Do corporate wide Business Excellence programmes hinder local site based continuous improvement activity?
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Do corporate wide Business Excellence programmes hinder local site based CI activity?

Could such programmes be seen as the ninth waste?

I have had the opportunity over the last twenty years to get first-hand experience of head office (corporate) driven initiatives to support continuous improvement (CI) activity across a diverse range of manufacturing, research and service organisations. In my experience very few programmes actually achieve their set objective of creating and enabling a culture of continuous improvement across a global organisation.

This must be a painful bit of information for many centrally driven programmes, but in my own, and many of my colleagues experience it is a reality. So why is this? Corporations spend significant amounts of money hiring the ‘right’ people for positions in global CI. Organisations develop very beautiful and comprehensive training material, they fly CI representatives around the world to attend conferences, carry out benchmark assessments and review site programme activity. But when I asked our team, from their experience around the world, what would be the level of successful corporate programmes? The answer is less than 10%! Yikes!

So why is this the case? Over the next couple of articles we will review some thoughts on this, but here is a flavour of what we see and experience.

Cultural Disconnects
Local culture can be overlooked or even ignored. It is often presumed that local sites will adopt corporate programme structure, standard templates, tools and ‘CI’ language. This can result in poor localisation of training materials and approach. In the worst example I have seen of this, a corporately chosen training partner showed totally inappropriate pictures during a training class that basically blackened the corporate CI efforts on site.

As regards CI programme implementation there will be cultural nuances both in language interpretation, approach and capability. In some cultures the idea of a team and who should be on a team can be a topic in itself. Gender and class issues, while politically may no longer be acceptable, can still have influence within a business often most strongly held within the very management groups you are trying to influence.

Skewed Strategies and NDS
Corporate and site strategies can be misaligned. Local sites very often have a very different agenda to the global business strategy. As more and more sites are pitted against each other in a global ‘benchmarking’ network. The strategy for the local site becomes very focused….Survival. This may or may not be in the best interest of the whole but it can drive particular behaviours at individual site level. The technical term for this situation is NDS or by its colloquial term the ‘nodding dog syndrome’.

WSWP – Syndrome
Inadequate benchmarking and understanding as to where the site really is on their CI journey. This is where NDS (see above) plays a part. In poor examples I have seen, the head office questionnaire (paper or online system) arrives and the site must self-assess where they are as regards the corporate benchmark. Maybe at some time in the future the site may be visited for a reality check, but this is generally too late to provide useful guidance and focus for the business. Programmes have kicked off, projects have started and teams are ‘engaged’ however, most of the efforts at best may save some cost but have no really strategic benefit to the business.

Here also is where another corporate maladies kicks in. Those tasked with flying around the world to carry out on the ground benchmark assessments can often suffer from WSWP syndrome or ‘world smelling of wet paint’. The thing about the olfactory senses is that the more they are exposed to a certain odour the less it is detected!

Wrong Measures
Corporate programmes measured by bums on seats or number of Greenbelts, Blackbelts, Bluebelts or whatever you’re having yourself! There is little or no focus on joined up enterprise performance and leading measures. There can be little or token focus on the key behavioural indicators ( KBI’s), which should be the focus of any programme looking to influence culture within an organisation.

Enforcing/Supporting/Enabling Silo Thinking
Reinforcing silo mentalities embedded in the business can also arise from poorly structured programmes. This confusion usually raises its head as overt or covert turf wars around continuous improvement programmes. Questions like what role the quality department play in process control and risk management and prevention? Or what role HR plays in management and people and leadership development? Or who owns the one source of truth as regards data? We see many programmes focused on operational performance with token attention to overall enterprise activities. If I see another sales office whose continuous improvement activity revolved around stationary management I’m going to vomit on someone’s shirt!

Lack of focus on leadership behaviour – Do as I say not as I do
Senior leaders are not checked on inappropriate behaviours at both peer to peer level and in their interactions at site level. The big wigs must walk the walk and talk the talk.
In a culture that fosters a relentless focus on continuous improvement in every aspect of the business as a leader you must lead from the front, the trenches even. Sure people will fire at you, but the bullets tend to be emotional and often personal. You may need to accept a few hits. The unhelpful possibly destructive culture and behaviour that you as a leader are currently faced with, did not appear all by itself. It has been allowed to develop and grow under your watch. A bit of humility in accepting yes, approaches and behaviours were wrong and that we must change our ways, can go a long way towards taking the sting out of some of those bullets!
Wrong Measures (again!)

Corporate programmes driven by savings targets to bottom line rather than acting as the touch stone for cultural and behavioural development across the organisation. Targeted savings that come about by eliminating waste in all that we do-by adding value though proactive involvement – is a far more powerful and sustainable route to survival.

No Systems thinking
Little or no focus on systems thinking. Organisations often get little or no guidance on what critical systems must be in place and what their particular ‘flavour’ needs to be in their given type of business.

Wrong People
Yep this is a reality, sometimes we have the wrong people driving CI. In the ‘old’ days corporations selected their best executives/managers to drive CI. These individuals were destined for greatness. Their time in CI would give them an opportunity to spread their magic across the organisation. What we sometime see now are individuals often set up for failure, frustrated and disillusioned. They see the issues, the disconnectedness but the drive behind the programme withers and they find themselves out on a limb unable to influence the organisation at the appropriate level. The individual’s past glories are forgotten and questions are asked (behind their back of course) as to why is the business supporting this expensive central CI function that’s not really bringing results? Executive CI recruitment is a busy market place.

About this series of articles
If Continuous Improvement mentality teaches us anything it is that we much see the reality of our current situation. We put the truth on the table however hairy and smelly it maybe! Unless we can do that, our continuous improvement efforts are another waste. They waste our time, our precious resources and most of all they waste the voluntary discretionary effort of every employee who comes in contact with bad programmes. This is the very thing, the magic sauce, that successful organisations know is the essence of true enterprise excellence.
Over the next few articles we will explore each of these issues in turn and consider ways to counter their impact and avoid the ninth waste of Lean. Where possible we will showcase good case study examples from organisations who have got it right and are willing the share their learnings.

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