Category: Change Management
A huge number of businesses are still functioning with a distributed workforce, working from home and largely delivering what they have always delivered. Are they using the same processes though? I strongly suspect many businesses have reviewed what people do and eliminated many tasks that are expected when people are in work, but become impossible when they are at home. The question this creates is if these tasks are not essential when people work from home, are they needed at all?
This is a great opportunity to think carefully about the tasks we do each day and ask how much value they really add. There is much to learn from remote working, some of our time is taken up with tasks that are done because “we have always done it that way”. Two phrases that come to mind in this situation are
“Necessity is the mother of invention”
“When needs must, the devil drives”
Why are these important?
We have seen some incredible efforts to do new things, for example Formula 1 teams designing ventilators, engineering companies manufacturing ventilators, ordinary people using 3D printers to make facemasks, cosmetics companies manufacturing hand sanitiser.
When we have an overriding imperative we embrace our ability to be resourceful and inventive. Suddenly staff working from home is not a risk to productivity, it is a vital contribution to saving lives. Many managers and workers have found themselves working from home and needing to find new ways to communicate, new ways to manage their time, and are having to adjust their priorities to fit everything in. Inevitably some tasks are not a high priority in this situation. Now if those tasks are not significant in a crisis, how critical are they to the business overall? It is a question we should all ask, often we are too busy spinning the wheel to ask why we are doing it. This creates several wastes such as overprocessing (e.g. duplication of effort), waiting (sometimes for things that don’t really matter), motion (physical transfer of forms), defects (errors caused by rushing or distraction). We are also becoming more aware of pockets of overburden and unevenness in our organisations, as we observe people looking at new ways of working. As we decide some things are not important for now, perhaps we should consider if those tasks should be retired permanently.
Lacking access to meeting rooms and face to face meeting time has forced us to look at alternative meeting formats, for example Zoom, Google hangouts, Microsoft teams meetings. For many these technologies have been available for some time but have been shunned because they are new or “that’s not how we do it around here”. Needs must however, and now we find ourselves embracing new formats, new platforms and new behaviours. There is an opportunity in these new technologies; perhaps instead of everyone going to a specific room at a specific time for a meeting, we can use Teams to meet virtually at that time. If that saves five minutes at the start of the meeting and ten minutes at the end, for a daily meeting that is sixty hours a year per attendee. Five people in the meeting amounts to 300 hours per year. What could you do with that time? Another benefit of a virtual meeting might be a greater focus on the information that is being shared. Perhaps we can become more attentive to the business information, and in doing so think more carefully about how to present the required information in manner that is clear and accessible. Another example is accounting packs. Do we really need to prepare ten accounting packs, print them out and send them out to all attendees? Or do we need to prepare a single report in a teams folder and give everyone the same time to read the important information before the meeting. If you produce ten accounting packs a month, with let’s say 30 pages, that is a paper saving of over 7 reams of paper a year for one meeting. Not huge, but again why us eit if you don’t need to?
It is when you start multiplying all these benefits by the number of meetings and tasks across the whole business that your capacity problem becomes clearer. I often hear people say we don’t have time to improve, or e are already fully loaded. They also spend a considerable amount of time each day reworking tasks and replacing defects; do you not have enough time to fix your process? How much time and money could be saved by getting things right first time? Your investment in right first time will pay off.
If we reduce the demand for staff, what do we do with them?
This is a critical point and it is where many businesses kill their improvement programmes. They discover the tasks can be done with less staff and lay them off. They can do the same with less. Short term this is a cost saving, no doubt about it, but long term what is the impact on process improvement? Will your staff give their best efforts to improve the process if it endangers their livelihood? Would you? And what of the skills they take with them, they will undoubtedly use those skills in their next role, which could be with your competitor. Now think about this again. What happens if you use the time crated to increase capacity and grow the business. Redeploy them to relieve bottlenecks in other areas, retrain them to develop new capabilities, think more of their capabilities and potential than their cost. While the business is growing you can use all those staff who you have just trained in improvement techniques to find improvements in other areas. You will gain even more capacity, reduce costs and improve lead time. Exactly what you have been doing to cope in this time of crisis. A bonus is that you will also create a continuous improvement group from within your own staff.
When we go back to a more normal life, it will be tempting to resume all of the tasks we have been happily living without. Old meeting styles will be like an old favourite coat, comfortable and familiar. Consider this as you return to a business life after this crisis; you are able to choose what waste you reintroduce to your processes. Do you take the opportunity to adopt new ways of working and discard wasteful process steps, or do you limit the effectiveness of your operation? The organisations that let go of the activities that they have discovered were not necessary will thrive and grow in the wake of COVD19. We all need to thrive and grow, so I encourage you to create a new normal.
