The proof is in the pudding

Two years ago, the organization I work for set about on a journey of developing a culture of continuous improvement…what I now have come to realize is a culture of operational excellence.

The first primary ingredient was the right leader…yes, they clearly make all the difference in the world.

Second was having the right bus, as Good to Great would tell you. Every manager and director in the organization is motivated and ready to do the right thing. Like many organizations, getting people off the bus is easier said than done, so Don’t Fire Em, Fire Em Up, right?

The journey was clear in my mind, I just didn’t know how long it would take…since we’re still on it, it takes more than two years. However, it’s like many efforts that I’ve seen in nonprofit turnarounds, once it gets going, it’s like a snowball.

This last month has been one of, “Careful what you wish for,” type activity and I think that 2014 is going to prove to be a whole year of that.

Step one: Evaluate the current situation. Non-union, manufacturing-like, heavy reliance on strategic partnerships, excessive redundancy in non-operational processes taking up leaders time, and core process that provides the most value to the overall mission not well understood or controlled.

Step two: Fix the core process–completely map (four phases), provide a full narrative, develop templates and tracking tools, establish formal governance around process, and pilot–pilot big! First pilot returned 16 FTEs worth of man hours back to the supported business for reinvestment!

Step three: Reorganize to support key process. Demonstrated to everyone the redundancy in administrative processes that were sucking up vital time of everyone and all being done differently. Leadership discussed and reorganized to deliver on key process–eliminated siloed operations and redundant processes. Result: leaders in operations were back in the shop and the important, yet administrative processes operate perfectly now for the last two years!

Step three: Engagement! As a whole, engagement is high across the company–very high. However, engagement was not as high in this organization and it was dropping. Engagement score was 4.22 out of 5. Participation in engagement survey was 70%. Developed and implemented “Engagement Program.” Didn’t focus on the score–focused on communications, development, and quality. Next year, participation was 100% and score jumped to 4.61–even with a reorganization. Gallup interviewed my boss. We are still on our engagement journey and always will be.

Step five: Build continuous improvement discipline. Looked end-to-end at the process we were part of. Took ownership of the end-to-end problems and applied a disciplined approach to solving the problems associated with the process–given five FTEs by leadership to work on it. Focused on process excellence in work centers–all managers, most directors, and some other employees Green Belt trained. Top three strategic partners established trained and certified Green and Black Belts to drive process improvement. Held monthly lunch and learns for large portion of exempt staff. Now instituting 5S and Visual Controls. Developing operational daily metrics that provide leading forecasting insight. Looking at ways to automate and improve now. Developed a recognition program that recognizes all improvements, no matter the size, equally.

Step six: Share the bigger plan. I am moving onto another project for at least three months. I laid out the 2014 plan that was in my head for my boss. Press forward with that plan and this journey will continue.

It’s exciting times!


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

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