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Performance Improvement by Alexander the Great

November 16th, 2012

Decentralized Continuous Improvement

Your company’s or business unit’s results are ticking up. Many of your processes need improvement to deal with the increased activity layered on a rationalized capability. But your pre-recession centralized group was taken away with the tide or one never existed. And your organization is still holding a lid on any personnel additions as it finally enjoys the fruits of painful decisions and remains concerned about the myriad of external factors threatening a nascent recovery. You are left wondering how to unravel Gordian’s Knot. The Alexandrian solution is to build a self-sustaining model that integrates CI into every day activities.

We propose three elements to a self sustaining model which are as follows:

  • Find True North. What is it that your organization needs the most? Is your organization looking to solve a customer matter? Must your organization continue to find efficiencies to remain competitive? Whatever it is, find it and stay on it by making it visible and clear to everyone. The reason is simple. Organizations often used a centralized CI program to push improvement efforts. If you find True North, you won’t have to push improvement efforts. They will be pulled.
  • Keep it simple. As you look to take on improvement activities, keep the challenges simple. Use basic tools and techniques to knock down the easy barriers and drive a “pay-as-you-go” model that yields traction. Often a centralized improvement group is there to maintain momentum. Our discussion here isn’t against a centralized effort as much as it is against having to wait for one before you can move forward. We’d argue that as successes and improvements yield returns, go back to a funded centralized improvement effort to take on the chronic, cross-functional challenges that require a higher level of expertise, full time devotion, cross functional latitude and can power through momentum killing barriers. But for now, avoid making momentum a challenge.
  • Integrate rewards. If you want it to be broad based, make the rewards broad based and commensurate with the effort. Members of centralized groups are motivated to drive improvement because they have skin in the game. They pursue significant improvement, are measured on achieving it and rewarded if they accomplish their goals. Is it any wonder they are focused on improvement? To get broad efforts to yield results, take a broad view of rewarding success. Now we aren’t saying to weight such reward systems such that everyone becomes an improvement professional. The reward should match the effort and return.

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Every day we talk to people in all functional areas of organizations wrestling with the question of how to move their effectiveness and efficiency forward in the new environment. They see feel the pain and see the potential reward. But they are frustrated that they don’t have a centralized group which to call and ask for help. They feel locked in place unable to move forward.

Our advice is to find a different solution than what you have considered to be “normal” in the past. Let your organization’s mission pull activity. Pursue simple, well targeted improvements that provide their own momentum. Integrate a broad based reward system that recognizes peoples’ accomplishments on a level commensurate with their efforts. Cut the knot!

If you would like to discuss these ideas, feel free to contact me.

  1. November 16th, 2012 at 10:37 | #1

    You got my attention alright.
    It is not clear how Alexander the great applied continuous improvement. I am curious to know!
    The article is otherwise well written with good pointers for success.

  2. Mike Clayton
    November 17th, 2012 at 15:56 | #2

    “how to unravel Gordian’s Knot”?
    Alexander simply cut it….like the picture…..innovative, fast, cheap, as long as its the right thing to do with little collateral damage. Teams are slower than lone wolves, but over the years, in my experience, they do better than the cowboys. Centralization is a different topic…I prefer broad training for local action that gets results that stick. And yes, broaden the rewards, of course. Not much trickles down automatically.

  3. Mark Johnson
    November 19th, 2012 at 07:18 | #3

    I suggest writing out the full name of any acronym no matter how basic the first time it is used and follow it with the acronym. e.g. continuous improvement (CI)

  4. November 30th, 2012 at 16:53 | #4

    Raju – I think Mike answered this for me. The point of the article is that there isn’t a solution to the old paradigm. To solve the problem, you must therefore change how you look at the assumptions. If processes are strained and the old centralized group has been dismantled with orders it not be replaced, the assumption a centralized group is needed to solve problems must be questioned. Expertise must be broad and practiced by those working within the process. Changing those assumptions is akin to cutting the knot rather than attempting to untie it by continuing to argue for a centralized group. Spread the faith.

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