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A small group recently posed a few questions to us about Operational Excellence, leadership and change. They were looking to get started on their journey and wanted to understand our perspective on some of the critical elements. Here’s a recap of the ensuing discussion…
A. The graph below is sourced from our YE16 OpEx survey report. It shows how the surveyed organizations ranked the effectiveness of training at various levels of the organization and across a variety of business types:
We can all see the connection between better engagement scores and improved performance, however there is a lot of confusion about what good engagement looks like. Often engagement is thought to be more frequent face time between bosses and subordinates, 360 feedback, suggestion programs, and so on. Rather, good engagement is about giving people the ability to directly influence their work. It recognizes basic human needs that include the power to make decisions, the ability to control outcomes and being part of something bigger. These attributes are not naturally occurring in many work environments so equipping leaders to enable OpEx is about training and coaching them on the essential actions and behaviors they must take to engage and align the organization from top to bottom.
Our approach to ensuring effective leadership training starts with the Managers / Executive Lean Overview workshops. These sessions quickly inform the team with a common vocabulary, awareness and understanding of:
Tools and methods are covered, but gaining expert capability on them is not specifically intended. Rather, this portion of the workshop is meant to provide context for how front line practitioners apply problem-solving tools to achieve desired business outcomes.
Our primary objective with leaders and managers is to provide insights that help them define and develop their own leader standard work. This means doing the hard work of changing some of their own behaviors and habits to be able to actively coach and demonstrate support for Lean to the organization as implementation begins.
Beyond training and workshops, coaching is an important element that we always employ during project work with clients. Coaching is about observing behaviors and suggesting alternatives that can be more effective at delivering certain results. A simple example: If you want people to be more engaged, ask leading questions as opposed to prescribing a potentially ill-conceived solution. In this way, everyone learns something and engagement is supported instead of stifled.
A. No. We’re talking about a shift here that must be valued up and down the organization and especially at the top. These values drive subtle and not so subtle behaviors that become part of the culture and transcend market shifts and personnel changes. Here we assume “implementation” to be a sustainable OpEx system. A leader who is equipped to lead engagement not only understands the benefits, but values the operating norms that better engagement brings.
Since a lot of the heavy lifting and day-to-day activities of implementation are in fact delegated, it’s important to understand how to help leaders do this. We talked about the training and coaching aspect for leaders in Q1 above. In addition to understanding the value of better engagement, the organization must know how to do it.
Everyone in the organization must be expected to spend a small percentage of time on improving the business ― as opposed to running the business. In the simplest terms, this means allowing workers some freedom to fix problems that affect their day-to-day work at the micro-process level. Supervisors and middle managers aren’t exempt: They too should spend about an hour a week addressing slightly more “macro” problems that affect their areas and people. At all levels, the most effective improvement efforts are team-based to drive process ownership and accountability.
Since exactly how to do engagement can be described, the activities can be tracked. This is important because it moves leaders beyond the idea of just “valuing engagement” (because who doesn’t right?) to “knowing how to DO engagement.” Only when this happens can implementation be effectively delegated.
A. Engagement scores are important. OpEx and engagement scores (from surveys and audits) are directly related. Successful Operational Excellence is in large part the result of good engagement. So engagement scores are a good lagging indicator of OpEx and a great leading indicator of operational performance.
A focus on leading indicators is a good place to start. Here’s a way to think about indicators:
Want more detail on these topics? You can download the full survey report – An Examination of Operational Excellence – from the Resources section of our website. (It’s great, really).
To learn more about enabling leadership to connect the dots between engagement and value, check out our White Paper: Engage the Organization – And a Performance Culture Will Follow.
When it comes to implementing any new initiative, communication is a critical success factor. A full menu of changes; some large and sweeping, some small but critical, will be generated by and with people in the organization over the course of the effort. How leadership chooses to broadly communicate these changes ― all together, in small or large portions, or one-on-one, can make a huge difference in the rate of adoption. It’s important to carefully consider how, when, why, what and where information / updates will be presented to fully engage employees and, ultimately, drive sustainable improvements.
The way information is communicated to employees during times of change has a tremendous impact on the final results. If handled ineffectively, morale and productivity decreases ― despite the best of intentions. When there are looming questions and concerns, they lose faith. If employees don’t receive enough information, speculation and rumor can become truth. In the end, a disengaged workforce emerges, resulting in reduced effort and commitment just when their dedication is needed the most. How do you stop or prevent this from happening?
Leadership should consider these 10 ideas when planning for, announcing, implementing, and communicating Lean transformation activities:
It’s important for organizations to get their internal communications team involved from the very beginning. Too often, qualified communicators are involved after a backlash is in full force ― when leaks and rumors are rampant. CFOs and COOs are not typically qualified to understand how employees will respond to change and how best to share information. On the other hand, qualified internal communications professionals typically have proven expertise in change management, crisis communications, executive communications, etc. They need to have a seat at the leadership table.
Don’t confuse process (e.g., visioning, chartering executive steering committees, planning, endless PowerPoint presentations, etc.) with communication. While those meetings and processes can be communication vehicles if designed mindfully and handled in the context of a broader program, they aren’t adequate to meet all communication needs.
Once a plan and timeline has been developed based on the initiative strategy, start communicating. The longer employees have to wrap their heads around change, the better they tend to accept it. At the beginning of the change:
Update employees regularly to share victories and address pending issues. When employees are communicated with frequently, they are more likely to support the change for the long-term. Information can and should also be repeated (through multiple channels), as research shows that most people have to hear something several times before they fully process the message.
Some organizations make the mistake of using only one vehicle, such as e-mail or signage, to communicate changes. Considering not every employee digests information the same way, and that there are so many options to choose from, organizations that leverage a multi-channel approach ― combining email, intranet, social chat rooms, newsletters, presentations, face-to-face meetings, conference calls, etc. ― have more success.
Leadership does not only need to understand how to explain the transformation, they need to understand when they should and should not be the ones to speak about it. They need to know how to keep things positive. They also need to be able to drill down and explain what change means to various audiences. Keeping them in sync is critical.
It is often useful to test out messaging on a subset of stakeholders, especially when there’s time to do so. Testing can be done through focus groups, employee surveys, or a more informal round-table where individuals can practice delivering the message and get first-hand feedback.
Giving employees multiple opportunities to share concerns, ask questions, and offer ideas is crucial to the process. The more two-way communication is made a priority, the better the organization can keep its finger on the pulse of what future communications need to include to meet the needs of the audience.
To get employees to fully embrace change, a management system, like Kaufman Global’s Lean Daily Management System® (LDMS®), should be put into place to drive day-to-day focus. LDMS helps visualize activities and promote active communication about the work of individual teams every day. It:
People judge the performance of leaders not by what they say but by what they do. Employees will watch closely to determine how leadership is feeling about the change and will draw their own conclusions based on that behavior. Leaders should: