Wearing Masks During a Pandemic: Why Compliance is So Difficult and How to do Better

Three icons with two wearking facial protection masks and one not

Businesses are accountable to ensure the health and safety of employees and customers. This means things like wearing a mask and social distancing during a pandemic. In the age of Covid19, the potential to show you care has never been greater. Yet, many businesses are not taking advantage of the opportunity. As people strive to get back into the economy, everyone will remember if they felt safe with you; or not. If any enterprise wants to lock in loyalty now and for years to come, they would do well to pay attention to the current environment and implement appropriate safety practices. We’ve all seen examples of good and bad. So we must ask ourselves:

How do we make good practices, like wearing masks and social distancing, work?

Road Trip!

As with all things, the answer begins with a road trip! During the last week of May and first week of June, I took a 6800 mile (11,000km) road trip across the United States. At this time, quarantine restrictions were being eased. Many places were still closed and a lot of people had not yet ventured out. Yes, I took all sorts of precautions. I wore a mask everywhere, even while refueling. I used alcohol wipes relentlessly, did not enter a single restaurant and minimized grocery stops. I ate all meals in (or near) my SUV, and slept there too for 15 nights.

Map of the United States with Trip Route

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

As you might expect, I saw examples of good and bad Covid19 management practices. Social distancing and masks were prevalent when I stopped briefly for supplies in Oklahoma City and Napa CA. Most of the California coast for 100 miles north of San Francisco was closed, and while some felt this was over-kill, it sends a clear message that danger exists. In fact, along this stretch of highway there were still shelter in place signs up. At almost all of the McDonalds drive throughs the servers wore masks and gloves, credit card readers are presented so no cards are passed back and forth and your meal is given to you on a tray. In Denver, almost everyone was wearing a mask and staying distant in both public places and private businesses.

On the other hand, as I drove through Flagstaff Arizona and Moab Utah, the crowded streets and few masks were a preview of problems to come. In Moab, it felt too risky to even get out of my car. Along the way, more than half the rest areas on the highways were closed due to Covid19. While this may seem like a good way to ensure social distancing, all it really does is make service centers and truck stops even more crowded.

Perhaps the most discomforting situation I encountered was in Redding, California. Of the 150 or so people I saw at three locations (Walmart, Sonic and ampm service station), only about 10 people had their faces covered even though masks were mandatory in much of California at that time. I felt I should have warned them that there was a pandemic in progress because no one seemed aware. It felt unsafe. I had to wonder; do these businesses care about my safety? Do they have a policy or a process? If they don’t, why not? If they have rules, why aren’t they enforced? These seem like logical questions that all businesses should be asking themselves because their employees and customers sure are. (As of July 15, Walmart is requiring masks at all US locations.)

A Big Experiment and Lessons Re-Learned

Experiment graphic with beaker and gears

For Covid19, the use of face masks and social distancing are the best weapons we have right now. These methods and practices are accessible to most everyone. When given a choice, many who could use these techniques choose not to. Until we get a critical mass of people to participate, we will continue the cycle of cases spiking up followed by lock downs and restrictions. And it’s not just the United States. This cycle is in progress around the world.

Without being pedantic, masks and distance slow the transmission of the virus. Less transmission means fewer people get sick and die. It also means more people feel more comfortable being out and engaged in the economy.

The issues related to wide-spread use or non-use of masks and social distancing in response to the pandemic is a lesson about rules and compliance on a scale rarely seen. Similar problems arose during the Spanish Flu, but that was a hundred years ago so this is new for all of us. Well… dealing with a pandemic is new. Issues with people following or not following rules isn’t so new. With so much at stake, it’s worth examining why it’s hard to achieve compliance with even simple things and what can be done about it.

Why Better Procedural Adherence is Important

Foremost; the incalculable cost of health and human lives. A recent meme addressed this issue and read:

The mistake we made was telling people that wearing a mask would protect others.

