It is never too late, but you need to get started. Companies that are going to do really well coming out of this recession are the ones who view improvement as truly continuous. You cannot wait until you are faced with that new challenge or improvement. You have to anticipate it and make it part of your culture.
The Key to Making Process Improvements
The key is really shoring up the basics of your organization. In the last couple of years, when the economy was good, companies used the excuse ‘We have poor lead times,’ or, ‘We have poor on-time delivery, but it’s because we’re so busy.’
And they found that as they got less busy, they still had those core issues in their lead-time and their on-time delivery. You really need to look at core processes and determine what is driving poor performance in different areas. Now that companies do not have the ‘We’re too busy’ excuse any more, a lot of them are saying, ‘We do not have enough people.’ If you allow that built-in excuse to always be in your organization, it is going to be tough to drive continuous improvement.
Do not use being too busy — or being too slow — as an excuse to not drive this continuous improvement. Now is the time when you should really be trying to transform your business. This is where you can make radical changes in your organization because you do not have the pressure of responding to a lot of customers. Volumes are down in all industries, and you do not have pressure of having to deliver to lots of customers, so you can really make huge adjustments in the way you deliver your product.
Start Making Changes
You have to find ways to get beyond whatever today’s challenge is. All companies have a great resource of employees and have to look at what they are doing to leverage that resource. What are we doing to leverage them and challenge them to do things better? How are we tapping into their ideas? That is a resource you have whether you are busy or you are slow and, ideally, your employees know how to do things better.
The big thing with leveraging your employees is having good channels of communication. Many companies do not have good ways to leverage employees’ minds because there is no communication. You have to go down the channel to really explain what is going on and challenge the employees. And too many companies do not have any communication channel up to take employees’ ideas and get them implemented.
Getting Employees to Buy in to Change in an Uncertain Economy
The key is to show employees success. Most people want to do a good job; they want to be heard, and they want to be successful. Putting people in a position to be successful, listening to their ideas, implementing their ideas and sharing with them what is going on so they can make better decisions are things that keep employees motivated.
You have to reward the right behaviors, even if they are not providing short-term results. You have to keep your employees doing the right activities. And if you are doing the right activities, eventually when the economy comes around, you will be able to leverage all the things you have been working on during these slower times to respond more quickly than the companies that are not making improvements. Those companies that are going to do really well in the back half of 2009 and 2010 are the ones that have driven that improvement inside their organization.
Dealing with Those Who are Resistant to Change
The key is really to show them success and tie it back to the customer. If you can show how their job will be easier and customers will be happier, then people are more than willing to change. You have to show them how it is going to make it easier and better, and will provide a competitive advantage for the business. Once you start showing them success, they really open up their minds.
You start small: if you wanted to improve productivity by 10 percent, what are some things that keep you from being more productive? People are going to give you a lot of answers, and if you are able to implement those solutions that they have provided, that is going to give them a lot of excitement. But you cannot just ask questions and let their answers sit around. One of the big mistakes companies make is to get employees involved and then not implement their solution; that just frustrates the employees.
If you are going to ask the question, you have to do something with the answers.