Leadership – The Missing Ingredient Needed in Process Improvement

Home » Leadership – The Missing Ingredient Needed in Process Improvement

Why is it that most process improvement initiatives never quite pan out as advertised? Whether it is Lean, Six Sigma, Continuous Improvement, ISO/TS 9000 – the end results often fall far short of the promise and potential.

There is a crucial ingredient missing – Leadership.

We’ll explore that more below.

Last week we ran the Pit Crew Challenge for a client in Windsor, Ontario. I captured one of the teams on video doing their final run. Watch the video 1:36. This unforgettable experience capped a 10-session, 30-hour leadership program for supervisors, team leaders and managers. The Pit Crew Challenge covers key concepts like being customer focused, building a coaching culture and aligning metrics and rewards to core values. Plus it is fun – using a real race car! Consider adding this experience to your leadership training or offsite retreat.
Video of Pit Crew Challenge in Action 1:36

Now is the time of year when companies plan leadership retreats – see how we can make these meetings more positive and productive.

Have a great week!

The Missing Ingredient

Most process improvement initiatives involve a tool kit of problem solving tools, methodology and intensive training. Some, like Six Sigma come with fancy names like Black Belt and Green Belt and business books and consultants trumpet the extraordinary payback, with a sizable investment!

Some cynics might think that greedy consultants are really just repackaging concepts such as value stream mapping and continuous improvement into fancier systems and there is some truth there.

Management can be forgiven for being seduced into paying big bucks for training and consulting. The promised payback is extraordinary, especially in the early stages when the low hanging fruit is picked. Once the initiative moves from the most enthusiastic managers involved in pilot projects to the broader organization, many initiatives begin to fade.

The missing ingredient is Leadership.

In fact, for most businesses, the exhaustive tool kits are overkill and can overwhelm the organization.

Without leadership, all of these initiatives fail to connect the people to the process. For managers without effective people skills the technical tools appear to do away with the need to engage and motivate. It’s not that the tools are ineffective – they just don’t create the full benefit without leadership.

It could be argued that an effective manager with good leadership skills could achieve similar results with the basic premise of reducing wasted effort, getting employees to engage in finding better ways of doing their work and measuring key aspects of the process.

Before embarking on a large process improvement, consider how your leadership team will keep the process alive and ensure benefits are sustained.

Reflection Questions

  • Is the proposed process improvement overkill for your type of organization?
  • Is the leadership team (from executives to the front line) capable and consistent in managing people and process?
  • How would consistent and capable leadership help run the business better, perhaps without lots of additional training/consulting?

Action Items

  • Continue to invest in the leadership capabilities of your team from the executive suites to the front line leaders.
  • Make continuous improvement and lean part of the culture instead of being a special project.
  • Ensure sustainability by having consistent management attention over a long period of time.