You have an opportunity to take the things you learn from coping in this crisis and use them to strengthen your business, create a continuous improvement culture and improve not only your immediate prospects, but also your long term future. Or not. I’ll leave you with this thought, W Edwards Deming said it best
“You do not need to change, survival is not mandatory.”
If the last 3 months have taught us anything about lean and process improvement, it should be that long supply chains are not lean. It is interesting that many of the businesses that should know better e.g. automotive businesses have been caught out with this problem.
One of the key components of a truly lean business is local supply chains. When COVID19 erupted in China, supply chains to many British (and global) firms were disrupted. The loss of capacity directly affected output of suppliers running long supply chains and trying to achieve JIT (Just In Time). The excess inventory in the supply chain bought some time, but very quickly those businesses found themselves with too few parts. The supply chains were not even just in different countries in one continent, they crossed multiple continents. As the crisis in China worsened, back up plans were implemented. Some worked, some didn’t, some businesses had not activated their emergency plans for so long they were no longer valid. Suppliers had ceased trading, disposed of tooling, changed materials, machinery, people, processes, all of which will have required fresh quality assessments. No doubt these were expedited, often by trading risks, the risk of quality failure later seen as a smaller risk than supply failure now.
We now face a nightmare scenario. Low output from extended supply chains and inadequate emergency response plans in the first instance, now the virus has spread to our country. The requirements for social distancing and isolation are now hampering output here in the UK – just as output in China is starting to come back online. The extended reduction in output has significant economic impact, requiring government intervention to prevent industrial collapse.
For now we must all be rational, obey the social distancing and isolation advice to ensure our communities are safe and the vulnerable are protected, but what of the future? I suggest that when we regain stability, British companies should re-evaluate the use of extended supply chains. We should onshore the manufacturing of critical components to insulate the supply chain from a further risk. With increasing severe weather events from climate change, political instability and regional unrest, long supply chains hold high risk. The risk and hence cost is not borne by the company alone, there is government level risk that is being taken through global supply chains. With some organisations transferring profit to benefit from better tax conditions, it is possible that the contributions of a business in a country don’t match the cost of large scale supply chain disruption. Whilst it can be tempting to focus on short term cost saving, the long term economic damage of a significant global event is too high a risk. This too is a feature of lean thinking, organisations must foucs on the long term strategic benefits.
If a business wants to be truly lean this must include long term strategic thinking and as a result localised supply chains wherever possible.
Your business has identified improvement as a critical task. OK so what next?
Whether your business is in its early years and trying to grow or established and looking to stabilise, there are some things you need to do if you are going to sustain improvements. Often you look to consultants for help or send staff on a training course. These activities will make things happen and change, but will they deliver lasting change? Not without the five things listed below. So what are these five things?
- Clear purpose
What is your business purpose, to make money? Look again. Believe it or not, making money is a side effect of a well-run business. Focusing on your customers and their needs ensuring that your product or service is designed to and capable of addressing and resolving that need is paramount. The business must also have a credible story of how customer’s pain points are relieved through the product or service provided. This clarity of purpose in the long term will ensure that you make good choices focused on delivering outstanding excellence of product and service to your customers. Look after your customers and they will look after you.
- Clear values
Values dictate what we will and will not do as a business. How you make money is more important than how much money you make. I have met too many business owners who are so focused on money, they forget why they set up the business. As they focus more on making money, they stop paying attention to their purpose and lose the confidence and custom of their customers, Have clear values that you believe in and are lived not laminated. Values aligned to purpose that are real and applied every day have a powerful impact on your business, employees, suppliers and customers. your values become principles and express your mission with authenticity and integrity. Regardless of your stated values, always treat people with respect, it will pay back many times the cost in the medium to long term. More importantly a clear purpose and clear values generate trust.
- Prioritisation rules
Often businesses set out to fix their problems with great energy and resolve. The problem they face is that not all of the problems can be solved quickly. The resources applied to improvement are quickly overstretched and the workload is inconsistent. This pattern leads to the overburden of staff and unevenness of demand. Don’t try to fix everything at once. Recognise your limitations and use your resources wisely, process improvement is a long term strategy, not a short term fix. Use your values and purpose to set in place a scoring system that can be used to prioritise resources on the improvements that will have the biggest impact on your business. The rules facilitate discussions and disagreements experienced in this phase allow constructive conflict to occur without damaging interpersonal conflict.
