Operational Excellence Barriers
What are Your Operational Excellence Barriers?
Poor work system design is the primary cause of our failure to sustain high levels of performance. My work with organizations reveals ten key work system gaps that leaders must both close and integrate in order to sustain operational excellence. Common barriers include poorly designed leader standard work systems, technology utilization systems, and measurement systems. What might your operational excellence barriers be?
Work systems give you what you design them to give you. Your personal food selection process determines to some degree the performance of your body. Think about the compensation system you use at work. How does the ‘package’ of wages, benefits, and work environment you provide help engage all staff? How does that ‘package’ affect the levels of motivation, ownership, and commitment your people feel towards your organization? Commonly, operational excellence barriers exist in organizations when work system designs fail to encourage and support high performance work.
EXPLORE MORE: How Great are Your Work Systems?
How Do You Optimize Work System Performance?
This is not an ‘either – or’ argument. Work systems design and integration both constrains and aides organizational performance. The positive performance of one system offsets the negative impact of a different system. For example, a strong leader standard work system can overcome some of the negatives that result from a poor compensation package design. The goal, of course, is to optimize work system performance.
Think of poor work systems design as being similar to a dog on a leash in the back yard. The length of the leash is the constraint to the dog’s ability to explore and defend the yard. We can view the leash as a operational excellence barrier or performance restrictor plate. If we optimize the length of the leash, we provide benefits to both the dog and the owner. If we find and remove other performance restrictors, we gain further benefits.
As your key work systems improve in their design, site, business unit, and organizational performance improve. However, certain work systems contribute more than others. For example, the ability to drive total team engagement and proactive process improvement is key. Similarly, your safety, risk, and security management work systems must work together effectively.
LEARN MORE: Process Improvement Strategies
Top Ten Operational Excellence Barriers
The key is that you must change work system design to get better results. Let’s explore these barriers to process improvement, and the types of changes we need to overcome them, in a little more detail.
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#1: Limited time built into job for improvement – Provide little time for projects
Many people don’t have time built into their jobs for projects. People often expect certain levels of performance to be reached, even though the existing processes are not capable of performing consistently at those levels. Time is the fuel for high performance because it is required to improve process capability. There is a direct correlation between available project time in your jobs and your improvement rate. Where does this time come from?
For starters, consider using process improvement tools to minimize the substantial waste that exists in your meeting and e-mail / text processes. In most organizations, no one measures these processes, even though they often require 50% of a leader’s time each day. What do you do to reduce meeting defects and optimize meeting cycle time? What actions do you take to reduce non-value added e-mails and texts?
LEARN MORE: How to Measure and Improve Your Job Design Work System
#2: Poor alignment in leader actions and behaviors – Allow leaders to behave badly
In many companies, leaders behave as they wish, at least up to a point. For example, they don’t communicate enough with their people. When they do, that communication is often negative. They may also act in ways that are inconsistent with the mission, vision, and values of the organization. Many leaders are not very good coaches, and their positive recognition and rule enforcement skills are often weak, if not non-existent.
How do we improve leadership behaviors on the job? For starters, consider using a portion of your annual climate survey to gauge leadership behavior consistency. FedEx has done this for over twenty years via their Survey-Feedback-Action process. Most Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence award recipients doing something similar.
DISCOVER MORE: Measuring Leadership Behavior Effectiveness
#3: High levels of unknown waste, limited process-based improvement – Ignore non-operations processes
Most improvement efforts focus on process improvement in the value stream. Processes that support, and often drive, that value stream, such as sales, marketing, human resources, and accounting, often lack improvement expectations. How often do you see your accounting team talk about the efforts they make to minimize the time required to close the books each month?
How do we engage every work team in daily, process-focused improvement? You need structure, for starters. Design each job to include the necessary amount of project time. Job descriptions for all staff must include process-based measures and quantitative improvement expectations. Most importantly, build such expectations into the job descriptions and compensation plans of leaders at ALL levels.
LEARN MORE: How to Measure and Improve Your Measurement Work System
#4: Low commitment to teamwork and success – Lay people off as you improve processes
Instead of being recognized in a positive manner for their improvement successes, people often see the jobs of their friends, or even their own jobs, being eliminated. On more than one occasion, I have seen people purposely, but not admittedly, slow down or even fight against efforts to improve to help avoid personal or peer job loss.
How do we save money if we can’t reduce headcount? This is the wrong question to ask. Instead, we should ask how can we grow the business through sales, marketing, and other customer satisfaction-based process refinements. How can we make better use of the people we have on staff?
We don’t have to replace people one-for-one as they retire or otherwise leave, but layoffs are the ‘kiss of death’ to an improvement effort. The real lean upside comes when we improve our processes so that they provide consistent and high value to every customer.
EXPLORE MORE: How to Measure and Improve Your Strategic Planning Work System