We’ve all been there – trying to improve processes, making things better, more efficient, smoother running, only to have the great solution explode into the great catastrophe. What went wrong? We had input from all stakeholders, discussed the issues fifty dozen times, and had buy-in. We moved forward with excitement, enthusiasm and confidence… and got nowhere. What happened?
Things are sometimes not what they seem. Agreement on a plan is not necessarily the same as sincere support of the plan. “Yes, I can do it” does not always mean “I will do it.” Life is complex. A host of conditions and personal agendas can sink the best strategies. Fear of job loss, or loss of status, or fear of change can lead to inertia and terminal procrastination. Meanwhile, the corporate plan is brought to its knees by one or a few individuals, who just never seem to get around to doing their part. Getting to “yes” isn’t enough.
So how do you maximize your chances for successful process improvement? Certainly, do continue to solicit input from all stakeholders. But instead of having the boss or an internal representative do the planning, consider using an outside representative. Staff members often are more honest with someone who isn’t going to be around forever, or someone without an internal personal agenda. Second, ask the hard question upfront. Ask each stakeholder what problems or issues they see, and whether or not they see this as being a personal problem or threat. Third, ask them for solutions. You may find the solution is simpler than you thought, with new approaches you never saw. We all are more supportive of change if the change is one we suggested. Finally, when the strategy is developed and assembled, repeat the inquiry process. Ask stakeholders what they think of the new solution, and what changes they would recommend. Indicate you can’t promise to include all their suggestions, but will take them into consideration. In doing this, you are identifying potential explosive issues, and can take steps to respond to these in advance. Finally, don’t be afraid to try something, give it an opportunity to work, and if it doesn’t, change or abandon it. Be willing to say you were wrong. You don’t have to give up on change, but abandoning a failed effort gives you the opportunity to adjust it or start a new strategy.
In process improvement, “yes” is not enough. Use the experience, talent and creativity of your staff to develop the best solutions, and get them effectively implemented.