Jumpstarting Process Improvement in Your Organization: The Top 10 Essentials (Part 10 of 10) – Accountability and Feedback Loops

The final post in this series of the 10 essentials, saving the best for last – accountability.

Essential #10.  Feedback loops between management and staff.  This is quite different than Management by Walking.  Management by Walking is about relationships, communication, and collaboration.  Feedback loops are 100% about accountability.  It is up to you, the leader, to develop a mechanism whereby the process improvement specialist, front line manager, and staff are jointly responsible for delivering results.  There is a tendency for each of these people to allow the status quo to continue unless they are required to present and defend their results.  The process improvement specialists will tend to analyze data indefinitely.  Managers are hesitant to make changes to what already works.  And front line staff rarely feel empowered to make changes unless they are part of a larger effort.  For these reasons, it is up to the leader to reinforce the need for results through a structured accountability mechanism.  Here three highly-regarded best practices for your consideration.

  1. A balanced scorecard.  Much has been made about the “balanced scorecard.”  Books have been written, awards won, and consultants made rich because the balanced scorecard works.  A balance scorecard is a graphical representation of a handful metrics which, when balanced yield the optimal business result.  This tool can be a tremendously effective reporting mechanism when deploying a process improvement initiative.  It reinforces reliance upon data, ensures a balanced business approach, and forces a concise reporting format.
  2. Monthly project review.  I have seen businesses try to automate, virtual-ize, and minimize monthly reviews.  However, there is no substitute for a face-to-face review of all on-going improvement efforts.  Not only does it provide a platform for accountability, it sends a clear message that process improvement is important, even essential to the business.  It also provides the appropriate venue to evaluate results, lobby for resources, escalate problems, and garner support for the next steps.
  3. Celebrate success.  It is somewhat cliché to include “celebrate success” as a feedback mechanism.  It is often talked about, routinely and publicly committed to, but rarely accomplished.  Recognizing people for their ideas and hard work is critical to sustainability.  Not necessarily because people like being recognized, though they do.  Not necessarily because it makes people feel good, though it does.  But because it creates a culture of continuous improvement.  It says to everyone in the organization, “This person challenged the status quo, had the courage to offer new ideas, and make a real change.”  This declaration empowers everyone else to do the same.

Creating ways to encourage positive change and discourage inactivity is vitally important to the process improvement cycle.  Without some level accountability, we all, at best, refuse to change and at worst, spiral toward lower quality and higher costs.  Accountability does not have to be a bad word.  In most cases, it is an opportunity for those doing great work to demonstrate success, solicit resources, and plan next steps.  It is the single most important ingredient in the process improvement recipe.




Jumpstarting Process Improvement in Your Organization: The Top 10 Essentials (Part 9 of 10) – Methodology

Essential #9:  An established process improvement methodology.  There is a raging debate among process improvement nerds as to the best improvement methodology.  The danger in becoming married to a methodology is the perception by the staff that process improvement itself is merely the latest management fad.  On the flip side, homegrown or generic process improvement models often lack the tools and structure required to solve complex problems.  I have gone to great lengths in this series to talk about process improvement rather than espousing any particular framework. But, at the end of the day, an organization must choose a set of tools and use them effectively.   Here are four considerations when selecting a process improvement tool kit.

