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!
Tamarind Tree Consulting Ltd has joined the Centre for SME Development, a UCLAN initiative to help and support small businesses and new startups.
AS a member of this group Tamarind Tree Consulting Ltd can help new businesses to develop their processes and support the managers and directors to grow with the business. Tamarind Tree Consulting Ltd looks forward to the opportunity to support these entrepreneurs by coaching and mentoring these new business leaders to develop the skills they will need as their businesses grow
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.
What story will you change today?
Tamarind Tree Consulting Ltd is delighted to announce that it has joined the Northern Powerhouse Partner Programme. As a provider of training and productivity improvement support, Tamarind Tree Consulting Ltd is dedicated to supporting Northwest businesses to compete effectively. Deploying world class improvement and quality techniques, Tamarind tree Consulting Ltd can work in both service and manufacturing industries to improve output, capacity and quality.
Managing Director Tim Akerman said “The Northern Powerhouse initiative set out to support increasing productivity of northern manufacturing businesses. Tamarind Tree Consulting was set up with the same aim, so joining the Northern Powerhouse Partner Programme was a natural step forward. We are delighted to support this initiative and look forward to helping northern businesses improve productivity to become more competitive.”
Minister for the Northern Powerhouse, Jake Berry MP said:“I’m delighted to see another great northern business join our growing network of Northern Powerhouse Partners.
“Rebalancing the economy so it works for everyone is at the heart of our vision for the Northern Powerhouse so I’m excited to see the contribution Tamarind Tree Consulting will make as they support other growing businesses in the North to thrive and boost local economic growth.”
I had a really good day yesterday. I was fortunate enough to have a project proposal selected for use by Lancaster University’s Business School for an MSc final year project in Marketing.
Getting a project selected is both a support and a responsibility. I didn’t realise that the project accounted for a fun third of their final year marks. Although they have nothing left to do for the remainder of this year, it is a serious responsibility for both the students and for me to ensure that two things happen. We must ensure that the project runs smoothly and yields a successful result. In this case, a successful result means a market study that helps my business. Of equal importance is ensuring the students achieve the highest possible marks in their final dissertation.
One interesting discussion centered around co-operation compared to collaboration. I have long held the belief that whilst most organisations work hard at co-operation, it isn’t really what they need to do.You see co-operation is what happens when all parties set out to give the minimum away and achieve the maximum personal and functional gain, regardless of the impact on the overall organisation. Collaboration is a different matter altogether. Collaboration requires all parties to be open about their wants and needs, then work out how to deliver the maximum possible benefit for all parties, whilst ensuring the needs of the business are protected.
Collaboration creates trust and bonds teams together within functions and across functions. This bonding, and trust creation makes collaboration a key aspect of process improvement, and project work.
So how did this apply to a marketing degree project?
The students and I are inextricably linked for the next few months. If I have not explained the project brief clearly enough, they will be unable to achieve a high degree mark .That is why I must ensure that I answer their questions fully and act on the tasks we agree. For their part, the students must work through the brief diligently and ensure they answer the questions thoroughly. It will be interesting to see what results come from the project.
The students now have a few weeks to create their marketing proposal, once that is agreed, they will conduct the market research over the summer and present it back to me in August. I seem to have two very smart young ladies taking care of my project, I look forward to the insights and strategies that come from their analysis.