Getting better at something can take a lot of work. As any change agent can tell you, change is difficult, especially when there are people involved. Change requires shifts in the power structure, disrupting old habits, and pushing people out of their comfort zone. The reason that’s a problem is because you simply cannot get better if you cannot change. The two are inseparable. In many cases, there are just as many forces at play to prevent change than there are to create change. Sometimes those forces are created by the way the company works, or its business system. The business system is the array of its policies, people, processes, suppliers, customers, culture, and technology. Sometimes, the business system is designed in a way that inadvertently discourages continuous improvement. But don’t fret. In this post, I will uncover a few of the culprits that are putting the brakes continuous improvement in your company.
At any point in time, a manufacturer can capture its current state situation. Although the current state is just a snapshot in time, it can reveal some very interesting information. This information could include throughput levels, process efficiencies, conversion costs and so on. It could also reveal recent trends that provide some indication of what can be expected for the future. Those trends provide some insight to how “primed” your organization is for a continuous improvement initiative such as Lean, Six Sigma, Agile manufacturing or anything else you’re trying to do. A positive trend over time indicates that the organization is more likely to embrace change or continuous improvement. A flat trend over a long time indicates that the organization may be stagnated with some degree of resistance to change or improvement. These are the most difficult ones because there may be gatekeepers who won’t see a need to change. Making the case for continuous improvement will take quite a bit more effort in this instance. If the trend is negative over a long time period…well there’s bad news and good news. The bad news is that if you don’t improve, you won’t stay in business. The good news is that if you don’t improve you won’t stay in business. Making the case for continuous improvement in this case is a piece of cake.
With that said, there are some arrangements where business systems have embraced their inefficiency. These systems have decided to implement practices that allow some inside the business to profit from their inefficiency instead of eliminating it. I’ll give you a few examples: the contractor who is paid by the hour has an incentive to consume more hours to complete a job. Another is the airline that allows passengers to pay for priority boarding and seating. Their incentive is to keep the “normal” process so cumbersome that people will pay to cut in line and circumvent their terribly inefficient process. In this case, the airline has created a nice new revenue stream from their own inefficiency. You see where I’m going with this. These would be examples of policies killing the culture of continuous improvement. Over time, the people of an organization grow to accept inefficiencies as “the way it is” and they learn to capitalize on them as well. Inefficiency leaves room for corruption, which only breeds more inefficiency. This is what leads to a culture of poor performance and resistance to continuous improvement.
As part of your continuous improvement initiative, it will serve you well to take a close look at the policies, people, processes, suppliers, customers, culture, and technologies that might be hindering your growth. You will need to identify who in the organization is profiting from inefficiency and create conditions where the only way to profit is by ever increasing efficiency (with outstanding safety and quality of course).
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