Implying that if we believed wearing a mask would help prevent one’s own death, it might lead to better compliance. Sadly, this isn’t true either. But, just a slight increase in uptake would make a difference, so the idea isn’t without merit. The only thing we can conclude is that even an awareness that not wearing a mask could kill you or someone else isn’t enough to compel many.

Then there’s the economic value of reducing the incidence of Covid19. Whether you know someone affected by the disease or not, you are for sure personally affected by the economics of the pandemic. The economy won’t really open up until the majority feels safe within it. We are a long way from that.

The Individual, The Enterprise and The Culture

Survival is the most basic human instinct. People naturally avoid danger. But everyone has a different danger gauge. The notion of danger and safety is subjective. We as individuals evaluate each element differently about what is safe, what is necessary, how much social pressure is tolerable and what we might get away with. We’re dealing with an infinite number of variables. Many people conclude that avoiding danger is the best option and decide that wearing masks and staying some distance from others are reasonable. Not everyone comes to this conclusion.

Because of this disparity, individuals who neither wear masks nor social distance, keep many others away and out of the economy.

Each of us make choices based on our personal biases. If you want to compel a different behavior broadly, you will never do it by convincing everyone it’s the right thing to do. But let’s get beyond the individual for a moment and talk about culture and the enterprise. It is here that the levers of change operate.

Culture and Governments

At the top of the food chain we have culture. Since culture is often associated with countries, we can combine these in a way; recognizing that countries contain many cultures. Where caring social structures that attend to people’s well-being exist, it is easier to apply social pressure for compliance. In other words, if caring about people’s health and safety is highly valued, then people feel more obligated to participate and move toward this social norm.

In places where governments are more willing to establish and enforce rules, the odds for compliance are greater too. Often the work required for enforcement in both the public and private sectors is perceived to be more trouble than its worth. It seems so much easier to side-step the issue so we end up with few standards or even worse; inconsistent and confusing ones. Meanwhile cases and deaths rise while economies crater.

Everywhere around the world has a different mix of these attributes – caring social structures and the willingness or ability to enforce. The United States is at the low end of the spectrum on both counts and therefore experiences high numbers of Covid19 cases. Anywhere that is sort of “squishy” about this will find it difficult to manage the pandemic.

It’s Only Business

We cannot wave a magic wand and change the beliefs and biases of every individual and we can do little to change established cultures. When it comes to rules and compliance, the enterprise / business entity is the best control point. Here, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone believes the requirement’s for entry are good or bad. Products and services and even employment are only available to those who comply. It’s transactional.

If we look at it from a strictly business perspective, its worth noting that:

Those who feel endangered because safety protocols such as masks are being ignored, will stay away and they will remember that their well-being was compromised long after the crisis has subsided.

Employees who are forced to work in what they perceive to be an unsafe environment will at minimum resent it. Yet many businesses default to the lowest common denominator – no mask required, mask optional, or masks required but terrible procedural adherence. This is a bad business decision.

Businesses that don’t take decisive steps to ensure safety and reduce the transmission of Covid19 or are waiting for the government to solve this are missing the point. They have a real opportunity to demonstrate leadership and connect with their employees, customers and suppliers by showing they really care and are willing to make and enforce rules.

How To Have Better Mask Wearing and Social Distancing Compliance

Let’s imagine a business is grappling with the idea of implementing procedures to keep their employees and customers as safe as possible and still conduct business during the pandemic. If the goal is to achieve compliance and get more people to wear masks (correctly, over the nose) and social distance (2 meters between individuals) — three things must happen.

A cycle diagrap showing 1 Define, 2 Teach and 3 Reinforce

  1. Define the rules
  2. Teach the rules
  3. Reinforce and adjust the rules

Define: Not guidelines: Rules / requirements. Unambiguous and clear. When they’re violated, mitigation steps must be clearly defined too.

Keep everything as simple as possible. For a single location this is easy enough to do. For a large, multi-national corporation, processes and procedures need to be both global and local. Establishing requirements, how they are going to work and how they will be enforced requires significant process understanding and review cycles. It is essential to involve those working within the processes to gain insight about what really needs to happen.

