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Why should projects take forever to achieve operational excellence and culture change?


How to achieve results at speed in your project


Transformation projects are often seen as long-term exercises, with lengthy timelines, an extensive list of deliverables, and costly potential delays. Let’s challenge that assumption. 

We have a track record of helping deliver rapid operational and cultural change across multiple projects in multiple sectors and locations. The main thing we’ve learned? That this process doesn’t have to take forever – and you can achieve your results at speed if you prioritise certain factors in your project management. 

Want to implement the best practices and achieve excellence in your business? Here are our eight top tips.

    1. Build ‘self-healing’ systems

Frame process design as creating a system that delivers product or services to your customer day in and day out, seamlessly, without the need for constant management intervention and firefighting. Learn from how our bodies have evolved to deal with injury – when we get a cut, our body doesn’t ask for a meeting!

    1. Leverage and alignment matter

Ensure your excellence process is leveraged by a high-performance culture owned by your employees, and a leadership approach that outperforms your competition – see below. Design genuine, explicit leverage points that are mutually reinforcing in all directions. Ensure operational excellence, employee engagement and leadership are integrated at some level in the organization rather than reporting into unaligned senior leaders in different functions.

    1. Leadership is a contact sport that can’t be delegated

It is not enough for senior leaders to ‘sign the cheque and walk away’. Leadership is a contact sport where what you model and reference signals your commitment. Executive summaries reduce senior leaders’ empathy and appreciation of the hard, unsexy daily effort needed by their managers to live the culture every day. If you do not know, in detail, the skills and models your leaders are deploying, how can you ‘model and reference’ them in your own daily conversations with employees? 

    1. Design is not just for designers 

Take your employees with you by engaging them in the design process. Teach them the design concepts and have them actively participate in the design of the customer delivery system. Employees then understand from the outset how each change will affect the customer, and how they personally impact the customer.

    1. Ensure your interventions are likely to move the dial 

Learn from those who have used Pareto, inexpensive experimentation, large sample sizes and long-time sequences (to avoid missing slow burning but powerful impacts) to discover what works and what doesn’t move the dial enough …or even what moves the dial but in the wrong direction!

    1. Ensure your leadership development systematically reinforces scientific thinking and improvement science

Avoid randomly assembling the over-specialized concepts gathered by researchers. Instead, apply systems thinking and design your leadership approach to systematically reinforce scientific thinking, improvement science and widespread numerical and statistical literacy throughout your organization.

    1. Build a culture where employees never feel taken for granted

Don’t rely on recognition schemes to do this core responsibility of any leader; ensure all leaders learn the skills that guarantee that individuals and teams feel appreciated. Do not confine this to ‘over and above’ situations – delivering organizational standards every day drives very high levels of performance but is often taken for granted when we focus on ‘over and above’.

    1. Deal with low performance quickly and fairly

Who suffers when ‘management’ does not deal with low performance quickly? What do you think happens to leadership’s reputation when this happens? Remember that legal advice tends to be pessimistic and risk-averse and is only one input to complex decisions about poor performance. When making these decisions, give significant weight to the team dynamic impact of the lack of accountability, and how severely this undermines your teams’ confidence and sense of fairness. Do the right thing, not the easy thing.

Leveraging these factors in your leadership, culture and operational management will enable you to make changes efficiently and effectively in any sector whilst consistently meeting stakeholder expectations. So, what are you waiting for? Rapid change awaits!

Frank Devine is a culture change specialist, founder of Accelerated Improvement Ltd. and author of Rapid Mass Engagement: Driving Continuous Improvement through Employee Culture Creation

Kevin J Duggan is author of Design for Operational Excellence: A Breakthrough Strategy for Business Growth