congruent and vigilant about what you do.
    As you co-create the values in your organisation with your people, be careful of the behaviours you and your exec team exhibit in the business on a daily basis. Have a complete congruency between sets of values and the specific behaviours you and your teams display, ensuring they all link back.

By following the above five points, you create a continuous process of improvement around what’s valued inside your organisation. Check out Jim Collins, author of Good to Great & Built to Last in a 2-minute Video brief on the power of values here. Ensure that at the centre of any intervention are things like performance management & change management processes & implications have been fully thought through.

Technology Rollouts & Performance

Good technology rollouts really count. Many people I have worked with over the past few years often face the tough experience of having to make decisions around new technology that will fundamentally affect business results. In the past 18 months, I have noticed many clients have been pushed into situations where things must be upgraded urgently (due often to a merger).

Often this technology is something like a new platform, a best-of-class project management system or a set of core capabilities the business has never had. At times, these needs arise from a system that was put into the business 20 years ago and since then the IT team have been building bolt-on solutions. Eventually it reaches the point where there are so many workarounds for the users that everyone just considers the system a massive handbrake. Organisational change has to occur, as the focus for increased performance is greater than ever.

A good example of this kind of new technology is Oracle’s Seibel CRM product. AFG Group, one of Australia’s largest brokers, used this product with great success. They use it to source products, lodge applications, generate leads & manage clients, all from a single point of entry. Check out the video below – at 3 mins 9 secs, it shows how they are now using this technology to manage their teams and other overseas business development activities. This project has enabled AFG to stay ahead of the game in an extremely tough market.

The general solution is to spend up to hundreds of millions of dollars on new technology to consolidate workflows, reduce time taken to get information, or find the right information etc.

What often actually happens though is this:

  • The project goes way over time and budget and the change management process fails
  • Only specific users get the new technology right and they were the high performers anyway
  • The strategic planning done prior to implementation was nowhere near robust enough & so major gaps appear with the implementation & rollout to users
  • The final product offers only 60% of the capability promised and the system workarounds continue

If these were the only blocks faced after implementation, funnily enough the situation would actually not be too much worse. The problem is that this is only the start. What then seems to happen is that while the implementation occurs, sales and/or service levels drop significantly and sales managers start to get punished for their lack of results.

Many users get disillusioned and they start to either leave or look seriously for jobs in competing businesses in the same vertical. This causes increases in staff turnover and a need to then recruit more people at a time when training and reducing the time to competency for new team members is not the highest priority. Finishing the implementation and knowing the systems core capabilities actually collect “all” of the data accurately and can be used to get results is the priority.

So what’€™s the answer? Consider the following:

  • Who is on the rollout project team and why are they there?
  • Who is missing that should be there? E.g. possible managers of users who know what functions have to keep on going not matter what
  • Have you looked at who your absolute best talent is and how they can add value to the project?
  • What kind of mini pilots have you or are you intending to run prior to getting serious about the rollout?
  • If you have gathered groups of high performers to do the testing, have you then ensured these people are trained in knowledge-transfer and work-place training techniques to get your population back to its core results capability ASAP? How is this behaviour change actually going to occur on the ground?
  • What kind of knowledge-capture processes do you have around the more “€œtacit”€ or informal smarts the high performers have? How do these apply in the “€œNew”€ technology platform or world? How are these to be transferred? How is your talent management process taking this into account?

Making sure you have covered off the above at the very least will enable you to keep leveraging your best people to transfer their results across populations. Sometimes you may need to bring in technology providers you have never thought of prior to the project. In fact, this might not become apparent in any of the project design phases and might only be discovered during implementation.

The general solution is to spend up to hundreds of millions of dollars on new technology to consolidate workflows, reduce time taken to get information, or find the right information etc.

What often actually happens though is this:

  • The project goes way over time and budget and the change management process fails
  • Only specific users get the new technology right and they were the high performers anyway
  • The strategic planning done prior to implementation was nowhere near robust enough & so major gaps appear with the implementation & rollout to users
  • The final product offers only 60% of the capability promised and the system workarounds continue

If these were the only blocks faced after implementation, funnily enough the situation would actually not be too much worse. The problem is that this is only the start. What then seems to happen is that while the implementation occurs, team performance levels drop significantly and project managers start to get punished for their lack of results.

Many users get disillusioned and they start to either leave or look seriously for jobs in competing businesses in the same vertical. This causes increases in staff turnover and a need to then recruit more people at a time when training and reducing the time to competency for new team members is not the highest priority. Finishing the implementation and knowing the systems core capabilities in order to actually collect “all” of the data accurately often is the priority.