Teach: This doesn’t mean distributing and posting a list of do’s and don’ts. It’s about communication, alignment and refinement through lessons learned. Context is important, particularly for employees. Be clear about why are you asking them to behave in a certain way. For visitors and guests, your objective is to teach as quickly as possible the rules and what is expected of their behavior while visiting.

Visual systems and signs are a great way to teach, but are not enough by themselves. Direct interaction and communication are among your best tools for conveying what’s expected and how to behave inside your business.

Reinforce and adjust: We’re changing people’s behaviors. To accomplish this, we must change our own behaviors. Now is the opportunity to lead by example, model the behaviors and demonstrate your values.

Assuming requirements have been clearly communicated and trained, then we deal with enforcement. This is often where trouble begins because it deals with conflict. Most people prefer to avoid conflict. Having clear and concise processes and procedures, that are well communicated helps with enforcement. To figure this out and develop a standard process, start with “what if” scenarios and establish standard mitigation steps.

Leadership is key here. When there is a violation, it is not ok to look the other way or manifest exceptions. When someone says, “Well, I don’t know, I think it’s ok this time…” you just took 10 steps backwards. Leadership must support those who are following and administering the rules by actively governing:

  • Dealing with exceptions. The situation on the ground is always changing. There will be exceptions and new twists. These need to be understood and integrated into the process.
  • Communication: Inbound (what’s working and what’s not) and outbound (any changes or lessons learned that need to be spread out).
  • Metrics: What are the numbers related to Covid19 safety compliance? What needs attention and where are we performing well and why?
  • Status Review: At least one a week. The situation on the ground is changing so fast that anything less won’t work.

The situation is dynamic. It’s ok to adjust the rules. As best practices and lessons learned are identified, they need to be quickly integrated into the three phases noted here: Define, Teach and Reinforce.

Conclusion

There are certainly those who are waiting to see if this thing just goes away and we can get back to normal. It is painfully obvious that it’s not going away nearly soon enough for businesses to simply tread water. Everything is a choice. Either way you go, people will remember for a long time.

Organizations that take the steps outlined here will get their businesses up and running faster and will forge important connections with their employees, customers and suppliers. They will be doing it in a way that shows that they really do care about the health, safety and well-being of the people within their sphere of influence. In a genuine and business-smart way, they really will be helping to get the economy back on track.

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The steps for better compliance outlined here are high-level. If you want to learn more about how to achieve better compliance fast, Kaufman Global can help. For you and me, be safe, wear a mask and social distance.

 

Three Business Strategies for Dealing with a Pandemic

The pandemic isn’t going away any time soon. Besides the reality of economic upheaval on a global and personal level, the risks to health and life is real. Safety and economics are inexorably linked now. Everyone wants to do something, but exactly what is often unclear. The three business strategies for dealing with a pandemic described in this post are a good start.

Three things for dealing with a pandemic: Re-vision processes, team-based problem solving and process disciplineNo one can afford to “wait this out”. Businesses that integrate a pandemic world view into their strategies are the most likely to survive and then thrive in a potentially less restrictive world. As we look to the future, things will be different because businesses are being driven by necessity to try new ways of working now. Major functions like workforce configuration, supply chains and how teams collaborate are changing and will remain changed.

For many, chaos is what we are living with now. Well, maybe not chaos defined as: Total disorder and confusion. But some days have surely felt like it. Without being insensitive to the devastating human toll, there are some things things organizations should be doing to respond to the chaos of a global event to help secure and ensure their future:

  1. Re-vision processes
  2. Team-based problem solving
  3. Process discipline

None of these strategies are new. They’ve been around for a long time. However, the need to do them exceedingly well now is greater than ever. It’s not a matter of being more competitive in a market that everyone understands. At this moment, emerging market configurations are not well-understood and that is the opportunity. It’s about using the crisis as a catalyst for real change.

