Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Continuous-Improvement Culture

A continuous improvement culture isn’t built in a day, it takes strategy.

All organizations have a culture. That culture is a display of collective behavior. It is influenced and shaped by the interaction between employees, management, and the environment. The result is a set of norms and values that determine how people will behave and relate to one another in a particular setting. Culture is the mindset, attitude, and competency of an organization. Changing the organizational culture, however, is not so easily done because traditions are closely held as norms, values, and beliefs. In addition, the nature of organizational structure—the hierarchy—can slow the process of review and adaptation. We all know the old saying: Culture eats strategy for lunch. Hence, how to shape a continuous-improvement culture, who are the change agent, and what is the best scenario with logic steps in managing such culture transition?

Continuous improvement culture is a mindset! In order to develop this type of mindset, you need leaders with the right attitude. These leaders must be trained and have an open mind where they constantly seek how they can do better, they can support and encourage their team to go further on everything that is important for the business and its clients. People are empowered, intrinsically motivated, creative to take initiative and self-confident because they are well trained and supported, will beat the others who have been compelled and coaxed to do what needs to be done. Empowerment, in this case, builds a culture that willingly confronts issues and makes changes because people know and understand that fulfilled customers are returning customers and that their own lives are enriched because they are the ones who make it happen.

A continuous improvement culture isn’t built in a day, it takes strategy. Every organization exhibits a culture. The departments within the organization have a culture. Anytime people work together for an extended period of time, a culture is formed. It’s the force that guides and directs how people will interact with one another and deal with those beyond their group. Any system that is being considered for modification has a culture. The divergent workgroups that operate within the system also have a culture. Their demeanor, how they relate to one another, how they confront issues and resolve them is due to culture. In most organizations, as soon as the headlines up with this attitude, the change can be very rapid. This mindset and attitude changes can take place at any level of any organization, from employees always seeking better ways to achieve their work, to the middle managers and senior executives leading digital transformation. We call it organization culture when this mindset and attitude is set at the very top of the organization. The mental pathways that facilitate the development of values, beliefs and norms are the same as spiritual conventions. The result is people who are not related are able to work together much like a clan. Group acceptance, though, is based on unwritten and unspoken rituals that are mastered by trial and error engagement with other members. It's much easier when continuous improvement is part of having a common, operational way to define and use a language of work so that together you can improve things on your own and with others (rather than as a program or strategy). Perhaps in this sense, the common language of work is strategic planning and makes corporate culture as the key component of business strategy, empowering everyone to see work in the same context gives them the means to improve the work and culture.

There are two kinds of continuous improvement cultures. Since culture has such a large impact on individual actions and how people accomplish work, there is an overwhelming temptation to fiddle with cultural attributes—values, norms, and beliefs. Culture is created and shaped by a cascade of influences. The attributes displayed are a product of other actions. These are things that can’t be easily manipulated. However, that does not mean that culture cannot be changed. There are two kinds of continuous improvement cultures as well: One is a culture where continuous improvement is performed in collateral activities, meaning that people step out of their daily job to perform specific improvement activities. The second improvement culture is what the CMMI models call "optimized." This is where improvements are made like the normal result of performing daily work, collect feedback loops that drive change, and empower employees to make those changes. But this only happens at the most mature level, CMMI level 5.

Four-step culture transition: Continuous improvement has to link back to the organizational values and culture, and more importantly, it has to be regularly reinforced. As a team or individual considers how to make upgrades permanent, don’t try to reshape cultural attributes. Focus instead on those mechanisms that drive their formation and will influence changes in their expression. Here are steps that can help ease the transition from cultural intention to the application.

     (1)   Step One: CREATE AWARENESS: Explain the need and necessity for making an improvement: Define why improvements are needed and then cut through complacency so system stakeholders understand why it’s necessary to move in a new direction. Communicate a unifying purpose: Develop a central theme that people can rally around and create a sense of urgency so those affected by the change are ready to take a chance on something different. Identify formal and informal workgroups and engage their participation: Make sure the voices of diverse workgroups are heard and that these individuals have an active role in completing the transition.

      (2)   Step Two: MAKE A PLAN: Create a plan for action: Create a map for getting from the current mess to the desired condition. Determine constraints, decide what should be done, assign responsibility, and estimate completion. Create the opportunity for small but meaningful gains: Break the plan into meaningful chunks so people are willing to take risks and can readily measure progress.

      (3) Step Three: MODIFY AND IMPROVE: Empower people to take action: Give workgroups the authority to make changes to their work process and accept responsibility for decisions related to their actions. Manage resistance to improvement: Understand how workgroups may react to change and develop some strategies for helping those who are fearful and uncertain make the transition.

      (4)   Step Four: STANDARDIZE AND SUSTAIN: Complete the restructuring of daily activities: Finish redesigning old communication networks, reporting relationships, and build new connections. Provide for self-determination. Keep people involved and on track, maintain faithfulness to purpose, coordinate and integrate unfinished activities. Sustain Improvement: Document revised activities. Measure and monitor both system and workgroup effectiveness to make sure improvements are performing as intended.

Change agent: Are change agents born or created? Understanding how to influence the emotions of the employees in order to deliver outcomes that are of value to the individual, team, function, organization and interested parties relies on a basic human need! By having an empowered workforce that is able to respond to changing conditions, using its own initiative can truly make a business nimble. These are people who have the organizational knowledge, have built relationships, and have established their credibility. Because of their insider know-how, they will be the ones to see the need for change—often first to realize the threats and appreciate the opportunities—and have the passion for making things happen. They know that satisfied customers are the foundation for building the enterprise’s reputation.

PV MBO = S (Passionate Vision Management by Objectives = Success). To change "culture" is to change the persistent emotional experience of the people working within a process of gratitude, inspiration, inclusion, fun, or any number of alternates. The risk is related to the size of each change - the bigger the leap, the higher the risks. A "big bang" can be rewarding but can be a bet on the farm that loses. The right size for change is governed by two main parameters: 
1) Appetite for risk 
2) Ability to absorb change 

Change the culture is the mindset, though you can’t impose the desired culture to your organization, surely you can follow the principles and mechanism listed above to transform your culture, and make continuous improvement as the right attitude and your brand.


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