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Continuous Improvement: Make Good Management Every Leader’s Daily Habit

August 3, 2017 Continous Improvement Leadership Operational Excellence 0


Continuous improvement at scale—across a whole enterprise—requires management discipline at scale. At a few organizations, digital innovation is helping managers make a daily habit of good discipline.

By Andy Eichfeld, David Golding, David Hamilton, and Kathy Robinson

Think of the last time your organization made a real effort to instill a continuous-improvement culture, whether in a plant, function, or more broadly throughout the business. Think of the investment and effort that went into identifying the first wave of improvements, and changing how people work and leaders lead every day.

How much commitment did it take—of time, money, human energy?

How much did performance improve after the first wave of changes? Is it still improving today?

How many managers and senior leaders changed their daily routines? How many reverted to their old habits?

The hope for any organization is that instilling a continuous-improvement culture becomes a catalyst that makes further improvement easier. But even organizations that have spent many years successfully investing in continuous improvement are telling us that they are not achieving the ongoing, incremental impact they want. The reason? Their leaders and managers haven’t fundamentally changed how they lead and manage.

Identifying what managers should do on a regular basis is straightforward. If you ask any group of people about the best managers they’ve encountered, they’ll typically start describing the same characteristics. Essentially, good daily management rests on a few basic disciplines: understand how people are actually delivering for customers, give people regular feedback and coaching, teach people how to solve problems, and create a physically and emotionally safe environment where people can engage in meaningful dialogue about their work.

Indeed, a recent survey of 189,000 people at 81 organizations, each with 7,500 to 300,000 employees, underscored the importance of these principles. Four leader behaviors—be supportive, focus on results, seek different perspectives, and solve problems effectively—accounted for almost 90 percent of the variance in leadership quality between strong and weak organizations. And, as many organizations we have worked with illustrate, the more consistent leaders and managers are in these behaviors—in other words, the more they turn the behaviors into a new standard for how they work—the more continuous improvement they are likely to achieve.

On the ground, these organizations look and feel different from their peers. Their people collaborate much more often, and much more effectively, because they know what they’re working toward and why. Every person has a deep understanding of how their daily activities contribute to the overall goal or strategy. There’s a confidence that people can rely on one another to ask questions and contribute ideas.

That’s not typical yet of most organizations that have attempted to instill continuous improvement at any meaningful scale. The uncomfortable truth is that few leaders and managers make the choice to follow these behaviors well or consistently. And in any one organization, the odds are vanishingly small that many, let alone all, leaders and managers are following them well and consistently.




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