Urgency is driven by the fact that everyone is in the same situation. The playing field is leveled and the fastest actors win.

Re-vision Your Processes

Processes that once worked well enough no longer do. Some can be realigned with minor adjustments, while others need a complete overhaul. Have these categories even been identified where you are now? Those businesses that ignore the issue or try to force-fit old ways into the current situation without some proactive attention cannot compete.

To deconstruct processes and reconnect them in different and more flexible ways, develop a process strategy and evaluate the extended value streams. You might start with supply chains – the epicenter of this particular chaos. And, while this is a great place to focus energy, recognize that all of your business functions and processes are in a state of change now. Anything related to employee, customer and supplier safety is at the top of everyone’s list – or at least should be. Most everyone would rather work and do business where they feel safe.

Team-based Problem Solving

How we work together is different, but the need to work together is stronger than ever. Team-based problem solving is key to getting new processes defined and up and running. New ways of work designed in a vacuum and then foisted onto the organization don’t work. When there are a lot of unknowns, it’s tempting to do a sort of panic response. Some of it was necessary early on, but not anymore.

Solutions developed by those working inside the process are the only way to ensure that new processes are effective and implementable. You’ve got to do more than talk about these things. Take action! As solutions are developed, expand the team and do trials and pilots until you get things dialed in for full implementation.

A combination of remote collaboration and safe workshop environments (masks, social distance, etc.) now emerges as the new normal. Focus interviews, idea generation and data collection and analysis can be done remotely. Mapping and visualization can also be done remotely, but with the right precautions taken to ensure safety, tightly controlled and facilitated workshops are most productive.

As with all things, the pendulum swings with regard to remote versus in-person work. Some organizations will perceive new efficiencies based on remote work and turn hard in that direction. After a while though, the drawbacks will start to show and people begin to consider how to actually work safely in closer proximity (daily interviews, temperature checks, masks, washing and distancing). The only way to dial-in the best balance of risk and performance is to get users involved in the solutions.

Achieve Process Discipline

For any recovery, employee, customer and supplier safety must be in place. Face masks, distancing and other steps which vary by industry are here to stay. This means it’s ultra-important that people follow the rules. The most amazing thing about process discipline is that even when lives are at stake – and not just during a pandemic – people break the rules all the time. To get compliance you must:

  • Define the rules: Simple and clear. Describe how to deal with exceptions too.
  • Teach the rules: Everyone must understand them; what’s expected when and where.
  • Reinforce requirements: Constantly.

From the list above, steps one and two (define and teach) are the easier ones. They require process analysis, documentation and training. The biggest problem for most is step three – constant reinforcement. This requires a change in behaviors up and down the organization – something that does not happen without significant attention.

Even when processes are re-visioned and designed well, all three of the steps for process discipline are routinely ignored. At a time when so much depends on making people feel safe and comfortable with work and commerce, it will pay dividends to those who focus on achieving good process discipline in their workplace.

Conclusion

Businesses and the processes that drive them are in a state of upheaval that will not go away soon enough for anyone to ignore this new reality. If you want to safely and effectively adapt to the challenges brought by the pandemic, now is the time to take the steps described here with deliberate intention.

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Kaufman Global is expert at helping organizations navigate operational and cultural change. If you want help bringing focus to any of the topics outlined here, give us a call. We’re ready to help and we will be creative in finding safe ways to collaborate with you and your teams.

To learn more about process discipline and procedural adherence, read our White Paper on topic: Procedural Adherence and Risk

Making The Case for Analysis

Analysis or Straight to Implementation? That’s the question.

Analysis Graphic with world and people and barcharts

People, geographies and data – important considerations for analysis

Complex operations problems are never solved by picking around the edges. Take a deeper view and do the examination that actually gives you the results you need.


