Achieve Operational Excellence through the Continuous Process Improvement Routine

Achieve Operational Excellence through the Continuous Process Improvement Routine

Two-thirds of Operational Excellence initiatives fail to meet expectations.

This fact is disheartening to many Op Ex followers. Don’t be discouraged – there is hope. What we need to ask is what causes this poor performance, and then determine what you can do to help your organization become successful in implementing a continuous process improvement routine.

When polled, 82% of business leaders say that significant culture change remains their top challenge. The main causes of these challenges are a) the failure to change the behaviors of supervisors and managers, and b) the failure to engage a sufficient percentage of the organization’s workforce.

Continuous process improvement is composed of two critical factors: the technical/mechanical component and the people component. Both of these factors must work together harmoniously for continuous improvement to be successful. Many companies focus on the technical side of the process and fail to recognize how easily ignoring the people side can short circuit all of their change efforts.

Continuous process improvement requires a routine: creating a culture that engages in improving all processes every day Such a culture has two major benefits. First, it creates a high rate of improvement – a key to long-term competitive success. Second, it creates a dynamic, enjoyable and satisfying work environment – a key to attracting and retaining competent talent. To achieve this level of excellence, most organizations must accomplish nothing short of a cultural transformation – what I call the Transformation Imperative, which states that one of our primary goals is to achieve a Transformation Tipping Point.

I define the Transformation Tipping Point as the time when the momentum for operational excellence exceeds the natural tendency to revert to long-standing habits. Typical initiatives fail to achieve the Transformation Tipping Point due to five fatal failure modes:

  • Failure to unequivocally declare that nothing short of a cultural transformation is acceptable.
  • Failure to articulate the cultural True North and build ownership.
  • Failure to engage a critical mass.
  • Failure to change behaviors of leaders at all levels.
  • Failure to follow best practices for transforming culture.

Many leaders approach cultural transformation as though they are putting a carrot before the horse – it is an enticement as opposed to an imperative. For true, lasting success, it is necessary for leaders to make it clear that continuous improvement is a requirement, not an option. It must be clear, unequivocal and be communicated throughout the entire organization. And it must start at the top. If you don’t have buy-in from your managers and leaders, getting it from the rest of your organization is nearly impossible.

But the top is only the beginning. You must engage every manager, every supervisor and every worker within the entire organization in the continuous process improvement routine. If the machinist on the floor doesn’t buy into the culture and philosophy of continuous improvement, who will be there on the front line to recognize inefficiencies, propose solutions, implement change and sustain it?

A successful Continuous Improvement Routine follows Demming’s Plan-Do-Study-Act cycle:

PDCA for Continuous Improvement

To create a CI routine that truly transforms the culture of your organization, you need to:

  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Form an empowered leadership coalition
  • Create and communicate a vision
  • Empower people to act on the vision
  • Plan for and create short-term wins to establish momentum
  • Consolidate improvements and raise the bar of excellence
  • Institutionalize new approaches

Want to learn more? You can learn how to become a part of the 3% of organizations who report great results from continuous process improvement in our book, Driving Operational Excellence: Simple Lean Six Sigma Secrets to Improve the Bottom Line.

Mike Bresko is president of Ascendigy Consulting, a firm dedicated to helping clients build excellence in management and process improvement.


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