So your leaders want to ‘improve’ your organisation! (or is that reduce its cost base – “aren’t these the same thing?!”).
Put yourself in the shoes of those leaders:
You have two choices:
a) You think you know ‘the answers’ and so can quickly move to ‘obvious solutions’: a dollop of specialisation here, a heap of centralisation there, perhaps with the ‘synergies’ word thrown in for good measure…and then, hey presto, let’s standardise and ‘automate it‘ whilst also doing that ‘customer-centric’ thing in parallel!; or
b) You understand that you don’t perform the daily processes at the front line and so you are necessarily reliant on the value-creating workers (with their middle and lower management) to:
- Identify and work through where improvements might actually lie; and then
- partner with you in successfully (and continually) changing the current system.
You can see (from the hyperlinks) that I have written a number posts that relate to option a) and I hope you agree that one of THE foundations of real and sustainable improvement is to meaningfully involve the process performers….so let’s take a look at option b).
Involving the workers
Okay, sounds great. Nice idea…so let’s start by asking the workers what they’d change.
Mmm, they don’t seem to be coming up with much, and what they are contributing seems rather insignificant and poorly thought through, dare we say feeble. They aren’t very competent are they! Perhaps our problem is with our workers – do we need to get rid of them and get a better bunch? After all, isn’t it one big ‘war for talent’ out there!
But, whoa, stop, back up the horse: What if your process performers aren’t (meaningfully) engaging in your much hyped ‘improvement programme’? …and why might that be? What might they be thinking about? How about the following:
“Do I have the time (and motivation) to properly engage in improvement thinking for fear of this counting against me elsewhere? (such as my business-as-usual workload, targets and incentives)
“Do I trust them to properly listen to what I am saying, in full and not jump to overly simplistic and seemingly easy ‘quick wins’?”
“What would any changes mean to me and my environment?”
“Will I be better or worse off?”
“Will they look after me (or those colleagues that my ideas would affect)?”
In short, turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. (Nice Roast dinner picture though eh – looks very tasty)
If leaders haven’t established (and don’t continue to nurture) an environment of trust then they should expect very little in return.
A critical part of achieving (what is often termed) ‘Operational Excellence’ is trust. (The opposite of fear)
“To drive the kind of no-holds-barred commitment to operational excellence that is required, everyone in [the organisation] has to believe in the process and that she won’t be ‘rewarded’ for driving progress towards [improvement] by having her job cut!
Without trust, [improvement] projects quickly devolve from finding and fixing critical problems to battles to shift blame and accountability to others….” (Liker)
Put simply, we need to treat people as assets, not as costs to be slashed. Deming went further:
“I used to say that people are assets, not commodities. But they are not just assets: they are jewels.”
Now, leaders might respond with “we don’t do that here!”…and, yes, maybe not blatantly…but what about how it looks; how a leader’s words are translated and what actually eventuates?
- do you require business cases with ROI’s and financial benefits to be calculated and ‘realised’? Are these benefits often about head-count (perhaps masked with that 3 letter ‘FTE’ acronym)?
- do you have structures in place* that make it very hard for someone in the system to suggest horizontal changes from their vertical silo’d world? (*such as cascaded personal objectives linked by judgement and rewards)
- do you hold competitions between teams that should be collaborating? Do you often talk/write in such competing language?
- do you preach empowerment of the people but then provide little time and support for their ideas?
- do you continually re-organise such that people are continually finding their feet (and voice) within yet another management structure?
- do you employ lots of change managers and external resources, distorting and hindering natural team dynamics?
To establish trust, improvement must not get confused with head-count reduction.
Management need to provide an environment whereby people are comfortable ‘changing their jobs’ because they know that they will go on to even more interesting work (preferably inside, but also outside, the organisation).
And here’s the wonderful chain reaction:
- If you gain people’s trust (which will be hard at first and will take real leadership)
- …by providing a safe, secure and stimulating environment for your people
- …then they will develop themselves (some will amaze you!)
- …and look for opportunities to continue on this journey
- …which will mean that your organisation becomes self-sufficient in the ‘brains department’
- …with a very healthy side effect that you can save an awful lot of money (and often pain) by avoiding the ‘bring in the outside consultants’ option
- …meaning that you will align organisational purpose with those of your people
- ….causing exceptional, and sustainable, results
- …allowing the organisation to organically grow (rather than by constant acquisition)
- …which enables you to invest in your people and we are off, full circle, around the chain reaction 🙂
- BUT this chain is unstable and can be ever so easily broken by the words and deeds of leaders.
“Trust takes time to build, seconds to lose and twice as long to regain as it did to build in the first place.” (Unknown)
One thought on “Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas!”
Thankyou for this. Your post speaks volumes to me. My organisation is one that ‘continuously improves’ however is exceptionally constrained by many people scared of improving their self out of the door. It is sad but doing the right thing is not as important as having a business case with an FTE saving attached.
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