How to put your improvement plan into action

The steps for action based leadership

Turning talk into action

The previous blogs in 2023 have been all about the preparation and engagement of the idea of Operational Excellence.  It has been about engaging the team around understanding what it is, adding in some of the theory and what it could look like for any company or organisation.

Once all that is in place, it is all about turning those ideas, vision into tangible action.

Translating the words, conversations and discussions into real actions and outcomes.  Actions that can be seen, felt and have an actual impact on the team and the performance of the business. So many business leaders throw themselves into a continuous improvement journey, building up the enthusiasm and excitement across the team, only to fizzle out fast when it comes to implementation.  It is at this stage where there is a significant amount of goodwill that is lost because the team doesn't see any follow through.  Don’t be this business.  Have a plan to get through this phase successfully and bring your team along with you.

This is where I introduce the concept of visual management.  Having the information visible, accessible to everyone in the business.  LEGO® have their visual room with what was described - the vital few.  The most critical, high level data and information, key dates etc. This is so everyone can ‘see’ what is happening, the gains and progress made.  This is such a crucial, yet poorly understood step in the whole Operational Excellence journey. It is all about transparent communication, keeping everyone informed on what is happening, who is doing what and their ideas are being actioned or prioritised. You can never over-communicate during this stage of your improvement journey. Make it a weekly and daily thing; as a group and individually.  This is where the use of Gemba Walks can add significant value to your business.

Breaking  long-term vision, business plan or goals into milestones is also a step that often doesn’t get the attention it should. A lot of emphasis is put into creating a plan and then standing back and admiring all of the awesome work when this is completed.  But breaking them down into definable steps and then introducing key performance measures must be part of an equal process.  This will let the team know if they are on track or need to implement countermeasures and actions to bring them back on task.  This is all about Strategy Deployment or Hoshin Kanri.

To support this, energy must be placed on what I refer to as the operational framework. Mapping out the meetings, stand up meetings, reports that are required to achieve the desired outcomes.  The specific activity that will support the start and ongoing work required for a successful journey. This might mean changing and abandoning your old meeting flow.  Time to revise this and complete an audit of who meets when and most importantly why. 

A great tool I often pull out at this point with teams is the SSCM method.  

S = Start

S = Stop

C = Continue

M = Modify

What needs to be STOPPED in order to start heading in the desired direction, what do you need to START to get on track; what is working well so it needs to CONTINUE and finally what is working reasonably well but needs to be MODIFIED to support the vision of the business.

Then it is a balance between delivering business as usual (BAU) tasks and setting time aside to complete actions that will move the business forward.  This is where it can become hard.  It is hard to ‘squeeze’ the new stuff in.  It is hard to invest the time to solve issues and implement improvement actions when BAU is still there and growing.  This is where discipline and teamwork kick in. Knowing the long-term benefits, there must be a consistent effort into making positive changes. Keep each other accountable, encourage individuals to put aside even 30 minutes aside to check off an action.  As a leader, keep reminding your team that they are allowed to set time aside for improvement tasks and strategy actions.  Regular reinforcement of this empowerment is crucial. It might be through team meetings, memos, newsletters - use a range of ways to keep this communication and messaging going.

It is critical to continue to go back to the original vision, keep reinforcing the goal and the why. This should become part of the daily and weekly meeting discussions. This is why we keep the work visible, so it provides reinforcement everyday to everyone, what the goals are, who is responsible for what actions and why the decisions are made. 

Then it is important to schedule the tasks.  Who is doing what and when? At the beginning get used to the fact that as a leader you will need to be there and help teams get started on the actions.  Set goals and targets around improvement activity.  For example it might be one action per person per week.  Build momentum and provide feedback. If actions are not being started, ask why.  What blocks are stopping people starting to work on their improvement ideas.  Help remove these barriers.

It is during this period that at least 50% of your time is spent on continuous improvement.  The temptation to work on the work that has typically been keeping you ‘busy’ will be strong, but it will be this investment that will pay off long-term. Be prepared to clear your diary and dig in deep for a couple of months.

Each time you see something that has been improved, provide feedback.  Remind the individual or team how this is helping achieve the long-term goals.  Keep making the connection between action and success.  As time progresses this will become easier and your team members will be taking action more independently and your role will change from ring-leader to encourager.

Remember - the time invested at this stage will pay back multiple times over.  It is a short term commitment to achieve that vision.  Action is the key to success.


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