While process management tools can deliver significant business benefits, their effective deployment requires an additional important element: cultural change.
This shift is a critical one if maximum value is to be extracted from newly-implemented tools and return on investment is to be achieved. For this reason, cultural change needs to be carefully considered from the outset of the project.
Many organisations have achieved satisfactory changes to their operational cultures by following a recognised framework. Dubbed the Lippitt-Knoster model, the framework comprises six key components needed for effective change: vision, consensus, skills, resources, incentives, and an action plan. It’s worth considering each in turn:
The first step in undertaking a process improvement project is to define a clear vision for how it will benefit the overall organisation. Feedback should be sought from a range of staff to determine attitudes to change and what pain points need to be addressed.
Next, time should be spent on crafting a vision for how a process improvement initiative can address these issues and improve the company’s overall performance. The vision should clearly state the problems the company is facing, and how the initiative can address those problems and mitigate future risks.
Recognise that not everyone within the organisation will be fully on board with any proposed changes. Take time to understand people’s concerns and address them directly. Consensus building is a crucial part of implementing a process improvement initiative and can take significant time and ongoing effort.
Even once initial consensus is reached, it will still be important to work to build support and maintain momentum. Teams may get distracted by everyday work challenges and revert to old habits if behavioural changes promoted by the initiative are not continually reinforced. It is important to engage with leaders regularly to ensure the organisation stays committed to the journey.
The next step is to provide training for senior managers on the critical concepts and tools of process management. This will ensure they have the necessary skills to lead the change effectively. Training should be tailored to the specific needs and level of knowledge of the leadership team and include details on the specific tools and systems that will be deployed.
Training sessions could include process improvement concepts such as process ownership, documentation, and metrics as well as hands-on training. The result will be a reduction in anxiety around the changes that will be taking place.
Experience shows that a lack of resources in an organisation will tend to result in frustration. In a large-scale process improvement project, frustration can kill progress quickly. To avoid this, secure the necessary resources like budget, staff, and time early on.
Importantly, also tailor the process improvement initiative to fit the resources available. Don’t plan to create a large, centralised process improvement team if you don’t have the resources to support it.
To gain maximum value from the project, it may also be necessary for senior management to find ways to incentivise employees for positive process management efforts. Instead of rewarding employees for firefighting, focus on rewarding sustained process management behaviours.
If leadership focuses on rewarding and recognising firefighters, they tend to recognise the same individuals closest to the same critical processes over and over. This can disincentivise other employees, lower morale, and staunch any broader process improvement suggestions due to a perceived lack of leadership interest.
A much better approach is to reward good process management and improvement efforts across the organisation. This encourages all staff to prioritise processes and makes recognition possible for everyone.
- Action plan:
If an organisation launches a process improvement project without a clear action plan, the result will be slow, painful progress and false starts that will lead to an eventual loss of confidence in the initiative.
Once management approval has been secured, a detailed plan should be created that can guide the implementation of the improvement initiative across the organisation. The action plan should be tailored to each team’s needs, and all stakeholder input should be incorporated. Don’t force a one-size-fits-all approach to the rollout if it does not make sense.
To ensure the initiative’s long-term success, include succession planning for executive champions. Changes at the leadership level can derail a process improvement initiative, so plan for contingencies to ensure the process improvement culture remains in place.
By following these steps, organisations have a much better chance of creating a strong culture that supports process improvement over the longer term. Along with enjoying significant business benefits through improved performance and efficiency, cultural change will result in teams that are engaged and invigorated.