A change-embracing approach to business process improvement

Four truisms:

  1. Improving is not perfecting.
  2. Some battles are not worth fighting.
  3. Flowing with reality is saner than forcing your way against the tide.
  4. Some aspects of human nature are practically immutable.

Most businesses start on a process improvement project because a problem has grown big enough to affect operations and profitability. Some of them are usually in crisis mode.

Two starting obstacles are obsessing over “Why (the existential Why) is this happening?” And “Whose fault is this?” Knowing why something happened is at the end of the day mainly academic – life is just what it is. When faced with an improvement challenge, it is more useful to open our eyes to what is actually working, so that we can encourage more of that. (Asking Why questions that actually result in actions is a good thing of course.)

Weeding out the undesirable behaviours should take a lower priority – to reduce stress. The last thing you need is a witch hunt during a process improvement. There are entrenched cultural habits, working habits, decision making processes and power structure that simply cannot be fixed. No matter how obvious the solutions appear to be. Not when a system is too big, and everyone is intimately caught up in, as well as inextricably dependant on it.

So we look for what works well in a given system, no matter how counterintuitive and unexpected. We set up the processes to support, empower and propagate these things that work.

This course of action feels to me least like trying to ‘change’ anyone. People hate to be changed. But they do like it when you affirm what they are already doing, and help them get things done!

And when the improvements no longer work, when they feel like pushing against the tide, we then need to be open to changing them again. Improvement is by nature iterative and never-ending.

Leave a Comment