Getting “Outside the Box”

We recently completed the design conference phase of our process improvement service, Process Advantage®, for a healthcare client. I was once again astounded by the overall impact it had on the participants, according to their closing comments and evaluations. It got me thinking about what’s really going on here that produces such dramatic results?

I’m thinking that any business that does not have the ability to get “outside the box” to re-design their methods, will not be competitive with one that does. It’s that simple. Let’s examine what’s behind the powerful impact that real process-improvement produces.

Strategic Planning is Your Vector, Defining Direction and Execution

Direction and execution are the core of strategic planning. If, for example, you’re directing your efforts at the wrong markets, (direction), you’re going to be toast competitively. Much the same will be true if you don’t have good execution (consistently high quality, good service, and so forth).

Strategic planning is absolutely necessary. It’s your vector. Your course of execution. Your roadmap. Our Vision Navigation® strategic planning system goes beyond the roadmap, by the way, to focus on actually completing projects.

Processes Determine Velocity

But, once you have your strategic plan, you must consider this: At the end of the day, “…you will only get what your systems will deliver.” The quote is from W. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality movement. What’s meant is that, regardless of your strategic plan, your systems (such as your communications, production, management information, training, and so on), will determine how well your organization can execute your strategic plan. In short, your processes will determine velocity or speed.

Process Advantage®: The Distinction that Delivers Results

At first glance, Process Advantage® seems to be nothing more than being clear on how our processes work. First, we identify where they need improvement, and then we define a new process that fixes the problems and improves the performance. Often, this approach will create incremental change, but not dramatic improvement.

Breakthroughs in processes come only when the people concerned experience their own personal breakthroughs. That’s why our Process Advantage® design conference includes exercises that let participants see their own self-limiting behaviors, in areas such as teamwork and innovation, and then it shows them what is possible when they overcome those barriers.

Riding the wave of success in those colorful change word on blue neon backgroundexercises, the group moves on to totally re-invent the ways they are doing their work. Every group we’ve worked with has been able to design a process that delivers at least a 50 percent improvement in performance.

For example, the Alaska State Department of Transportation teams re-designed and implemented processes for issuing permits in the highway right-of-way. The new processes took just 50 percent of the man-hours of the previous ones. Savings to the State were in the millions, according to the governor. These processes have now been adopted by the State of California.

It’s that dramatic.

Benefits are Many and Varied

Up until this last client session, I had been totally focused on the 50 percent improvement the new designs bring about. After all, 50 percent is pretty good. But I’m now seeing underlying effects that have the potential to deliver even greater results.

First, the Obvious

Once people have been trained how to do this, they can always do it. They simply need leadership to guide and encourage them, and to support their efforts. The trick is to keep from going back “inside the box” that retards innovation. For that, an outside facilitator might be needed. Further, teams that have been trained, can train others. In that way, this knowledge and these skills can be put in place throughout an organization.

Next, the Not-So-Obvious

These are the effects that are not so easily recognized:

  • The breaking down of the silo effect. Most employees are focused on the sub-process that they own or the functional department they work in. They are not focused on the overall process that delivers the product or service to the customer. Hence, the sub-processes don’t mesh well and there is often a lack of cooperation needed to improve it, because everyone is focused on protecting what is. Here is how one attendee put it, after their work with us: “Everyone was able to see the complete process of all clinic functions.” Their mindset had changed forevermore, and no doubt for the betterment of the organization and its patients.
  • Increased self-awareness. Experiential learning through games helps people gain insight into the limits one places on oneself. Again, eliminating those limits makes all things possible, again forevermore.
  • The power of self-determination. We insist that management trust that those who are doing the work are capable of innovation themselves, and are able to make it work. Over the two to three days of our design conferences, I have seen employees come in beaten down by the rigors of work and the constraints of existing systems. And I also see them, after completing the conference, leave with a process of their own creation that they won’t let anyone stand in the way of. Imagine the effect that has on morale, loyalty, productivity.
  • The power of teamwork. Experiencing the joys of success while working with fellow employees you have not cooperated with before, is huge. One attendee at a recent conference, noted: “[It] was invaluable for teambuilding.” The real sense of “team” is one of the true pleasures of work, but it’s all too rare.

Designing the Change is Only Part of the Battle

Designing the change is not even half the battle. Two-thirds of the attempts at change fail, according to national research.

This is the REAL Challenge.

The real question is: “Can you successfully implement that change?” For the next several issues of GrowthLines, we are going to examine the 14 key points to successfully implementing change.

To request your own copy of the article outlining these 14 points, “Keys to Implementing Change,” send us an e-mail.