- Project selection guidelines
Use your scoring system to ensure that projects are selected that improve your business performance whilst upholding and supporting your values and purpose. Creating a standard scoring process ensures that your projects are focused on long term developments. This doesn’t preclude selecting a project for some other reason, however, the individuals tasked with prioritisation are forced to be honest about their reasons for increasing the priority of this project, be that opportunism, ego, or anything else. Selecting the projects that are objectively shown to have the most impact is not easy, but it is vitally important for both survival and growth. Having a transparent process with foundations in trust and constructive conflict where those involved can discuss and resolve their differences leads to commitment.
- Project review process
All of the work above is of no use if you don’t review project progress. No matter how well a project has been planned, things change and some assumptions are inevitably incorrect. Priorities change, demands change in the business and the resulting progress of the project may not be as planned. It’s not a sign that someone has done something wrong, it’s just business life, so don’t focus on the people focus on the process. Regular reviews encourage accountability and ensure that agreed actions are more likely to happen. Accountability generates results.
Developing these 5 aspects of process improvement will take discipline and focus. Changes to the business purpose and values are major, any change to core purpose and values must be done only after very careful consideration. Purpose and values are core and characteristic, they should not change easily. The specific details of the prioritisation rules, selection guidelines, and reviews will change over time so these are not single events and are in need of regular review.
Businesses often bring consultants and specialists in to help them with their improvement process and ask them to do the wrong things. Consultants are often asked to train, supervise projects, provide specialist analysis skills. Where they can really add value is helping the business leaders to articulate purpose and values, then use these to support the governance system that supports project prioritisation, selection and review.
Thanks for reading and I wish you nothing but success in your business improvement program.
Why should you have a quality management system?
A quality management system is the first step towards truly understanding your business. A good QMS structures your business approach, embedding continuous improvement as a way of doing business.
The standard starts with asking you hard questions about your business and your customers. The system then takes a look at leadership, defining what the responsibilities of top management are, and what processes they must put in place. Planning comes next, to ensure the business understands what must be managed to succeed. Now the business knows what must be done, the resources must be made available to deliver on the plans. Operational control is required to ensure the products are properly designed, the processes for procurement, manufacture and control are in place and that operators know what to do when there is a problem. The process also has to be measured, this includes auditing and non-conformance management. Finally, the system demands continuous improvement.
As an ISO9001 lead auditor and lean six sigma master black belt I can integrate process improvement using world-class tools into your documented system.
Contact me for a discussion to see how I can help your business.
It’s true. Some people don’t believe they have anything left to learn. I was taught that learning is a lifelong habit and that when we believe we have all the answers, we have surrendered our intellect and allowed our ego to take charge. So who is in control of your life, your intellect or your ego?
Coaching supports your journey to understand why you create your own limitations and helps you to learn how to change how you interact with the world. Being yourself can never be wrong, changing how you interact with the world can help everyone else to see your talents as well.
If you think coaching could help you be happier, healthier and more effective, get in touch to arrange a discussion.
I have started using Doodly for explainer videos. I have my first creation done, now I need your help. What do I need to adjust to improve it?
All feedback will be appreciated!
I was invited by a close associate to work with him at a large FMCG manufacturer where he worked to help improve team performance. This team works in central services in an extremely large multinational corporation.
I arrived at the location on a Sunday evening and in the car journey to the hotel, my client advised that he wanted to change the focus of the development. Instead of working with the full team, I was to work with a smaller sub-team. My client advised that this sub-team was having particular problems with delivering their expected objectives. My revised task was to support the sub-team to identify what help was needed to develop their skills and improve overall performance. The sub team’s role is to approve new suppliers.
I created a team development workshop overnight and we started the next day looking at the team’s behaviours and output. We quickly identified several problems
- The process was inconsistent between team members
- The process was also inconsistently completed between departments.
- The team was governed through fear, carried over from a previous manager
- There were no measures of team performance
- The team was still working to a set of rules laid down by a former manager
The impact of these behaviours was that the staff were uncertain and working in constant fear. Failure to deliver was normal, all failures were blamed on people, and external demands were never challenged. This increased the workload in the department without adding value from the customer’s perspective. As a result, the team had become demotivated and disillusioned
I had two issues. The first was to understand and support the overall process. The second was to work with the individuals to help them improve their skills and resilience.
