A lot of us have attempted Process Improvement. The reality is that most of us have failed.
For the most part, we didn’t fail because we lacked the talent, the team, or the hunger. We failed because it fizzled out. We started out excited, with people pitching in ideas left and right, and then we got even more excited when the early wins start rolling in.
But, when the adrenaline of success wore off, the processes started slipping. Eventually, we stop following them, and all excitement melts away. Disillusionment sets in, and although no one officially calls the time of death, the initiative stalls and doesn’t restart.
Does this sound familiar? It should, because it happens to pretty much all businesses who attempt long term Process Improvement.
The mistake we make is not institutionalizing our Process Improvement ideas as they emerge.
How do you prevent your great ideas from dissipating? Here are the basics of how to institutionalize Process Improvement:
Align the Idea with your Business Goals
No idea can survive as an island. Here’s the life cycle that a failed idea for Process Improvement typically takes:
As exciting as they are, ideas are cheap. It’s how we sustain them that makes them valuable.
Once the new process improvement is agreed upon, Management’s responsibility is to align it with the business goals that guide the company daily. Doing that will assimilate it into the process framework of the company so that it stops becoming an additional task.
Eventually, stand-alone tasks are always left behind, no matter how profitable they once were.
Get the Idea Away from its Creator
This can get awkward. Someone contributes an idea and it’s a good one. The natural inclination is to “empower” that person to be its caretaker. That’s when good intentions lead to dead ends.
“Empowerment” becomes imprisonment when the idea’s creator becomes responsible for its implementation. It also guarantees that the idea, and any money it’s saving the company, will be quashed if any of the following happen:
And et cetera.
If you want a good idea to survive, it must evolve away from its creator and be assimilated into a business’s daily tasks. Of course the person should be recognized, and potentially rewarded, but don’t saddle an albatross around their necks because they stepped forward with initiative.
Make it Boring
The processes in a business that truly endure, from daily mail pick up to how we organize files, are boring by nature. When a process becomes so ingrained in our habitual, daily routine that we barely think about it anymore, then it becomes truly sustainable.
Ideas need to start out exciting to get everyone on board. Visions of a slightly better profit margin needs to dance in our heads.
But, new ideas won’t stay exciting for long, and before the crash it’s up to you to make the initiative deliberately boring. Once you align it with published business goals, merge it into routine daily processes.
Make saving money part of your most boring daily routines. Institutionalizing process improvements is what will engrain the new processes into the culture.
When a process improvement is introduced, we all start out with the best of intentions. The key isn’t to stay excited about those great ideas—it’s to own them. Even after the novelty wears off.
“Ideas are easy. It’s the execution of the idea that really separates the sheep from the goats.”
– Sue Grafton