[This short case study was conducted by contributor, Scott Adams. Scott is a student at Saint Vincent College majoring in Political Science and Finance. He expects to graduate in may 2017. Scott’s methods included a survey instrument and phone interviews with each subject. ASG’s hypothesis was that using the pilot hall would be the key success factor to the effectiveness of deploying the strategy. Scott’s short study concluded that the ASG hypothesis was incorrect, but proved that leadership trumps the other factors studied. Scott’s summary is shown below.]
Adams Strategy Group’s vision is to coach businesses to radical success. To do this, we will help clients design and deploy an Operational Excellence (or Lean) system. This case study evaluates the relevance of certain factors to the effectiveness of that deployment. To measure “effectiveness of deployment,” Adams Strategy Group (ASG) evaluates three distinct elements: quality of deployment, the speed of deployment, and retention of the system once deployed.
Some current and past clients were interviewed about their engagements with ASG, specifically about how effectively the OE system was deployed. ASG chose five interviewees from a health care network and a manufacturing firm, providing information on how implementation was affected in more than just one type of organization. They specifically selected Signature Healthcare and Carpenter Latrobe Steel to represent the type of clients with which ASG is engaged.
Signature Healthcare includes both Brockton Hospital and Signature Medical Group. The hospital has 245 licensed beds, including a 29-bed hospital-based skilled nursing unit. Adams Strategy Group has been Signature Healthcare’s primary lean (operational excellence) system architect for several years. Signature started with broad executive education aimed at jump-starting their lean management system. Adams Strategy Group is Signature’s coaching team, connecting with the C-Suite and their internal continuous improvement team. Adams Strategy delivers education and direct coaching at those levels causing Signature to “make it their own” system. Signature has a robust lean management system today with approximately 110 operational teams using daily, monthly, quarterly and annual plan-do-check-act cycles to lead through continuous improvement.
Carpenter Technologies, Latrobe Specialty Metals, is a specialty alloy manufacturer. Carpenter’s SAO (Specialty Alloys Operations) facilities in North America, Europe and Asia manufacture and warehouse cast-wrought stainless steels, high temperature (nickel, iron and cobalt-base) alloys, high-strength alloy steels, medical alloys, magnetic and controlled expansion alloys, tool and die steels, and other specialty grades in long product form. Carpenter’s Latrobe plant team embarked on a journey to radical success in 2014 led by the Adams Strategy Group as architect and head coach. Connecting with the senior team and internal operational excellence team levels, Adams Strategy created a two-year plan for transforming the culture in the Latrobe operations, having a substantial effect on safety, sustained operational gains and engagement.
To see where implementation was helped and where it was hurt, several interviewees from each organization were asked to fill out a short survey ranking various “success factors” according to their relevance to the effectiveness of the deployment. These success factors were:
- Employee Engagement – How engaged the employees were during deployment of the system.
- Leadership Engagement – How engaged the leadership of the firm was during deployment of the system. Including engagement with the system itself, and also with the coaching provided by ASG.
- Structured/Sequenced Deployment Masterplan – A designed set of operational excellence components and planning actions that guide an organization to implementing and utilizing a continuous improvement system for daily management.
- Pilot Hall – A “test bed” for wider organizational deployment. A place for teams not yet using operational excellence to visit and see how the system works for when they begin. After some maturity, a place to simulate the production of a new product or process before exporting them to other service areas.
- Business Stability – The ability for the organization to consistently operate within expected conditions, allowing them to set an improvement course and remain focused over time, unhindered by external forces.
The results of the survey were as follows:
Making an exception for the ambiguity between the rankings of Employee Engagement and Sequenced Masterplan, the results of this survey were nearly uniform across each of the interviewees. The results were even more uniform, totally uniform in fact, for the factor ranked number one. Every subject interviewed responded that Leadership Engagement was unequivocally the most relevant factor to the effectiveness of the deployment of the OE system.
The conclusion we drew is consistent with the earliest concept that ASG instills in organizations they work with: everything rises and falls on leadership. An overstatement, perhaps, popularized by author John Maxwell; this sentiment captures a simple truth. Truly the quality, speed, and stickiness of deploying anything new correlate directly to leadership. The nuances introduced by our interviewees give us great insight into specifically what matters the most:
- Alignment in both direction and speed, ASG calls the latter “moving as a team.”
- Learning first how to be better teachers/coaches
- Changing the daily experience, forcing new behaviors into the daily culture
- Choosing to Change, or “getting on board,” catalyzes deployment
This information presents us with an obvious question: What about “Leadership Engagement” makes it so vital to the success of effectively deploying an OE system within an organization? Specifically, how does having fully engaged leadership lend itself to the speed, retention, and overall quality of deploying an OE system? Again the answers to said questions were relatively uniform.
It was commonly stated that leadership engagement shared a positive correlation with the speed of the deployment. The most common word used by interviewees to explain the correlation was “alignment.” They explained that when the leaders responsible for deploying the system were “aligned,” the deployment could move along more swiftly. Not only aligned in a common direction, but also in the sense that whatever direction they were moving, they were doing so in a uniform, consistent manner. In addition to alignment, leadership engagement also lent itself to the speed of deployment in other ways. Another common response was that when the leaders were engaged, they learned the system faster. In turn, this allowed them to become effective coaches of the system sooner. The sooner the leaders knew the system and were able to coach other employees in it, the faster the entire system was deployed.
In evaluating the retention of the system once deployed – how well it “stuck” and remained in use in the organization – one interviewee described the correlation here in terms of daily culture. They stated that the more the leadership was engaged, the more the system was forced into the daily culture of the organization. When the system was being thought about and utilized and integrated into the daily culture of the firm, they developed a sort of muscle memory. The more often they utilized different components of the system at all levels; the better the system was retained by those using it. In addition to this line of reasoning, it was also just commonly stated that there is a direct, positive correlation between engagement (both from the leadership and the employees) and retention of what was taught. In the same way that an engaged student takes more away from a lecture, engaged leaders and employees retained the system better when it was taught to them.
Finally, we asked how leadership engagement played into the overall quality of the deployment of the system. Both speed and retention are arguably components of overall quality, but when asked, the interviewees still had more to say about the relationship between engagement and the quality of the deployment. A few of the responses included mentions of what was called an “all in” attitude. They suggested that heightened engagement among the leadership and the employees promoted a sort of cohesiveness that improved the overall quality of the deployment. Another interviewee framed this thought in terms of accountability. They described how engaged leaders and employees created a culture of accountability. When all of the members of the firm were engaged, they were holding one another accountable to the system. When everyone had someone else holding him or her accountable, the deployment itself was of a higher quality.
Although the number of interviewees was small, it is surprising to see the similarities among responses, suggesting a correlation. Also surprising to us was the ranking of the use of Pilot Halls, especially in relation to leadership. ASG uses the “both/and” approach to deployment, working at the top of the organization and, through the internal continuous improvement team, with a pilot approach closer to the front line. While pilots are helpful for seeing change, clearly it is more important that leaders exercise change first among themselves. Perhaps this gives credence to the old adages that tell us to lead by example and lead from the front.