The real-life process improvement skills in most companies are still on a very low overall level despite all technological advances in the education and training field. The utilization of new learning technologies does not provide any benefits as such unless it provides a desired impact on the improvement effectiveness and/or the improvement efficiency. Improvement effectiveness means that you are improving the right issues, and improvement efficiency means that you are improving the issues right. Here it is important to make a distinction between enabling technologies (e.g. video conferencing solutions) and substance related solutions (e.g. online classes/courses and e-learning apps). Of course, aiming at a very low improvement ambition level in reality will make any effort or solution do. In such a setting one should also consider the cumulative financial implications of the lost improvement potential due to a low-performance learning process. A lost penny or second cannot be recovered, and a penny today is worth more than a penny tomorrow. If we (all) would have been (much) better improvers, how much better off would our company have been then? Would we now tackle other problems and challenges instead of the ones we have today?
It is also important to understand that the term change is not the same as the term improvement. It does not take any particular skills to change a company, whereas it takes a lot of dedicated skills to improve it.
How Do You Know Your Learning Set-Up is Wrong?
From a company perspective a bad learning performance in the field of process improvement can easily be observed via the input (i.e. time and money spent) and the output (i.e. the real-life sustainable process improvements). You may also have heard more than once a colleague say, or thought yourself for that matter, “nothing really changes to the better, despite all the efforts”. Another sign is that the improvement efforts are driven by internal or external improvement experts also in the long run. This operation mode makes it very hard to really enhance the improvement culture of the company which is crucial when realizing sustainable and large-scale improvements, at increased ambition levels. Something’s got to improve.
Getting More Time and Money Will Fix the Learning Problem, Right?
The process improvement yield, i.e. the real-life improvement traction (what you really get out of the time and money spent), is remarkably low in almost any company, on average only 2-3%. It is worth noticing, that in such a setting, it is not possible to fix the learning dilemma considered above by allocating more time or money. The world changes too fast, and people forget too soon what they have learned, for these traditional measures to be effective. This means that in terms of process improvement, the company is locked to the a very low ambition level without the possibility to really scale-up its improvement performance. The solution to overcome this faith must increase the performance of the improvement learning and the related real-life improvement efforts so that this performance matches the modern improvement needs in dynamic circumstances. Here, it is important to measure the quality of the improvement efforts to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between the input and output.
One thing is for sure: high-performance process improvement efforts are always topical despite your business. But what are the issues and obstacles the company needs to consider, overcome and manage to get into the mode of having continuously the required and sufficient process improvement skills in active use? Not having the skills in active use will not do much for your operations, besides consuming time and money. Just possessing the the required and sufficient improvement knowledge and skills won’t do, and time will effectively kill the momentum in just a few weeks or months unless you run a knowledge and skill preserving solution that is good enough to offset the time erosion, and provide an extended utilization window for your knowledge and skill base.
The first thing to realize is that everything starts and ends with the people (the personnel), and in the end with the individual, but in between you need to consider actively and specifically the changing needs of other stakeholders as well. Without such a consideration, it is very hard to really increase the improvement momentum, and especially the improvement effectiveness (“improving the right issues”).
Part 2 of this writing will consider crucial issues and obstacles to consider when aiming at increasing the real-life improvement traction of a company.