Process Problems and Business Issues

Most process improvement techniques available today include some form of evaluation or assessment to baseline performance. This is good but it doesn’t replace analysis. Techniques like Rapid Improvement Events, workshops, A3s and even six-sigma’s DMAIC are mostly aimed at micro-, or best case, macro-processes. As such, they’re fantastic for fixing small problems using bottom-up methods and countermeasures, but they aren’t going to impact extensive value streams. Consequently, when these improvement techniques are applied as core practices to solve more complex, overarching business issues, the results often fall short of what actually could have been achieved.

Analysis – the examination of causes, effects and solutions – is a better starting point for macro and mega business issues. What kind of issues? Things like supply chain, sales and operations planning, consolidation, expansion, order-to-cash. Here, cross-functional, tangled value streams are thorny and resilient. Addressing issues like these yields far greater results. Yet, these processes that are the fabric of the enterprise are often avoided to instead work on the pockets inside of them. This is because the modern organization promotes functional silos and when the inevitable pushback comes, it’s simply easier to move on to something that can be more narrowly accomplished without attempting cross-functional cooperation.

Business Performance Fixes | Two Approaches

There are two ways to move forward: Direct to Implementation or Analysis then Implementation. With direct to implementation, after some process evaluations or organizational surveys have been done, the decision to proceed is fueled largely by instinct and intuition; capacities proven to be seriously flawed in human beings. Conversely, with analysis, instincts and emotion are continually challenged with facts and data because change management is included in the analysis. Both ways can work, but be aware of the decisions you’re making when you go one way or the other.

Anyone tasked with improving business performance needs to manage risks and expectations. So it’s good to state the expected results at the start. With a narrow focus, there are fewer expectations and less risk – it feels safer. If goals are bigger and bolder, then doing some more thoughtful analysis and implementation design is essential. In this, the biggest problem to be solved isn’t the technical description about how results will be achieved – this is straightforward. Rather, gaining consensus about the path ahead is the most important outcome.

Direct to Implementation

This happens frequently. Sometimes process improvement itself is the objective. Here, the idea is to conduct a series of workshops, value stream mapping, training and such. Often, we’re told that for smaller direct to implementation projects, the business case isn’t important. We have never, no, not even once, found this to be true. Business results are always important and inevitably someone is going to ask for them. Be ready.

Direct to implementation requires a lot of faith that process improvement will roll quickly to improve business performance. But, compared to what? Here, pay special attention to the starting conditions – the baseline. This makes measuring any improvement that follows a little easier. For example, if you’re working on solving a quality problem, be sure to understand the current level of defects and their cost, what reducing them would be worth and how any improvement becomes obvious and visible.

If direct to implementation is the only option on the table, then it should follow a specific pattern. If any of these steps are missed – particularly the steering team, there will be trouble.

  1. Steering Team formed and actively engaged
  2. Target Ideas generated via interviews and team working sessions
  3. Simple, prioritized opportunity list from impact-difficulty session with baseline performance data provided by the target areas
  4. Metrics identified and documented. We call this the metrics dashboard. It’s a baseline measurement of key performance indicators
  5. A plan that connects implementation activities with target opportunities
  6. Implementation with a sequence of activities intended to affect the performance baseline
  7. Monitoring and adjustment of the performance dashboard throughout the project – and beyond

Analysis and Implementation Design

Analysis and Implementation Design Cycle

Analysis and Implementation Design Cycle: functional, operational, behavioral and financial inputs deliver a doable implementation roadmap

If you have the option, or maybe more importantly, if your issues are big enough that they warrant an up-front understanding of specific results and, you suspect you’ll encounter functional boundaries with numerous stakeholders then; start with an analysis. This is a highly accelerated mini-project. The deliverables are informed clarity, organizational alignment and mobilization, a time-based action plan and a business case. It follows these basic steps:

  1. Governance – Steering Team formed that lasts through the project (and beyond)
  2. Targets and opportunities developed via interviews and working sessions
  3. Solutions attached to business performance objectives and metrics
  4. Everything tested with data and analysis — including financials
  5. Direct observation of measured work processes
  6. Process decomposition (mapping, measurement, and lots of other analytics) – to connect specific improvements to business performance
  7. Final report and decision for a go-ahead to implementation

This is a cycle with numerous inputs validated against data and consensus. As new information emerges, it’s evaluated again, and again, until well-informed, well understood and potentially big decisions can be made.

