Commit to Success

Continuous improvement is vital for remaining competitive. Committing to it across the organization is equally important.


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There are many great ideas that have been developed over the years to help companies pursue continuous improvement. I have discussed some of these ideas in past columns, describing not only the benefits of the specific ideas, but also the importance of simply accepting and adopting the philosophy of continuous improvement. The fact is, for most of us, what was good enough yesterday will not be good enough tomorrow. We all must strive to make things better if we are to remain competitive.

In his book “Mastering the Rockefeller Habits,” Verne Harnish advocates setting business priorities (no more than five), establishing measures to see how these priorities are performing and holding regular meetings to monitor progress. In Sean Covey, Chris McChesney and Jim Huling’s book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution,” the authors focus on achieving one or two wildly important goals, developing lead measures for these goals, keeping a compelling scoreboard to visually display progress on these goals and creating a cadence of accountability to assure goals are met.

James Kouzes and Barry Posner, in their book “The Leadership Challenge,” propose modeling the way, inspiring a shared vision, challenging the process, enabling others to act and encouraging the heart through recognition of excellence. 

Paul Akers, in his book “2 Second Lean – How to Grow People and Build a Lean Culture,” describes his Three Pillars of Lean as finding waste, improving everything every day, and making/displaying before and after videos of all improvements made. All of these authors offer superb insight and great ideas for making organizations better, but at the same time they stress the need for commitment as a foundation for realizing success.

Some organizations have an easier time making and meeting commitments than others. Some, having already reaped the benefits that come from meeting commitments, believe that without commitments nothing happens, and they are commitment-driven as part of their culture. Unfortunately, for many others making and keeping commitments is difficult. Distractions flare up, priorities change and new “flavors of the month” replace things once considered essential to success. As a result, planned improvements rarely take hold.

So what does it take for an organization to meet its commitments? It starts with a clear understanding of what those commitments actually are and a plan for meeting them. The following questions can help you gain this clarity, thereby increasing the likelihood that you will be successful:

1. Is this the right thing for us to be doing as an organization? Significant time may be required to answer this question. The more effectively you address it, the greater the likelihood you will achieve positive results. There are often so many alternative courses of action an organization can pursue that making a choice can be quite difficult. The solution cannot come from one person alone but must be based on input from others with differing perspectives. Synergy (the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts) offers a great advantage in deciding what course of action is right for any one company. Once this question is answered in the affirmative, the approach should be “full speed ahead.”

2. If we are successful, what will be the result? As the late Steven Covey once said, “Begin with the end in mind.” There must be a shared vision within the company of what success means. Simply put, if we do this “right thing,” what do we expect will happen? For example, if we choose to replace our current management information system (or whatever name is used for the computer system that runs your business), we should have an expectation of how this will help the company (e.g., faster access to information, streamlined administrative procedures, more accurate information that will promote better decisions and so forth). A shared vision of what success will look like will increase the level of commitment throughout the organization.

3. Will we be successful? Once we choose to do what is right for the company (the decision step) and have a good understanding of how it will help the company (the vision step), we need to instill in everyone a high level of confidence that we will be successful—before we begin. To gain this confidence, we need to determine and clearly communicate what must be done (the planning step). Everyone must understand the key things that need to happen to achieve success, such as how resources will be allocated, system or process modifications that will be needed, steps for identifying and resolving problems that will inevitably occur, and more. A timeline of some sort is necessary to clarify expectations and keep everyone focused. A well-thought-out plan that is managed, with progress communicated regularly, will reinforce everyone’s confidence of a successful outcome.

Addressing these questions before committing to any continuous improvement effort will increase the chances that commitments will be met and improvements will actually take hold.