  1. Availability of training and support.  Choosing an off-the-wall framework can result in lack support, online resources, training, and templates.  Choosing a well-known model (Lean, Six Sigma, PDCA, for example) will allow your team to access a wide variety of support material, user forums, quick reference guides, and industry-specific standards.  Other, lesser-known methods might work fine in a short-term context, but may be somewhat limiting in the long run.
  2. Established terminology.  A clear sign that the process improvement effort is going well is when frontline staff begin to adopt the principles of process improvement.  Outward evidence their acceptance is their usage of the terminology.  A standard process improvement model supports an on-going and sustainable culture and language.  Imprecise language, lack of standardization, and inconsistent messaging will definitely confuse workforce, frustrate the managers, and work against the goal of sustainability.
  3. Consistency across the organization.  In large organizations or those in multiple geographical locations, it becomes very difficult to internally develop a sustainable process improvement model.  Each location will feel the need to tweak or re-engineer the methodology.  However, a standard, well-known model tend to withstand bastardization and can be used just as effectively in Kansas, Canada, or Caracas.  Tying in the aspects of training and terminology, a common approach allows for local, language-specific training almost anywhere in the world.
  4. Consistency across multiple specialists.  Hopefully, but unlikely, your company will be able to retain its process improvement specialists over many years.  As your experts come and go, adopting an established methodology allows your company maintain momentum.  A standard will also allow you to hire from a wider pool of trained professionals.  If you choose to adopt a lesser-known framework, it might require additional investment in salary, training, or time to bring new hires up to speed.

There is a real temptation on the part of organizations to save money by foregoing the adoption of an established process improvement model.  It is likely cheaper in the short term to Google a few terms, throw together a couple of PowerPoint slides, and call it “Process Improvement 101.”  However, for the reasons outlined, here, it’s just not sustainable.  Process improvement done right will save your company 10-40% of costs.  Why not just spend the money and use what has been proven to work?

Jumpstarting Process Improvement in Your Organization: The Top 10 Essentials (Part 8 of 10) – Communicate with the entire organization

Essential #8:  Methods for communicating with the entire organization.  “Lack of communication” is often cited as the number one reason employees are dissatisfied with their job.  There are two simple reasons for this.  First, we really don’t communicate effectively.  Second, “lack of communication” is an indication that employees feel disconnected from the company’s vision.  Applying this thought to process improvement efforts, the organization must have a way to reach and connect all employees in order to achieve meaningful gains.  Communication is critical because the best ideas for improvement come from the people doing the job.  If we as the leaders can’t figure out a way to exchange ideas, then the process improvement effort will struggle.  Here are three ideas for communicating with employees.

  1. Management by walking – This concept was popularized in the 1980’s.  Walking with purpose and meeting the workforce is a good way to garner good will and generate conversation.  This art was lost as our businesses became more virtual and shop floor reporting became more transparent and automated.  Somewhere, we lost touch with people.   A recent emerging thought combines the politicking of “walking around” with reinforcing a culture of accountability.  This model facilitates a give-and-take between the front line staff and the leader.  There are 12 questions (or a version thereof) every leader should ask while walking around and those questions can be found here.
  2. Employee suggestion programs are overrated.  Yes, they are somewhat useful.  Yes, there is a place for them.  No, I’m not recommending you eliminate yours.  There are two common problems with employee suggestions programs.  First, lack of participation.  Employee suggestion programs do not engage otherwise unengaged employees.  So, if your employees aren’t already a part of the continuous improvement effort, a wooden lock box and a stack of postcards will not do the trick.  The second common problem is that suggestions are rarely actionable.  Either we receive too many suggestions to manage or the ones we receive are more along the lines of complaints.  I’ve never really seen a game-changing suggestion come through the employee suggestion box.  I have seen on numerous occasions profoundly innovative ideas come from employees when simply asked, “How would you fix this problem?”
  3. Social media – Keep your employees linked in through social media.  If Facebook were an independent country, it would be the third largest in the world behind China and India.  Everyone is connected to something.  There are a number of ways to connect your workforce via social media.  Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs, and vlongs are examples.  These tools were invented for no other purpose than to facilitate a conversation.  And, conversation with our employees is what we want – both physically (management by walking) and virtually (social media).

We have more communication tools now than ever before.  Yet, seemingly we communicate less and less.  The goal is not to communicate for the sake of communication.  The goal is to use communication as a tool for collaboration, which brings about change.  Process improvement is all about changing, improving, and succeeding.  Making sure you have the proper communication tools in place will dramatically improve your level of process improvement success.