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Constant Organizational Improvement
Every organization can benefit from a philosophy of constant improvement. For organizations that want to grow aggressively constant improvement is necessary. I hope you find this article of value.
This December, like every December I spent some time thinking about my business, reviewing the year and setting some goals for the coming year. I have specific goals, but the main one is to stay aligned with the principals of constant organizational improvement. For me these principals are about creating win-win relationships with clients, employees and vendors.
We need a culture that is defined and congruent throughout the organization.
I find a company built on sound principals that inform all employees actions is generally a pleasure to work with.
The foundation for constant improvement is the organizations culture. I define culture as the human identity of the organization, how it treats it's people and how it expects it's people to treat others. For the concepts of constant improvement to take hold the organizations culture must promote open communication, personal and group success, risk taking, autonomy, integrity and responsibility.
Information is necessary for every organization, working towards constant improvement makes it critical.
Whenever I work with someone who is unable to make a decision I find it is usually one of three issues: not enough information, wrong information, or not knowing when they have enough.
Information is needed and that comes in the form of metrics. Metrics are Intelligently presented data used for decision making, trending, and comparing. Properly designed data systems and information collection give you a wealth of information about your customers, employees, and activities within the organization. If you find a particular decision difficult, step back and look at what is wrong with your data, with the right information intelligent decisions are easy. Once you are collecting the right information you can organize it into reports that give you the metrics of your organization, properly designed, these reports will make decisions easier and help you track the results. They also help you understand patterns in your organization and predict the future (at least a little).
Memory is not a good measure for how we are doing, we need reference points that are clear and represent key operating parameters of the organization.
I pride myself on having a good memory, and it never ceases to amaze me when I am wrong.
With the information we now have from our metrics we can create benchmarks and do some modeling. Benchmarks are the standards of performance for the organization. Sometimes you can use published industry benchmarks as input to this process, sometimes benchmarks will be based only on your analysis and expectations. Scenario modeling can project the results from achieving your benchmarks. In a scenario model you project concomitant changes to having met your benchmarks, such as additional hires, space requirements, etc. Good modeling will prepare your organization for growth. It is important to set initial benchmarks so they are attainable but not too easy. If your benchmarks are set to support better, but still marginal performance then it is not likely you will get beyond that marginal level. So set them aggressively and realistically.
Without feedback we can fool ourselves into thinking things are different than they are. Feedback validates what we are doing and points us at what we need to do.
Sometimes having feedback loops can be personally challenging, if the feedback feels overwhelming remember small steps are infinitely better than doing nothing.
The engines for constant improvement are the feedback loops. The feedback loop is a self supporting mechanism that will naturally direct people towards constant improvement. Now that you have your metrics and benchmarks it is easy to feed performance results back to employees from their managers and customers. But it doesn't stop there, we need feedback loops on some of the more incremental activities that we know, when done properly, will result in our benchmarks being met. And many of the feedback loops should go up the ladder rather than down such as, feedback on skills training, clear delegation, manager support, and understanding of job expectations. Feedback loops help you identify problems in your culture, processes, and people.
Intentions are great, but well defined concrete goals change organizations. We can rally around goals.
I find when I keep my organizational goals to myself they usually don't happen, they need to be well articulated to the whole organization.
Now that we have a base structure in place it is time to set attainable goals. Goals give us something to work towards, get excited about, and celebrate when achieved. Our benchmarks are statistical standards, our goals can be statistical or operational. Such as opening a new store, exceeding a benchmark by 10%, or growing 20% without hiring. Attainable goals allow you to have regular celebrations of your success.
Visionary goals are achieved when we think outside of the boxes we normally live in, we need to help all members of the organization exceed their own expectations.
I like to bring my visionary goals into casual conversation as well as group meetings. They are my personal dreams that everyone can share in and make their own.
The attainable goals are steps on the way to visionary goals. These are the big ones, the ones we dream about and aspire to. They remind everyone that the future is wide open and when we all bring our full intelligence to our jobs, this organization will do amazing things. These goals should not change much, if at all. The visionary goals help people expand beyond their personal limitations and belief systems.
Sharing in the success shows everyone the possibilities and encourages them to raise their expectations of the future.
Sharing is the fuel that feeds the fire.
Now that people are more invested into the organization we must show them the value, they need to see that investing more of themselves in their work is worth it, so we share in the success. Profit sharing or a bonus structure is in order. These incentives bring everyone on to the same page around success and reward.
Constant improvement is a constant investment.
Constant improvement informs my little decisions as well as the big ones. It becomes a way of life.
A structure is in place, now it must be maintained. As the organization changes, the structure must be scheduled for review regularly and adjusted as needed. The feedback loops will naturally shed light on some of the anomalies, others will be illuminated by the review process. Processes and ideas that aren't working should be adjusted.
To succeed constant improvement has to become an aspect of the vision of the organization.
When I talk about vision and visionary goals I speak of constant improvement as the foundation.
The vision of constant improvement should be clearly articulated, understood, and adopted by the whole organization. For some this is a huge change and they need to clearly understand the intention as well as the details. It is part of the organizations vision so if you don't have a vision, I suggest starting there.
Learn more about the author, Dave Koshinz.
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