Process Improvement – People
This video is the second in a series of three to look at what companies that are successful with process do differently from the rest of us. In this one we will look at the people side of process.
Process is Personal
Process is about people as much as it is about procedure. At it’s core, defining process means spelling out what people are expected to do in their work. People care very deeply about anything that impacts their daily work. So anything to do with changing process gets very personal very quickly. And that is why it is notoriously hard to persuade people to change their working practices.
What is notable in companies where there are well established and successful process improvement programs is that they have somehow made change an accepted part of the working day. So, how do they manage the paradox of making change normal?
The secret sauce is involvement. What you will find – in every case – is that the changes are being generated and implemented by the people doing the work. If the team members are the ones deciding what that changes to make, then not only are those changes better informed by the direct experience of people using them, but they are much likely to be adopted and refined.
But the team is only one part of the equation. There is also the team leader. In many organizations, the role of the team leader is often that of the traditional boss. The boss expects to be the kind of person who directs what is going to happen. And that runs counter to the idea that the team should be solving their own problems.
Now, someone who has the traditional mindset of a boss might tolerate letting the team make decisions for a while. But success at continuous process improvement requires the team to do this, well, continuously. And that means giving up power permanently. That can be very hard for some managers.
So sometimes continuous improvement projects start with the team members being enthusiastic as their ideas are taken seriously and they implement solutions to real problems. But over time, the Boss sees his role as he understands it, being usurped.
So the Boss decides to take back decision making authority. Gradually things return to normal, with the Boss making all the decisions. The team, understandably, is disappointed and the ideas for future improvements dry up.
Make Process Improvement Part Of Everyday Work
So long term success with process improvement means creating an environment that supports it. An environment where it is expected that people solve their own problems as part of their work and managers that do not feel threatened by their teams making their own decisions. If the company culture is one where the boss has a traditional top down role, process improvement tends to be a short term management fad and quickly fades.
But that is still not the whole story on why process is hard to get right. We also have to deal with the fact that process is not always easy to reduce to a set procedure. How do we build flexibility into our processes? And that is the subject of the final part of this video series.