The Systems Thinker Blog

Process Improvement: The Rules of Engagement!

Posted byRon Carroll

President Woodrow Wilson said, “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” Or it could be said, “Try to improve something,” which often has the same consequence.

Process Improvement - Change Ahead

Challenging the Status Quo

Creating a results-driven business culture—with discipline, measurement and accountability—can be a new way of doing things for many small-business owners and their employees. Care must be taken that these elements do not discourage or even become threatening. When people work together—solving problems and sharing ideas—the exchange should always be positive and motivating.

Developing or improving business systems and processes challenges the status quo. It puts the organization under a microscope and exposes ugly blemishes. It questions long established traditions. It recognizes no “sacred cows.” The only goal is to find the best way of doing something. This scrutiny sometimes makes people feel nervous, threatened, frustrated, or even angry.

When seeking truth, you must be prepared to face the brutal facts and emotions surrounding your current business practices and proposed solutions.

Look for the Best in People

Most people involved in improvement projects want to make a positive contribution and arrive at the best solutions. So be careful not to put people under the microscope or blame them for performance problems, especially in an open meeting. Instead, focus on faulty systems or processes that prevent people from doing their best.

In his book, "Results Rule!," Randy Pennington describes a Positive Performance™ management process based on the following core beliefs:

  • "Individuals need to be treated with dignity and respect.

  • Most people want to do a good job and will do so if given the opportunity and ability.

  • The leader’s job is to create the environment for employees to succeed as individuals and as a group.

  • Everyone is responsible for performing in a manner that helps the organization achieve results and build strong relationships.

  • Treating individuals responsibly means that we earn the right to expect them to act responsibly."

During brainstorming and discussion, allow open dialog, inquiry, and free expression from all participants. Say to the group, "I am open to other points of view." Then listen carefully as employees or customers contribute ideas. When you convey appreciation for shared thoughts and feelings, people are more comfortable in expressing their views. Those who are passionate about their opinions (advocates) should not be stifled if they are communicating appropriately. In the end, business owners, leaders, or voting team members make the final decision.

The process is this: Listen-Thank-Consider-Decide.

Build Trust and Hope

Ann Bruce and James Pepitone give us "12 Cornerstones for Building Trust and Hope in an Organization”:

  • Respect your followers.
  • Watch how you say things.
  • Communicate openly.
  • Listen and don’t argue.
  • Avoid zingers, digs and putdowns.
  • Point out the positive.
  • Appreciate what others have to say.
  • Acknowledge that trust is a mutual exchange.
  • Increase trust gradually.
  • Be truthful with yourself.
  • Show your human side"

I once worked with a business owner who communicated to his workers the attitude: “It’s my way or the highway.” His strong opinions shut down communication and the valuable suggestions and ideas of others.

It is best to arrive at system solutions based upon facts and not personal opinions. Be objective and unbiased; seek evidence, including business statistics, reports, surveys, and other forms of measurement. There is not a right or wrong solution until proven with results—hard data whenever possible. Listen to those with the “eyes of experience” (insiders) as well as those with the “fresh eyes of objectivity" (outsiders).

Encourage Continuous Learning and Improvement

By introducing change, you may be greeted with resistance, but more often, there is a sense of relief that improvement is coming. Don’t be afraid of change, but implement new business systems with care and patience. Your employees will appreciate it.

Remember: when you include employees in the system development process, you get greater buy-in and support.

So, get all of your people to become Systems Thinkers. Set stretch goals based on your Balanced Scorecard objectives. Aim for tangible financial results. Assign accountability. Handle conflict. Involve team members in the decision-making process. Put your faith in data.
Encourage continuous learning and improvement. Hold effective system improvement workshops. Unleash everyone’s potential. And celebrate success.

 

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Tags: Systems Thinker, Business Systems, People, Improvement, Culture