Once a leadership team commits the organization to developing a business management system that drives continuous improvement, it is time to take action. Many people rush into trying to apply the tools. The problem with this is that the tools require a core set of skills that many employees do not have.
“Starting the Journey”, phase 1 of a continuous improvement transformation, guides you through developing the various skills a team will need to successfully change the way they operate. This includes problem-solving, computer skills, a variety of both leadership and followership topics, using metrics, and even some basic math. Policy deployment is also a major part of this phase.
While there is a lot of learning and work that goes into this phase, you will exit it with a fairly similar outward appearance to how you went into it. There will, however, be two significant although in tangible differences. The first is that there will be changes within your team. They will be more prepared to take on the challenges they will face in the next phase. The second is that policy deployment will create a more focused leadership team.
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Detailed Volume Information
The purpose of this phase is to (1) give team members a core set of skills that can be tapped into as the business management system is developed, and (2) introduce the leadership team to policy deployment.
Phase 1 starts with the formal announcement of the plan to create a business management system. The boundary between this phase and phase 2, “Building the Foundation”, however, is less defined. Training the entire team on all of the topics within this volume is a considerable challenge. The key point is to make sure that there is a foothold of knowledge for each of the sections before moving on. The program leader will have to determine how big a foothold the company needs to move forward.
Basically what this means is that when program leader sees a critical mass of these core skills, it is okay to start working on the sections of phase 2. It is important however to make sure that the leadership team has gone through a full cycle of policy deployment before getting too far into foundation building. Policy deployment helps managers put the tools and systems into context and will help give them clarity as various decision points present themselves.
With a good steady effort, a company should be able to navigate through this volume in about 3-6 months. Again, this does not mean every single person in the organization will be trained on all the sections. What it means is that the company will have the necessary talent available to it as a start actually implementing things in phase 2.
Look Within: There is a general tendency of people to focus externally first when assessing problems. For example, they might start assessing a problem with sales by focusing on competitors or economic conditions. The problem with that is that they are looking at the things outside of their control first. It is important to look at yourself first. This looks should not just be a cursory glance. It should be a true, unbiased assessment of where you are and where you need to be. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that you have far more control over yourself than you do over external factors. That control means opportunity. The second reason is that you will always be able to find an external reason for a problem. It is easy to get distracted focusing on others and never turn the spotlight on yourself. The truth is, looking within is extremely uncomfortable, but very productive.
Align the Team: Very few people come to work with the intention of doing a bad job or doing the wrong thing. People want to be personally successful, and they want to be on a winning team. Unfortunately, many people operate in a vacuum of leadership. They have little idea how what they do on a daily basis affects the big picture of the company. The principles on this list go a long way towards getting people operating on the same page. Other leadership and communication tools such as policy deployment, daily management, and A3 reports turn this principle into reality.
Avoid Bureaucracy: When a company doesn’t operate under a strong set of principles or with clear leadership, it needs rules and policies to guide behaviors. In most cases, this is not the most effective way to get things done. In fact, it often creates a tremendous amount of waste that hinders progress. The more people understand the guiding principles of the company and its leaders intent, the better they will be able to function when they encounter situation is not spelled out in the rulebook. Creating a strong structure reduces the need for bureaucratic leadership.
Invest Wisely: Continuous improvement requires investment. Think of it like a rental property. There is an upfront cost to buying it and ongoing maintenance costs. But as the mortgage is paid off, more and more of the rental revenue becomes profit. If you think of the development of this business management system as a similar investment, you will also have to pay some up front costs to get bigger future returns. The point of this principle is to make sure that investments align with your business management system. That means investing in people. It also means letting the systems you have in place drive your investments, not the other way around.
A large part of the actual change during this phase lies with the leadership team. Since they have already gone through some of the challenges of the committing phase, the risk for them drops.
Frontline teams, however, get their first real taste of what’s to come. While the majority of what they will be doing is not very controversial, it is still a change, and most people have trouble adjusting to new ways of doing things. The management team is also unlikely to have much experience in dealing with this sort of widespread change. For that reason, there is still a moderate risk.
The failure mode of this phase is primarily about time. Even though each of these phases can take a significant time, the goal is to move through them rapidly. The more time you spend dealing with problems, the slower your progress will be.
Begin using policy deployment.
Identify key business metrics.
Select pilot areas to develop new improvement processes.
CI Contract: Each senior leader should sign a continuous improvement contract and get their direct subordinates to sign one also. While this, of course, is not binding, there is power in going through the process of signing the document. It highlights an individual’s responsibility to their team.
Revised job description: Each senior leader should rewrite their job description prior to starting phase 1.
Mentor identified: The road ahead is arduous. It will be extremely difficult to navigate without a guide. Even senior leaders should find somebody that can help them chart the course. If you don’t have a single individual that can guide you, attempt to find a composite of several people that can fill in your capability gaps.