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

Succession with performers

There are almost certainly some people in your business who if you were to loose them you are just not going to cry about it. There will however be others who are the life blood of your business perhaps in Project or Executive roles and when they go, it will be a big problem!

In many businesses, succession planning for high performers and talent management is done through a process like making sure you have where possible, at least one off site a ¼ then having drinks with those people you’re a little worried about, to find out what the true story is around their ambitions

The problem with this kind of process and it may not look exactly like this, as it might be a six monthly thing, or you might get one of your team a person you know really well to find out things for you.

Consider four ways of ensuring you know exactly where people are up to on your team, so you don’t get nasty surprises.

  1. Setup agreements with your people so that you’ll let them know if you were ever going to make a move somewhere else with some decent notice and be specific. Ensure in this moment that they also commit to letting you know if they were getting itchy feet or wanted new opportunities, and make sure they commit to giving you the same notice period.
  2. When new people start after 4-12 weeks consider having an up front “Performance Management” style type meeting, this is not to tell them they need to pull their socks up, but more to set the scene for the future, and yes you might even address some tiny niggles early.
  3. Keep the dialogue open between all your team members and understand where your market is at. Are there many opportunities and head hunters calling daily in order to try and snap up your best people. Or is the market really quiet in your neck of the woods.
  4. Find out what your best people value most and make sure you are delivering them what they value. In Sales environments part of this might be about money, but ironically often it may be more about recognition, and often people miss this, until it’s too late.

Have a look at what Jack Welch from GE says about the treatment of people, and just have a think about whether

1) You Agree
2) If you do, is your business treating its people like this? If you don’t, do you have a process that’s really working?

If you are in a business where you often have your people leaving and whether they are good or bad start to look more carefully at what you are and are not doing to mentor your people. The true cost of most team member losses is hidden in many monthly financial reports, why is this?

Well in the past financial reporting has not been smart enough and even today is not able to track the “True cost” of losing a person. Below are some things to consider, the numbers are rough but start to have a think, if you are losing people its probably costing you far more than you imagined! Below the salary is only $70K and being conservative true costs might look like.

If we were to track the true cost to the business of people leaving you would need to consider things like:

Person Leaving Average Salary $70K = $6K per month

  • Recruitment Costs
    – Cost $8K
  • The time it took to get them to full competency (4 months)
    – Cost $24K
  • Time other people “Internal Trainers” spent to get them confident
    – Cost $15K
  • The time peers in the business spent with them (2 months)
    – Cost $12K
  • All the Managers time $120K Salary spent (2 weeks across a year)
    – Cost $5K
  • Loss of productivity from down time while you the role filled
    – Cost $10K
  • HR Team member costs
    – Cost $10K

Total Cost $84K

Now that’s only on the outgoing person who may have only stayed 12 month’s to two years, you will now need to incur all these same costs on retraining the new recruit and if you get it wrong again…

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!

Time & business results

I have friends you can’t meet for morning tea for 8 weeks because they are booked out. Others, you can consistently book a catch-up with so long as you give them 7 days notice and that’s that, every time. Then there are people who will be available tomorrow at 3pm or Friday at 9am and any further out than that and you can forget it!

TIME – Why is that the case?

Is it true that the person booked up for 8 weeks is more important, successful or has more happening in their lives than those you could get an appointment with tomorrow?

INTERESTINGLY IN OUR EXPERIENCE, NO!

Funnily enough, some of the leaders of the biggest organisations in the country operate very much in the now. If it weren’t for some very smart assistants, things would look very different. How might this information influence you and your team’s ability to get results?

Is everybody different around time? What kinds of people are similar and why? We will deal with only one part of this major body of work that up until now been badly under-researched.

How do I know? Well, all the time I see organisations facing people issues where certain portions of populations are extremely reactive and others are the opposite, far too slow to react. Where do you sit? How about your best people when you are “Managing Your Talent”? Are they reactive or more strategic? What’s needed more in your environment?

“Your interpretation of time is not a right or a wrong one. However, if you are too extreme either way with regard to your specific work context and what’s required, you can really lose out.”

What should you do to ensure your thinking around time fits with your business role? Here are three suggestions to consider with regard to the people in your workplace.

1)In a fast-paced sales or back office production environment, you probably want to be able to move quickly and hence timeframes are almost certain to be shorter.

2)In a strategic planning or IT implementation environment, it might pay to have a medium-term time perspective. However, watch out! Get this to be more a long-term perspective and that $500 million dollar IT rollout can easily blow into costing twice as much.

3)In Strategy & Planning roles in major organisations, the people involved are better to have a really good understanding of time in the long term. But they still need to be able to partner with the people on the floor conducting the rollout.

So what if you’ve got people in completely the wrong place?

What if you have people (even managers) on the floor who think learning a set of specific behaviours will take 3 months when your best manager considers it can easily be learnt in 24 hours? A problem in many IT, HR and L&D departments is that when major rollouts occur, the third parties always talk about giving things some time… until the budget’s blown and the business is locked into making even tougher decisions!

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!

Expert Knowledge Management

What is Expert Knowledge Management EKM?

As part of a personal aim to see the performance of any business team continue to increase in different business verticals. I’ve decided to contribute to the area of Expert Knowledge Management EKM.

What does that mean, well given my expertise is not in English, it means this blog will be exploring everything to do with getting more out of its best people in major organisations. That includes areas where I have been working for the past 10+ years around talent identification & management, the value of internal collaboration on team performance in both sales & productivity/output based environments, performance management. It also includes areas like how to get value from the use of past cultural transformation, sales & L&D programs that may have worked in small pockets of the business.

A clear distinction to make up front is that this does not mean that the team have to work harder, probably teams do however need to start thinking differently and with more focus on collaboration, performance, strategy, innovation and what it is their best people internally are doing already.

Expert Knowledge Management EKM is a subject few organizations even understand let alone use.

A major part of this blog will be about exploring what the world’s best organizations are doing in this area to ensure that when the markets are falling faster than ever and the “World” is in trouble you have solutions in order to replicate what is best practice not from another country but in many cases within your own organisation.

We will also be looking at how interventions occur in the worlds largest organisations around Human Resources, Talent Identification, Performance Management, Human Performance, Change Management and other related areas.

If you have other questions on these topics that are not answered here, a good research resource can be found at www.behaviourchange.com.au/White-Papers.html

All comments are appreciated and welcomed!