So what’€™s the answer? Consider the following:

  • Who is on the rollout project team and why are they there?
  • Who is missing that should be there? E.g. possible managers of users who know what functions have to keep on going not matter what
  • Have you looked at who your absolute best talent is and how they can add value to the project?
  • What kind of mini pilots have you or are you intending to run prior to getting serious about the rollout?
  • If you have gathered groups of high performers to do the testing, have you then ensured these people are trained in knowledge-transfer and work-place training techniques to get your population back to its core results capability ASAP? How is this behaviour change actually going to occur on the ground?
  • What kind of knowledge-capture processes do you have around the more “€œtacit”€ or informal smarts the high performers have? How do these apply in the “New”€ technology platform or world? How are these to be transferred? How is your talent management process taking this into account?

Making sure you have covered off the above at the very least will enable you to keep leveraging your best people to transfer their results across populations. Sometimes you may need to bring in technology providers you have never thought of prior to the project. In fact, this might not become apparent in any of the project design phases and might only be discovered during implementation.

The general solution is to spend up to hundreds of millions of dollars on new technology to consolidate workflows, reduce time taken to get information, or find the right information etc.


Cultural Diversity in Business?

Recently there has been a large amount of coverage both in Australia and India about the way Indian nationals are being treated.

Several people have been threatened with their lives or have in fact lost their lives in the past weeks. This has been of huge concern for many reasons, not only for the people of India who are becoming a larger and larger part of our community, but also for those involved in Australian politics and for the greater community.

What may concern us in business is that the things that happen in the parks and streets around our cities also affect us in business.

Ask the question: say you have a mix of ethnicities in your business, either on the ground in Australia or in their own countries like Indonesia, China, India, the Middle East or New Zealand.

How do you cater for people from these different ethnicities? What do you do to create open dialogue or cultural understanding? How are you bringing people from different cultures together in order that they all get along and can learn from each other without barriers?

Given that we often struggle even to negotiate simple things with regard to immigration laws, like who should be able to fly or settle, it’s even more important that we treat ethnically diverse staff with respect. When you get it right, you can really enable not only increased performance but also faster and clearer communication.

Take a look at a quick video with some thoughts on diversity and talent in the workplace from people like Tig Gillam, CEO Adecco, and Marilyn Johnson, VP Market Development IBM and other business leaders. Are you doing these things in your workplace?

Consider three things in your business:

  • Work out who your most talented people are.
  • Find out where they are from and why their background has helped them get the results they are currently getting with what they do.
  • Create a process where your people can share their experiences with others in your team. Don’t put them on a pedestal, but give them the ability to share how their background makes a difference.

A 15 MINUTE EXERCISE – YOU MAY JUST BE VERY SURPRISED AT SOME OF THE ANSWERS!

  • Have your teams discuss what it means to come from their own cultures and the effects on results as they see them.

Bring all your people together culturally so they support each other and are willing to have respect for each other’s differences.

It’s no coincidence that people like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King & Barack Obama, through their ability to bring large groups of people with major differences together, have made such a difference in our world.

What could you do in your organisation’s CULTURAL world and what would it take to boost it?

The Best Work Group Sessions

There is a brilliant new book on Amazon.com called The Talent Code – Daniel Coyle. In this book the author looks into what he calls Talent Hotbeds. For example, how does one tiny Russian tennis club set in a forest surrounded by abandoned cars get more world top-20 ranked tennis players than the entire country of the USA?

Or how did the Brazilians manage to go from winning no soccer/football World Cups to winning several in a relatively short timeframe? He has looked at places that produced more classical music geniuses than should ever be considered possible from one place and asked the question – How do they manage this?”

The author brings to bear fascinating research which by understanding could enable you to change the way you work with upskilling your own business teams. Ironically, one thing he found that stood out more than any other single point was that often the people who became the best in the world at their chosen field were not exceptional when they started.

From Spartak, the tiny tennis club in Russia: see Dinara Safina, World Tennis Champion, and her first time on the court.

YOU KNOW WHAT? ACTUALLY SHE’S NOT A NATURAL!

Daniel speaks a lot about the changes that occur in our brains when we are learning new things. Of equal importance for adults in business who want to learn faster is to understand that when children learn things in a great environment where they are incredibly focused, there is often little or no RUBBISH running around in their heads. Because of this, their heads can take EVERYTHING in.

As adults, when we are being trained, at times we are thinking about other things – the new house purchase, a recent breakup, how hot it is outside, etc.

So how might you use this research? Well, another thing they found at these camps or training centres for the best TALENT IN THE WORLD is that the training was often conducted in very small chunks, and slowly!

If the final result of this method was someone like Dinara Safina, a Russian World Number One tennis player from Spartak, how did she do it and what could you do differently to get World Class results from your team members?

Three things to consider changing about learning and performance in your team:

1)Teach material slowly. Take your time; don’t rush. Now, I mean a 1-hour work group session might cover just one product type, such as the number one seller and what she does. Cover the topic so that every person in the room gains a significant amount.

