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Challenges to Innovation and Improvement

Posted by Mark Graban

Jun 27, 2014 2:11:00 PM

Leadership_behaviors_WebinarAs we usually do after each of our webinars, we asked the attendees from last week's webinar 25 Leadership Behaviors that Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement three questions:

  • What did you like?
  • What could we do better?
  • What is your biggest challenge related to innovation and improvement?

The first two questions are helpful to us, as they give us some opportunities for improvement to implement in upcoming webinars. The third question we thought would be great to share with others who are attempting to implement cultures of continuous innovation and improvement.

Here are some of the responses our attendees gave, and our thoughts.


Leadership and Culture

One attendee said their challenge is the lack of “effective leadership, active and engaged.” This is a pretty common problem that we hear of often. What's the solution? Leaders can’t just talk about the need for improvement; they need to actively participate in the process. If leaders model the behaviors that are proven to create a culture of continuous improvement, then we’ll resolve the challenge of “building the culture and getting all the leaders on the same page,” as another attendee commented.

The behaviors and culture start at the top, as C-suite leaders need to set expectations AND set a good example. One attendee realizes that “developing the culture will be a challenge” since they “are just starting the Lean journey.” This takes time, but there's no better time to start than today!

Give up a culture of constant fire fighting. 

One challenge some of our attendees face is “getting management to give up a culture of constant fire fighting.” Again, this starts at the top. Senior leaders need to demonstrate how they will work to prevent fires, rather than just putting them out quickly. Leaders need to reinforce these preventative behaviors by recognizing and rewarding those who are proactive and prevent fires through process improvement. Leaders should recognize managers who engage everybody in such process improvement efforts, than being the lone hero with all the answers. One behavior that needs to change is “coaching executives and Senior leaders not to squash ideas,” as one person stated.

In an improvement culture, leaders are responsible for having a broader view -- the higher up you are, the more you’re responsible for optimizing the overall system instead of suboptmizing one piece. An attendee wrote that they struggle with “communication and lack of system wide project management” because “There are many silos even within departments, and people don't always talk to each other about what they're working on.  This means that there can be more than one person or team working on the same thing, but not in a coordinated way.  Often, an improvement will be made for one project that jeopardizes the success of another project.” To solve this issue, we recommend investing in an innovation and improvement platform that provides the visibility and communication necessary to prevent those problems.


Problem Solving Discipline

Another attendee reported, “We are in our improvement infancy - outcome urgency currently trumps improvement science.  We just throw it all at the wall and hope something sticks!” That person is correct in that we can’t just wildly try things to see what sticks. Organizations should work to find the right balance and use the right approach depending on their circumstances. If the building is literally on fire, we need to have a basis for action and put the fire out. Then, we can follow up with root cause analysis with an eye for future prevention. In the Plan Do Study Adjust (PDSA) mindset, we need to do the right amount of Planning -- not too little (rushing to throw stuff against the wall) and not too much (aka analysis paralysis).

One attendee wrote that they struggle with “working on big ticket items without truly understanding -- what is the problem?” Many of the improvement initiatives in organizations are solutions. It’s very common for people to jump to solutions without first properly understanding and stating the problem. Part of having good PDSA discipline is making sure we first understand the problem and the situation (as part of the Plan stage). 


Engaging Everybody Helps Them Embrace Change

One attendee stated that their challenge is “how to make employees accept change smoothly.” What's key here is that we realize that the best approach is not forcing employees to accept changes, but rather, to engage them throughout the entire improvement process.

People hate being told what to do… but they love their own ideas. So, engage them!

One person wrote that “management and big consulting companies need to understand that employees are not simply 'resources,' but they are everything. When respected, they will have a purpose to come excited to work everyday - to find and attack waste.” The goal of leaders should be to get people to participate in the entire improvement process, instead of just forcing them to accept solutions that others have developed.

As one person said, leaders need to be “working with others to help them to see a better way, as there are a lot of ‘command-and-control’ trained managers out there!” Getting everybody involved more fully will help with the challenge of “sustainment and buy in (at all levels)” as we work toward a goal of “100% participation.”


Finding Time for Improvement

Many people talked about how difficult it is to find time for improvement work. One attendee said “presently, my biggest challenge at my current organization is frontline staff being made available to work on improvement.”

Another wrote that they are struggling with “coaching leaders to allow more time for [improvement] and searching for strategies to do this work” as they figure out “how do we 'create' time, e.g. through getting rid of non-value added activities, and getting people to work on goals and process improvements amidst the day to day activities.”

That’s the right mindset -- figuring out how to create time instead of just complaining that we don’t have it. If improvement is important, we need to make time for it (like anything in life). If we do it right, we might even make some improvements that will save us enough time to counterbalance the time we spend on our improvement activities!


To learn more, download the webinar today. 

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What about you? What challenges do you face in your innovation and improvement efforts? Leave a comment and tell us!

Topics: Leadership

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