Results are NOT the Continuous Improvement Leaders Job!
A friend of mine emailed me with a tough question last month.
“I have a problem. About a year ago I (somehow) talked my way into a job as a CI coordinator. …It’s been a year and the honeymoon is over and I keep having projects rejected because I can’t connect the outcome to the bottom line. I need some KPI’s to help quantify the value of potential projects. Thoughts?”
My response was very simple. “It’s not your job to get results.”
“Sorry to hear that your stuck. The mistake you may have made is thinking that the results are your responsibility. You’re a facilitator. The VPs of each department should have a strategic plan with specific goals and KPIs they have to hit to reach their bonuses. Your job is to sit down with them, understand what they have to do to succeed this year, then say, “OK, I’m going to help you do that. Let’s work together on a plan to improve the processes that will give us these results.” … The burden is on the VPs, not you, to get results.”
I can see the thousands of CI leaders reading this whose heads are spinning round. “What? My job is definitely to get results! I have to show and prove savings! I have to make the business run better.”
Before you completely dismiss me as insane let me explain the biggest gap I’ve seen in company after company who attempts to become “Lean” and create “Operational Excellence”.
Companies fail to see benefits from Lean Six Sigma and achieve Operational Excellence when:
- Goals are not clearly defined and measurable
- Actions and projects are not aligned to goals
- Accountability to reach those goals is not placed on the shoulders of those with the resources to achieve them. (Read: Failure is caused by the burden to improve being placed on Continuous Improvement Leaders, Black Belts, Quality Managers, etc…, rather than the owners of the Value Streams that generate revenue and costs for the business.)
My friend is correct in saying he needs KPIs for each project that tie to the bottom line. This is what the VP should give him. It is the VP who determines the KPIs and the value of the project.
Then what is the CI Leaders job? This isn’t an exhaustive list but here are the top priorities.
- Work with the leadership team to align the organization around a common goal.
- Implement management systems that will provide the foundation for sustained process improvement.
- Determine which business processes must change to reach that goal.
- Teach, mentor, and coach the leaders and employees in the philosophy and tools of lean as they begin to make process changes.
- Measure the results of the changes in the KPIs, both leading and lagging indicators.
- Continuously adjust, driving process improvements throughout the Value Stream until the goal is reached.
- Raise the bar. Set a new higher goal and begin again.
Why are the actual results NOT the CI Leaders job?
- The VP is, by definition of being the VP, the one who is accountable and highly compensated for getting results in their functional area or value stream.
- The CI Leader does not “own” the resources that run the processes that must change to get the results.
- The CI Leader has the tools, perspective, and philosophy to influence change but has no formal authority to make changes without approval from the VPs, Managers, and Process Owners.
Does this mean the CI Leader is off the hook? Of course not. A successful CI leader must be an artful politician who can reconcile differences between upper management and the needs of the front line worker. They must facilitate the changes that will lead to results and hold the VPs accountable for making and supporting these changes. In fact if you want to hire a successful CI Leader, pass on the gal with the deep six sigma and statistics knowledge and hire the one who is outgoing, is an effective teacher and communicator, and is good at building relationships. This CI leader will do more for your company than a “tools” expert.
At this point your either completely offended or forwarding this post to your executive team with the subject line, “READ THIS NOW!” I hope it is the latter.
CI Leaders, the “Leadership Buy-In” you want is fairly easy to get. You just need to align your work with the goals of the organization, specifically the executive leadership team. Once you have a target to hit, invest more time building the relationships you’ll need to influence change and in the management systems that will yield results.