The Steering Team meets every week for review, discussion and re-direction as necessary. This keeps stakeholders actively engaged and informed throughout the entire process — the surest way to enable consensus.

With an Analysis you get:

  • Less ambiguity and an up-and-running governance structure (the Steering Team) to deal with any obstacles and barriers to progress that arise
  • Strong consensus across the organization — especially with the leaders who must champion it, and,
  • A validated business case; the reason for doing any of this in the first place. A business case is an “if-then” statement: “If we do these things, then we will get these results in this time.”

Either Way, Make a Plan

You might be thinking: What’s the difference? There’s a business case – or at least a result – for both. Keep in mind:

With Direct to Implementation, results are going to be less strategically chosen and less impactful. Cross-functional boundaries are harder to breach and the business case is lagging because it is stacked up during the implementation work. There is more inherent risk because of the ambiguity that persists with the “We’ll figure it out as we go,” trajectory. Without the structure prescribed from an analysis you’ll need to watch for waning resources and organizational focus.

With Analysis then Implementation, results bear greater fruit with higher confidence. The business case is predictive and validated within the project work. The team-building, fact-finding and planning that are part of analysis makes results from implementation more prone to happen because expectations and the steps required to achieve them are completely, explicitly and thoroughly vetted. In other words, less risk for all stakeholders.

Sometimes you have no choice, the only way to start fixing things is to start small and work within a confined process, organization or functional boundary. If this is your best option for taking action, do it! On the other hand, if you have the ability dig into the more complex and interesting problems of extended value streams, be bold and begin with an analysis.

It’s ok to be bold sometimes.


If you want any help on filling in any of the details beyond a 1000-word blog post, you know where to find us.

 

Operational Excellence Will Save You Millions (and Millions)

Well… the exact number is not certain, but organizations could get much more from their OpEx by shifting perspective.

Operational excellence is another way of saying “comprehensive process improvement.”

As an enterprise function it’s better than ever. Across business and industry (government, healthcare, services and manufacturing) it delivers year-over-year benefits. Yet, results could be much better. Many of the Operational Excellence (OpEx) programs we encounter are too narrowly defined and treat OpEx simply as deployed resources with some useful tools.Connected Team

A broader definition recognizes operational excellence as a result and OpEx as a system that affects the entire enterprise. It’s not an overlay, but rather a cohesive network of people applying standard techniques to deliver and improve results.

The Operational Excellence Function Emerges

In the mid-90s, OpEx programs began to emerge from their automotive heritage, branching into other settings where they were perceived to offer a return on investment. Many of those efforts fell under the headings of Lean and Six Sigma. The basic concepts of process improvement have changed little over time but there has been such a proliferation of techniques and jargon that it can be a little confusing. Now we use terms like Continuous Improvement (CI) and Operational Excellence (OpEx) as a catch-all for anything related.

A few major themes are part of any OpEx endeavor, such as: what it works on, the techniques applied and how its organized. These attributes can be designed-in, or as is often the case, derived incrementally and ad hoc. This happens when one part of the business tries one approach, while another faction tries something different. Instead of resolving to a standard, the outcome is often the ‘tyranny of the OR’ where it’s hard to discern what is working and what is not. “Are we doing this, or are we doing that?”

Let’s look at these three themes in a little more detail.

The Focus of Operational Excellnce

OpEx has two modes:

  1. Reaction – Responding to the most pressing issues of the day in areas such as productivity, quality, service and customer satisfaction.
  2. Prevention – Focusing on incremental improvements and sustaining; including process adherence and change management.

