A continuous improvement strategy (the key word there is continuous) with problem-solving at its core is the first step on the pathway to world class performance. Most organizations have strategies in place for finance, commercial management, operations and human systems. Some organizations introduce continuous improvement at the tactical level, hoping to leverage highly focused gains against strategic processes or to decrease costs. I see human and operational systems as vitally integrated. Again, many organizations would give assent to this idea but would struggle to demonstrate integration.
Here is a simple truth: your human and operational systems integrate where people meet process. The single force that causes a disintegration in this fragile balance is the problems that occur at that interface. In plain words, problems drive people and process apart. The result, in management thinking circles, has been to address either one system or the other to “fix” problems. When teams can’t get along, we expect Human Resources to give our supervisors conflict management training. When your process produces suboptimal results, we do lean or six sigma events to improve them.
Strategic deployment of a continuous improvement system to integrate the human and operational systems strikes at the heart of the matter by doing three things:
- It introduces a continuous improvement system made up of simple elements to manage problem-solving efforts on a daily basis. Inspired by Deming, it aims at a focus on customers and solving problems for good. Solving problems stands in stark contrast to business as usual: working around problems and calling them “solved”.
- It closes gaps in your human system that cause turnover, loss of your knowledge base and dissatisfied, disengaged teams. It aims at safety, teamwork and mutual trust and respect. We all call our people our most valuable asset, but does your operational system give credence to that?
- It tightens your operational system to close gaps that cause missed promises and customer dissatisfaction. It aims at production that is high value and just in time. Tipping the scale to the Human side is just as bad as tipping it to the operational side. The balance to taking care of your people is taking care of your process.
Not surprisingly, this operational excellence strategy is a contemporary, cultural adaptation of several world class operating systems that focus on using problem solving management to improve safety, quality, productivity or delivery, human development and cost all leading to operational excellence: your ability to set targets that lead to world class performance (defect free) and innovate your way to sustainable growth.0