Implementing improvements is akin to testing the water temperature of a swimming pool. You think it’s not too bad, but when you jump in you discover it’s absolutely freezing and not what you had expected. It may be freezing, but was it a bad decision? It’s exhilarating at first, but you cope and when someone asks “what’s the water like?” you say, “it’s beautiful, jump in!”
Sometimes when contemplating a business improvement we just have to jump in and deal with the consequences, because you will never truly know what the consequences will be until you’re surrounded by them. All of the risk workshops in the world won’t prepare you for every single thing that could go wrong. Our imagination is only capable of so much. The ideas that bring about change are usually sound, but seldom work perfectly straight away. We need to immerse ourselves in the freezing surrounds of a new concept, look for what’s not working and fix it. The only way to see improvement is to force yourself into it.
In order to take the plunge, you need to have a tolerance for failure. Building this tolerance will help you adapt quicker when things go wrong and you won’t take setbacks personally. In fact you’ll get better at approaching failure from a calm and slightly removed point of view and be better able to address failures with a positive attitude. Every failure is an opportunity to make an improvement.
KNOWING WHAT TO CHANGE AND WHEN
There are different types of improvement, which all have different requirements for implementation. Understanding the different types of improvement allows you to decipher where you need to place your efforts. Identifying that you have a straightforward continuous improvement initiative as opposed to a process improvement with several unknown quantities can save you unnecessary time wasted in second guessing the initiative.
Continuous improvement is an overused term, but that’s probably because it’s the most common type of improvement. We hardly bother testing the water with continuous improvement ideas before we take the plunge. See an issue, fix it. If the solution was quite right you make an adjustment and so on. Continuous improvement is safe. You already know the issue, you have a direct solution, it affects only a small group of people, it’s easy to implement and you can handle any fall-out with minimal time and expense. Worrying about whether it’s the right decision and over-consulting a basic improvement can squash any desire to take the initiative and have damaging effects on the culture.
Over time a lot of continuous improvement can lead to cumulatively big changes. So without the ability (empowerment) to plunge in and make small changes, we can fall behind in a big way. People who work in the detail of a job day and day out understand what needs to change to make their day or their customer’s day easier. So why not let them do it? Empower your employees to take ownership of their working life and improvement will perpetuate.
The methodology in the Process Improvement Handbook contains 7 step process for identifying, evaluating and implementing process improvements, but if you already know what needs to improve and you already have a solution in mind, you can skip straight to step 6 to assess the opportunity to make sure it will do what you hope it will, won’t introduce new problems and is able to be implemented with the resources you already have.
If however, you have identified that improvement is necessary through means such as reporting results, you’re aware that something needs fixing, but not necessarily where to start focusing or what you’re aiming for. The full 7 steps will guide you in finding the fundamental issues, refining them into a defined problem and determining the opportunities before moving on to steps 6 & 7.
Trust your employees to use their initiative and make improvements.
Accept failure as a necessary step in any improvement and become more agile when failures occur.
Don’t waste time planning, preparing and consulting when you don’t have to. If the risk is low, take the plunge.
To learn more about determining, assessing and implementing improvement opportunities, download the Process Improvement Handbook.