This is the right combination, but it’s pretty easy for organizations to get stuck in reactive mode and think of OpEx people as fire fighters whose main job is to put out fires instead of prevent them. This weakness can contribute to the downfall of OpEx when times get tough. Then, the biggest issue may be cutting cost and OpEx is often a cost that gets cut early. The up and down behavior makes it even tougher for the OpEx function to take off each time there is a restart.

Operational Excellence Techniques Applied

Tool kits includes things like: Lean, Six Sigma, manage change, coach, facilitate, deploy policy, map value streams, define standard work and conduct kaizen events and workshops, etc. That’s a pretty big list. Organizations often attempt to include too many tools and end up doing few of them well. Efforts can feel disjointed because they are. This is an area where the need for tool selectivity and standards guided by OpEx governance is obvious, but often lacking.

Differences in techniques applied across various industries have less to do with type of industry and more to do with the plethora of opinions, experiences, and competing priorities. For sure, a variety of techniques are expected and one size does not fit all. But wherever people and process come together, while the vocabulary and examples change, waste elimination and variation reduction methods don’t differ too much. Moreover, the methods and structures that deal with behaviors, engagement and change management are always the same.

OpEx Can Be Organized In Several Ways

Maybe the most obvious shift in recent years is the rise of OpEx as a legitimate internal function. This means that, at the very least, people are identified on an organization chart. Assigning resources is a good thing, but the amount of variability in how talent is applied suggests too much experimentation. Models include:

  • Corporate Owned – Resources are sponsored by headquarters and mostly directed from there
  • Operating Unit Owned – Resources are sponsored by and embedded within the operating units
  • “Spray and Pray” – Broad skilling of associates without requirements for immediate application
  • “Hammer and Nail” – Attack obvious problems with available resources, often with limited tools and experience

BalanceIn practice it’s typically a combination of all of the above. The ratios shift over time as organizations learn and politics play out. Striking the right balance is essential for OpEx effectiveness. Articulating governance, communication and how people engage are all critically important.


A Systems View of Operational Excellence

The themes noted here – targets, techniques, organization – should be familiar to anyone who has worked on or inside of OpEx. It’s easy to get caught up in organization charts, tools and the “fires”. When this happens, focus narrows and we miss the opportunity to engage broadly across the entire enterprise.

Operational excellence is not a function. It is a RESULT that is best achieved by an OpEx SYSTEM that engages everyone.

Effective OpEx systems balance corporate and operating unit needs, target urgent problems and prevent others from ever occurring. They define, and then use, standard work to get things done. Reporting, capturing best practices, communication and sharing information is described, done and enforced. These are the things the OpEx function should be working on.

Broad organizational involvement and commitment is perhaps the most obvious benefit of a robust OpEx system. Leveraging the knowledge and input of those closest to their work shows respect for people and drives decision-making to the lowest possible level – a key tenant of an improvement culture. A fully engaged organization achieves relevant results, gains traction and becomes a sustainable continuous improvement engine. When the OpEx system is designed and defined, its performance can be evaluated and improved. A good OpEx system is:

  • Simple – The easier it is to understand, the easier it is to see if people are doing it
  • Engaging – Everyone participates. Ownership and expectations are articulated
  • Actively Managed – Leaders are hands-on in guiding the change process
  • Structured – The way the organization is expected to interact is clearly defined

FlipchartDon’t over-complicate it. Too many rules lead to unwarranted bureaucracy and can kill beneficial creativity. If design and definition become the major focus, no one will ever get out of the blocks and actually start fixing things. Balancing standard requirements with creative and flexible problem-solving is one of the great challenges. Sorting that out creates a sense of ownership and develops the organization.

As people should be at the heart of any OpEx system, start by describing the critical few things that demonstrate personal participation and then link these elements to recognition and reward. This is just one of many small steps that the enlightened enterprise goes through to become operationally great. It can be done once leaders decide that operational excellence is a literal objective and OpEx is a system for engaging the organization instead of a check the box function or a quick-fix for the crisis du jour.

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