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Everything Continuous Improvement


Lean Leadership & Sustainment Q&A

Posted by Jake Sussman

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Apr 11, 2017 7:30:00 AM

mark_and_greg-3.jpgKaiNexus has a webinar series called Ask Us Anything, in which our CEO and Co-founder Greg Jacobson and Mark Graban, our Vice-President of Improvement & Innovation Services and founder of LeanBlog.org, join forces to answer questions KaiNexus webinar listeners ask.

In this post, we'll look at two questions and answers from a recent webinar.


Improving Leadership’s Support for Continuous Improvement

In episode 11 of Ask us Anything, Graban and Jacobson answered Rudy’s question, “What are some inventive methods to improve senior management’s visibility and support for continuous improvement?”

Graban started off by stressing that this is an important challenge from a leadership behavior standpoint. Often, when discussing Lean or continuous improvement efforts with an organization he is told that leaders support the initiative, but it’s not clear what is meant by support.

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“A successful culture of continuous improvement requires more than just a one-off statement of support for the concept of improvement. It requires that leaders get involved in different ways. Part of the traditional advice would be to go to the
Gemba, to get out of the executive suite,” Graban explained. “Meet with people on the frontlines and see what they’re struggling with.  Listen to them about their ideas, and their opportunities for improvement; not to give people answers but to be a servant-leader, to be supportive, and to be encouraging in different ways.”

Software is of course another way senior management can increase their visibility and support for continuous improvement. Jacobson touched on how creating a digital dashboard for leaders, giving them a window into their Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s) as well as providing them with visibility into all the improvement work happening, is helpful in getting leaders involved and in opening the lines of communication with staff regarding improvement efforts.

Coming back to the question at hand, which asked for inventive methods to improve senior management’s visibility and support for continuous improvement, Jacobson said that BHAG might do the trick. Jacobson explained that Jim Collins, author of several leadership books including the bestseller Good to Great, has talked about BHAG (Big Harry Audacious Goal) in his books and on his website jimcollins.com.  A BHAG is a big, clear, and compelling goal that an organization takes on.  As Jacobson explained, a BHAG is not supposed to be financially driven, but it should be something that if the organization achieves it, would really move the needle forward and indicate the organization has accomplished something.

“I think a BHAG was just a really great way for us here at KaiNexus to get me emotionally involved in what we were trying to accomplish this year,” Jacobson said. In 2016 the KaiNexus BHAG was to have over 25,000 improvements completed in the system by the end of the year. At the beginning of 2016 just over 12,000 improvements were in the system, which were accomplished from 2011 through to the end of 2015.

“I challenged our company, really to challenge our customers, to see if we could actually double that in one year,” Jacobson said. “At the beginning of the year, I turned to our VP of Sales, Jeff Roussel, and I said, ‘You know if we hit this, I’m going to let the company shave my head.’ That really played along with the ‘big harry’ part of it.”

KaiNexus concurred the BHAG, and Jacobson lost his hair, but was happy to do so.

“I think a BHAG is a great idea to get senior leadership involved, not that they have to commit to shaving their head; maybe a small tattoo or something like that,” Jacobson joked.


How can we sustain improvement activities and prevent slipping back to old habits?

A question we often hear from clients was put to Graban and Jacobson in this webinar by one listener who asked, “How can we sustain improvement activities and prevent slipping back to old habits, reverting back to the old way?”

“That’s a question I’ve been hearing in healthcare the whole 11 years, 12 years almost, I’ve worked in healthcare,” Graban answered. “Even some of the world leaders in Lean healthcare would report in articles and at conferences, that they would have over 50% backsliding rates. What I’ve seen from rapid-improvement events, and different types of improvement, is that what’s often described as backsliding is actually more accurately described as a change that was never fully adopted.”

Graban explained this can be a problem with improvement event methodology, specifically when an event team creates a new process they believe is better to be handed off to the people actually performing the work.

“That often just doesn’t ever stick to begin with. People don’t understand the new process, they weren’t involved in the development of it, they weren’t trained in it,” Graban said. “Whether it’s that or other circumstances, I think the key lesson is rather than blaming people for backsliding we need to ask why the change either didn’t get adopted or why it reverted to the old way and then go from there.”

Jacobson agreed, saying the failure is often in implementing the change, versus what happened after the change was implemented.

“Continuous improvement is hard work. If this was easy to do, everyone would be doing it at a really high level. Staying disciplined, and creating those habits, and leadership really continuing to make sure that the right things are being measured, that standardization is occurring and not reverting back, is going to all be critical,” Jacobson said. “If you lead with why and then include everybody in what you’re doing, then I bet you can do everything else less well and you’ll still backslide less.”


That's it for now, be sure to subscribe to the blog to catch future posts with questions and answers from the KaiNexus Ask Us Anything webinar series!

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