2)People who don’t want help won’t learn. The faster you accept this, the better off you’ll be. If they don’t want to change, have the tough conversation!

3)Team some of your best people with those on their way up that really want to learn. Give them some serious coaching across three or four days. This may only need to be four to five 10-20 minute sessions with the coach (expert). Also, these sessions need not always be face to face.

Being focused on results is great, but so is being focused on superior learning. Make sure that when you are teaching a specific strategy that your people are focused on learning what’s done by the expert, NOT JUST HOW MUCH THEY HAVE TO PRODUCE. Often managers and leaders set up so much stress in environments that people just stop learning.

Check out http://www.TheTalentCode.com

Harness Knowledge via Technology

As yet, technology in business has hardly been used to harness the knowledge held by talented high-performing individuals. Why not? Well, it’s funny that you should ask. We are now great at storing data – check on any company you like and you’ll find shared hard drives with data trees up to your eyebrows. But in most cases if you ask the users where they access essential information on the best people’s progress and what they have learned in the last week, they’ll seldom tell you – Oh that’s right here.” It just does not seem to happen. This kind of organisational change, although being used in some cases, is still some way off.

What would you need to do in order to be able to do it better?

  1. Firstly, you’d need to have a system where you could design a database of internal smarts, probably categorised by area, and which uses a kind of hierarchy to capture information design.
  2. Then you’d need to define the “Key” areas and who knows the most about them – a talent identification and management process. In other words, you would want to have a series of “Internal Experts”.
  3. You’d need some way of downloading in each area a series of what really matters e.g. in a projects environment, it might be meeting schedules, quality of pre start meetings, project knowledge, resource management, major supplier relationship building etc.
  4. As the database was built upon, almost certainly you would want to have some kind of tags or “Meta tags” where the information in each file has a meaningful link to a user searching for it.
  5. Finally, you’d need to understand how, why and when people would access these smarts.

Have a listen to some of the world leaders discussing problems in the workplace. They talk about the new collaborative technologies and their deployment, and the effect on business processes. How are they affecting our use and definitions of what is public and what is private, our intellectual property? What about the way that language affects how we use these technologies?

Test small first, and test as you design, as part of the organisational change process. Find out what works and do more of that! Most often, the IT people get carried away with technology that no one else cares about or knows how to use, so the money is wasted.

Making OD & L&D Programs Work

Over the years you hear again and again that we are bringing in this major consulting firm, this one or this one. Most often millions of dollars are spent with the result being that at times little if any change occurs in team results or on the front line. Why is that?

Consider some of the following reasons and then some things to do to switch it around in order to get results.

Things to be careful of:

  • Bringing in a boxed solution or template not properly tailored from outside can be very risky. What “the best” safety managers, project managers, site teams do can be very different from what you need. Ignoring the “Local Context” seems to cost organisations a fortune over and over.
  • Avoid having a project led by an an area of the business that will not actually be using it or be fully accountable for the results that the project will or won’t get. E.g. HR make the decision with the business unit heads to go ahead with the specific solution, but the people “In” the business unit are only consulted in a token manner.
  • It is counterproductive to roll out “Great” personal change/new communication/new performance techniques to managers of business units without ensuring that they are accountable for then passing this on and/or teaching it to their reports. At times, managers go on courses, conferences, get great MBA learning themselves from other participants or students and there is never any accountability for them bringing this information back into their own business.

Try Instead:

1)   Understanding the metrics that you are trying to change at the front line.

Is it staff turnover? Greater productivity? Better performance management mechanisms? Then for every step of the way, ask the question “Will using this intervention move those metrics?” If not, then it’s probably the wrong one. E.g. teaching managers to better manage their own state of mind might be a great thing if it helps them be more focused, more present, more attentive in meetings and to manage their performance more effectively. But if this is not stated in the “Outcome,” then chances are this is less likely to occur.

2)Gain a true understanding of what is and is not working inside the business.

Don’t just listen to the managers. Go and ask the people at the very lowest level of the business what they think is wrong. At times, senior managers go out to market and buy things to roll out to their people when in fact they are far off the mark.

3)Ensure that people from all levels of the business can contribute to the program.

The more people who have access to interventions, the better the results. One of my clients had people going from very poor performance to very high performance fast once they knew what they weren’t doing right.

Getting results from Organisational Development and Learning and Development Programs is like any systemic change. Consider how  the system currently works and why. What kinds of things are going to help specific metrics? If you can’t link the key pieces of the intervention back to the metrics, then you may have the wrong pieces and/or provider!

In this short video, IBM looks at some change project statitistics and suggests based on research from at least 1500 companies that the toughest areas to change are people’s attitudes, mindsets and “The Culture”.

They recommend a focus into four key areas to make things work:

  1. Real Insights & Actions
  2. Solid Methods
  3. Better Skills
  4. Right Investment – Time/Resources

Good luck!