Because it is Spring, and most of my “free time” is spent with my boys and their various sports, I find myself finding many lessons in watching them play. Just last week, I was coaching my eldest’s baseball team and we just decisively won the previous two games. I was watching the boys play, and I had been coaching a some of them for a few seasons, and have observed others as they played on other teams. I commented to my wife, how fun it was to be able to watch these kids grow over the last four or five years.
As coaches we are continuously trying to improve the performance of our players, through coaching, instructing, and sometimes even motivating. All this with the purpose of changing behavior. The irony here is in the business world, we don’t often use the same approach. Today, I will talk about continuous improvement in the work place, and ways to be more successful as you make necessary changes to be a winner today and in the future.
At every company I have ever worked for, there was always a push for continuous improvement. Companies spent time and money looking for process improvements or new software that could streamline a process. How do we do it faster, cheaper, better? Great question! Who doesn’t want to do more with less?
The trouble with new processes or software is they don’t always improve efficiency. They don’t take into account the people actually needed to make the change. People are creatures of habit. To understand this, we need to understand what a habit is. A habit is an automatic response to a trigger, which is anything that causes us to take action. Let’s explore how improvements are often implemented in companies.
Changing the Response… The Hard Way
Companies spend a lot of money working on infrastructure updates, new tools, systems and processes, in order to achieve more efficiency. Then when a new system is in place, they spend even MORE money training employees to learn the new system. Then, after all this money is spent, they don’t see the efficiencies they had hoped to see! WHY!?!
In the work place we are still humans, and still creatures of habit. We receive an email (trigger), we respond (response). And on it goes. When there is a change to a process, or a new piece of software is added to the mix, people are being asked to respond differently to the same trigger. This creates confusion and disrupts their habits. It makes people uncomfortable. It is essentially the same as setting your alarm clock when it is time to go to sleep! You wouldn’t expect someone to have a completely different reaction to the sound of an alarm clock! Why expect them to change responses to the same trigger in the work place?
People will naturally resist this kind of change, complain about the new software or process. It may take longer to accept the change, or people may go back to doing it the old way. That is more comfortable, and after all, it’s worked for so long already!
But Process Improvements are Necessary
I know what you are thinking, process improvements are necessary. The new software is needed because the old stuff isn’t sustainable anymore. How do I get people to adopt to new processes?
Changing the Trigger… The Better Way
Just like any change in habit, change the trigger. At one point in a former career, I was being reassigned. It was requested that I train my replacement during a transition period. The reasoning behind this was that I could smoothly transition my tasks to my replacement. This caused some issues with the team, and the confusion slowed the transition.
As long as I was there, the team would look to me for answers and direction. This was what they had done since the project started. The team looked to me to run the staff meetings and a whole host of things I normally did. In this case, my presence was the trigger. They came to me with status and problems as the response. It wasn’t until I removed the trigger (stopped attending meetings) that the team started relying on my replacement and made the transition.
Accept that Failure is Possible
Process improvements can’t be about changing responses. That is ineffective and it just doesn’t work. If you really want to maximize the benefits of improved systems and processes the key is to identify and change the triggers. Replace an existing trigger with a new trigger, and then you’ll get people to have a different response without the struggle of changing habits.
This Week’s Challenge
Find one area where you know you can be more efficient. Identify the trigger to change the response, and see your efficiency improve! This type of continuous improvement is essential to your business success.