We employed three strategies to develop in parallel
- Focus on the process to identify and agree on the standard work.
- Work with the individuals to help them identify as a team and start collaborating
- Coach the individuals to enable them to understand their reactions and interact more positively
The strategies worked very well, by applying transformational coaching across the needs of the immediate client, recognising the demands of the wider organisation and the constraints individual team members perceived, we made huge step-change improvements in performance. The client (this team’s line manager) was coached to modify his behaviours to reflect the values agreed with the team. Individuals in the team were also coached to address their confidence and behavioural challenges. Working with the team, we were able to establish common values and establish the required process to enable the team to work effectively as a unit and in concert with other parts of the business. Since the process was developed by the team with support and guidance by me, they were fully engaged with the process.
After completing the intervention, the team identified that they needed to enforce the existing agreement and insist their customer, another internal department, upheld their part of the agreement. The team also stopped competing and arguing internally, focusing instead on solving problems at their root cause. The overall result was a reduction in workload and a higher quality of work product. The team also had higher engagement, morale, and created a positive and supportive working environment.
The work was so successful that further engagements were booked to deliver training and development with this team and with other teams in the business. A team build for another team in the department is planned for later in the year. I continue to coach the team director to support his development.
Culture change. It’s a huge and popular topic these days. There are so many departments that want to lead this area, human resources, change management, finance, organisational design, manufacturing, the list is as varied as the department names your business uses. Everyone tries their own strategy, but they all run into the same problem;
“Culture determines and limits strategy”
– Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 1985
So why does culture keep reasserting itself, no matter how much well-meaning change management is brought in. Internal consultants, external consultants, charismatic leaders, servant leaders, there are more leadership models than you can shake a stick at. Yet still, the culture reasserts itself, it is pervasive and incredibly hard to change. Why?
Culture change efforts always focus on changing behaviours. It is right that behaviours must change, but with all these skilled people changing behaviours, why doesn’t the culture change?
Johnson and Scholes proposed a model of culture in their cultural web. There are many aspects to culture, and it is vitally important to connect each of the aspects of the cultural web to the values and beliefs required for our new culture.
One of the aspects of Johnson and Scholes cultural web that seems to be overlooked is Stories.
In every aspect of life, we tell stories, and these stories grow to be an oral history of the underlying “common sense” values and beliefs in the business. As change agents we work really hard to change behaviours, but how much effort do we put into changing the stories told? If we change behaviours to conflict with the stories in the business, we set new behaviours in conflict with the historical values and beliefs of the business. We start to hear comments such as “I know we aren’t supposed to say this, but…” or see the more experienced heads in the business purse their lips or shake their heads when new processes or behaviours are implemented. The old stories subside, but they don’t go away, they are instead told in quiet corners to select groups. The problem is the select groups overlap, so the story is still told as the history of the business, and the new behaviours are labelled as “the latest fad” and members are told to “just keep your head down and ride it out”. We create cliques and cabals to either protect our history or We can’t just suppress the old stories, and we can’t create new stories fast enough to displace the old values.
So what is the one thing that must be changed?
You can’t eliminate the story since it is part of the oral history of the business, so use it by changing the perspective of the story! Don’t just focus on changing behaviour, ensure the stories told in the business reflect the changing values and beliefs. Us the telling and retelling of the stories to change how the stories are interpreted and understood.
For example, if you have a hero culture and stories are told about how people have cut through bureaucracy to find solutions to past situations, just telling people not to tell the story won’t work. Telling people to obey the bureaucracy won’t work. Change the emphasis of the story to match the new belief system; add to the story, for example, add that whilst it was a brilliant outcome, highlight that there was a huge risk to the business from missing paperwork, and we were lucky to get away with it. When you get an example of the bureaucracy controlling the process and preventing an error, add a positive that using the bureaucracy has enabled the business to meet the customer needs. Once the change is embedded the story is changed forever. Reality hasn’t been changed, there is no deception, we have interpreted the old story in line with our new values. All the while we are telling new stories, stories that support the new values and beliefs.
In this way, we accelerate the culture change by adding new stories and modifying the interpretation of the old stories to match the modified cultures and beliefs embedded in the business. Be careful though, if you just tell people to interpret the story differently you will drive it into the shadows. The new interpretation must be through storytelling in collaboration with the people who guard the business beliefs and used to flush out conflicts between new and old values in a positive way for discussion and debate.
In summary, if you want to change the way your business behaves, change the stories that are told in and by the business both new and old.