Synopsis: In theory, actively engaging your front line employees in improving the way work is done makes perfect sense. It allows front line workers to learn by doing. It builds capability. It gets the work done. It builds emotional commitment to changes. Yet in practice, leaders seldom choose to actively engage the front line when redesigning work. Why? Leaders usually hold engagement and speed in an opposing paradigm of either/or: either they can actively engage workers or move fast. It can’t be both. It’s a trade-off. But this is not necessarily true.
Examples: A major U.S. tire manufacturer felt engaging lots of workers in a process redesign would slow things down, water down the design, and that they would lose control, but then they had higher than planned complexity, cost, and risk…and took longer to achieve desired results. A hospital involved key players from various departments, including office personnel and a surgeon, in a look at ways to avoid unnecessary downtime in the main operating rooms, and after a few days of work emerged emotionally committed to get the needed work underway. Cerveceria Nacional Dominicana engaged almost 200 people in redesigning their “sell and deliver products” and “procurement” processes.
Question: Have you seen organizations that have made changes fast AND engaged large numbers of workers in the change?
In an interview for “5 Minutes to Process Improvement Success™” where “leading experts share valuable take-away strategies for achieving process improvement results” I shared some ideas about process improvement success factors.
Some key excerpts:
Bill: Brad, what is your best process improvement strategy or tactic that has worked well for you or your clients?
Brad: I think it’s addressing process improvement as a cultural change program, and as something that is a multi-year process, not as a quick results/quick fix kind of thing. … Simultaneously try to get short-term results by doing improvement projects, but combine them with a set of activities to achieve cultural change such as sending signals, creating a vision, changing incentives, changing organization, or changing governance. There are certain behaviors that you are trying to institutionalize at the same time that you’re doing tactical operational improvement activities that are driving short-term results. … Creating incentives for the right behaviors that will support process improvement at the same time that you’re doing process improvement activities would be my one piece of advice.
Synopsis: The question for top management is no longer whether your organization’s processes need to be improved, but rather which ones, how much, and when. I see three big opportunities in the coming decade: (1) work across organizational and global boundaries, (2) knowledge work redesign, and (3) speed.
Examples: Nine healthcare organizations redesign hip and knee replacements. Ford redesigns global product development. P&G tracks customer sentiments. ThinkFinance uses “daily huddles”. ThedaCare throws out annual budgets. ING and Nationwide use “agile scrum” methods.
Questions: Where are today’s biggest opportunities for improving work? How should organizations take advantage of them?
Synopsis: Operational improvement has improved, driven by three forces: (1) Greater awareness and experience in improvement approaches, (2) Greater information availability, and (3) The growth of social technology for sharing and learning.
Examples: Eight healthcare companies share information about patients who are having hip and knee replacements. Avery Dennison and Ecolab install collaborative platforms for sharing learning about work improvement. The Lean Enterprise Institute and Healthcare Value Network provide extensive practical advice, tools, and techniques on their websites and hold webinars where improvement ideas and stories are shared without travel. Kaiser Permanente shares current processes using “video ethnography”.
Questions: Have you been frustrated with past process improvement efforts? Have you seen improvements in improvement?
Synopsis: A culture of continuous improvement is crucial to organizational performance and survival. Yet few attempts at transformational change are successful. Why? The root cause is fear. To drive out fear, organizations should engage people in defining changes, provide upside and limit the downside of trying experiments, and hire people who are committed to the organization’s mission.
Examples: South Shore Hospital adds continuous improvement to its cultural pillars to prepare for healthcare reform and other changes. The Mayo Clinic hires people who are committed to patients.
Questions: What do you see as the root cause of failures to institute continuous improvement? How have you seen workers overcome their fear of work changes?
Synopsis: Many organizations suffer from a tragic pattern: The chief executive officer launches a new change program with great fanfare and intentions, only to shelve it a few years later with little to show for great expenditures of time and consulting fees. What can companies do to break this cycle?
Examples: A health insurance company has been struggling with change programs gone haywire for quite some time. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan organized along customer segments, introduced process improvement methods, and engaged employees in “daily huddles”. Aetna executives sought out employees on strategy and process design.
Synopsis: More and more companies I see these days are making strategic process changes to drive unprecedented business model innovation. It isn’t new, but the pace has been heating up with emerging social (Facebook), mobile (smart phones and iPads), “cloud,” and “big data” technologies that are creating new ways to compete, and, along with them, new ways of working.
Examples: Forbes has embraced online collaborative publishing as it adds a substantial online presence to its traditional print magazine. Healthcare organizations are implementing electronic health records systems so they can migrate from islands of medical services to sharing patient data across care providers. Consumer packaged goods manufacturers are monitoring social media to get real-time information on their customers’ perceptions and share it with brand managers.
Questions: Do you see competition with processes heating up? What changes have you seen in the C-Suite when process changes jump onto the strategic agenda?
Synopsis: Companies want their people to take the initiative to make needed creative decisions in their work, yet it’s equally important to follow standard procedures. Business is full of either/or scenarios, and in too many cases they present a false choice. A willingness to suspend traditional assumptions about what things go together or stay apart enables new ways of “seeing” old issues.
Examples: Starbucks finds creativity within standards, Shell gives latitude to employees to do the right thing for customers, Exxon follows standard procedures, Toyota gets brilliant results from brilliant processes, McDonalds trains standard procedures at Hamburger U, and Nordstrom’s allows employees to take back products they never sold.
Synopsis: Companies can reduce risk and allow organizational learning by breaking major process improvements into a series of small, reversible experiments. But when the change involves a new computer system, it often comes in a huge bite. Is there a way to implement big process and system changes while engaging workers and enabling organizational learning?
Examples: Martin Health System jointly mapped the work flows before implementing a new enterprise system. Johnson & Johnson broke up a big system into chunks. Solar Group created boards to share implementation plans and progress.
Process improvement and exercise regimes have a lot in common, says Brad Power, consultant and researcher in process innovation. People usually commit to them for a short period of time before losing interest and moving onto the next thing. But as with diets and exercise regimes, you’d be much better off if you committed to a continual program of improvement rather than embarking on “episodic” improvements.
Video (23 minutes) from PEX Week Orlando, January 2012