One of the themes of the last two posts is that for organizations to improve their execution, it is important that continuous improvement becomes the culture of the organization rather than just another program. Programs end while continuous improvement is, by definition, perpetual. However, changing the organizational culture is a difficult, messy and painful process unless handled properly. And even when handled properly, it can take a very long time.
There are five steps to properly manage cultural transformation in organizations:
- Unwavering commitment by management: All levels of management must understand and support the transformation to a continuous improvement culture. This part is essential because unanimous support by management lends a great deal of credibility to the transformation process. By contrast, even a small number of unsupportive managers can be detrimental to the process. Employees are very savvy to managerial dissent, and dissident managers can attract like-minded employees, creating formidable spots of change resistance.
- Sense of urgency: A sense of urgency is essential to overcoming the natural pains created by the cultural transformation process. The members of the organization who feel that action is needed now are willing to endure the inconvenient actions needed to carry out the transformation. They are anxious to implement performance metrics, evaluate different value streams, and improve them.
- Proof of improvement potential: In my experience, the prevailing attitude in organizations that have not yet embarked on transformation to a continuous improvement culture is one of helplessness: “How can we improve while we are understaffed”; “improvement is not possible with the equipment we have”; or “all of our problems are the result of external factors that we can’t control.” It is important to demonstrate that improvement is possible using historic data. If an operation had been able to perform better than average for a certain period of time, there is no reason it cannot sustain that level of performance.
- Quick-wins: One of the quickest ways to gain more allies and reach the transformation tipping point is to create quick-wins with evident impacts. The two important factors look for when considering early improvement projects are the speed of realizing positive impacts and the visibility of these impacts. Projects that fit that requirement may not be the ones that require the least amount of resources, so it is important to look at speed and visibility first, and then consider the resources required.
- Proper management system: For the continuous improvement culture to take hold, it is important to design a management system that promotes continuous improvement. The system should include performance metrics that are formally reviewed by management and compared to a baseline. The baselines themselves should move periodically to reflect the improvement attained. The system should also require action whenever performance falls below the baseline.
The discussion above is a very high level. In fact, books have been written on most of the five points mentioned. The five upcoming posts will discuss each of the above points in further detail.