Many people seem to think that concepts of process improvement only relate to the manufacturing environment. In this economic climate, when resources are scarce, process improvement must be a mantra and a part of the DNA of a company if it is to survive. I have seen these fatal errors in my work as a performance consultant. These errors have the ability to derail all attempts at improving the processes to achieve intended results.
Error Number One: Lack of a strategic direction
Individuals from middle management and throughout the organization were unaware of the vision of the company and in some case the strategic direction. The strategy was possibly created at the top, I said possibly because no one knew of its existence; activities were not driven from strategic initiatives. Instead people were very busy doing things, and were constantly complaining of working too hard. The question being are we “doing the right things right” and adding value to the organization.
Error Number Two: Maintaining the Silo culture
The functional organizational structure was followed rigidly, giving way to territorial behavior and “turf protection”. The result of this is suboptimal performance as the success or improvement of a functional group does not mean effectiveness of the organization as a whole and its ability to satisfy the customer. When organizations are designed and maintained with the silo structure, cost is incurred as errors and wastes occur between the functional silos.
Error Number Three: Doing improvement projects in isolation
In the organizations mentioned there was a cadre of individuals assigned to do process improvement. They operated under the radar screen and often told of their frustration as they were often perceived as interfering with the activities of a department. In addition, any small gains that were made were quickly reversed as the improvement teams moved away because there was no infrastructure to maintain the improvement, and there was no understanding of the need for change. In some cases the team of individuals who were charged with process improvement received very little training in tools and techniques and was ill equipped to handle a very resistant organization. They felt like animals in a cage, having some understanding of what was needed but not being given the opportunities to perform.
Error Number Four: Workforce not engaged
The workforce was not engaged as ideas were not solicited. Therefore activities to promote and reward employee involvement were not in place. The organizations were run from the top and were very hierarchical. It was evident that management had received little training or had little overall understanding of the meaning of process improvement and the role they had to play in making it happen. A process improvement initiative was viewed as something to be purchased but should not disturb how the current organization was run.
Error Number Five: Cultural resistance
Because of the previously mentioned errors, the result is a culture not open for change. There was nothing in place to encourage and facilitate teaming across departmental boundaries. Working in teams was a very foreign concept. This means that there was a lack of understanding of certain basic concepts such as:
What is a process
What are the boundaries of each process
Who is the customer
What are the requirements of the customer and why
How is value of the output defined
I could go on listing additional errors, but these were considered to be the most prominent errors and the ones that would ultimately retard any improvement initiative. At the moment, some managers recognize the need for a process improvement initiative, but in many cases the organization was still profitable and so there was no need for urgency.
As Peter Senge states in his book The Fifth Discipline, “the harder you push the harder the system pushes back; the more effort you expend trying to improve matters, the more effort seems to be required”. My experience with performance improvement trends illustrates the flaws that can occur when we do not adopt a systems view for process improvement.
The factors that drive the present economic climate are efficiency-doing more with less and effectiveness – creating value for the organization through customer satisfaction. These two factors are the hallmark of process improvement initiatives and if not utilized will result in companies remaining in a reactive mode, and only beginning the journey to process improvement when the financial numbers start to fall.
The underlying point here is to challenge the status quo, do not continue to follow a path because you have always done it that way. The market is changing, pay attention to continuously improving the journey of performance improvement.
Performance Innovation LLC is a group of consultants who have been in the field of process management and performance improvement consulting and training for over 20 years. The team is led by Norma Simons, formally the president of Simons-White & Associates, who with her team has made significant contributions in training and consulting, enabling companies to achieve significant bottom-line results.
We specialize in hands-on implementation of process improvement initiatives by applying the concepts of lean, six sigma, industrial engineering and principles of leadership development. Our diverse team is able to integrate and customize improvement methods that enable the achievement of lasting business results. We serve automotive, aerospace, education, service, healthcare and other industries wishing to make the transition to enhance performance.
At Performance Innovation LLC, our team is committed to assisting our clients to successfully meet the economic and social challenges faced in the workplace.