Why do so many operations in so many companies commit to a career-long Continuous Improvement (CI) journey only to go into the side ditch in less than 5 years?
I've not seen any new surveys, but the latest I recall was in 2010 which showed the vast majority of CI journeys stalled out in 2-3 years. These companies are either in the process of "restarting" what's intended to be a continuous journey or else it is the beginning of abandoning the whole idea. Less than 5% had sustained and were still on the original journey 10 years later!
In one of my workshops I start by asking how many in the audience are working in a company that has an active CI process. Usually the number of hands that go up represent from 90-100% of the attendees. When I ask how many have had a restart (or multiple restarts!) I record their current streak of CI. Most are in the 2-3 year time frame. I go up in increments of < 3 years, 3-5 years, 6-8, etc. until I ask for a show of hands of those who have not had any restarts and are sustaining since their journey started more than 10 years ago. In a workshop of 20 it's typically zero or one hand which continues to make the point.
I'm aware, as perhaps you are, of companies that have made good new businesses by starting a consulting arm to share their processes for CI around the globe. I've also been in some of their factories as a visitor or during conference tours. Even great companies that have a solid process with which to drive CI have facilities that look and people that behave in a very traditional way; i.e. there is clear evidence that the people aren't engaged, the shop floor isn't well organized, metrics boards are way out of date, symptoms of local leadership that don't "get it", etc. There's also no palpable culture of continuous improvement when you walk through the plant. These kinds of examples are simply evidence of how easily parts of the business can wander off to a different agenda if there aren't clear expectations, follow up/support by the boss and accountability throughout the structure of organization.
These examples and many others draw me to only one logical conclusion: The commonality in every case is a failure of leadership from the Board Room to the shop floor or the back office and everywhere in between. Continuous Improvement by any other name (lean, agile, 6 sigma, etc.) requires strong and aligned leadership from top to bottom with unyielding expectations to achieve and sustain operational excellence throughout the company, all global locations. It's all about leadership. It's ALWAYS all about leadership!
For example, here are some of the most common and most harmful symptoms and causes of failures to achieve and sustain operational excellence from the top down:
On March 21, 2017, at the Business Transformation & Operational Excellence World Summit, I'll be presenting a workshop entitled: The Dis-Continuous Improvement Journey. Here we'll talk about these common disconnects throughout the leadership ranks that contribute to the ultimate demise of well-intended but poorly executed CI journeys. Chances are very good that your company suffers from some or many of the maladies we'll be discussing. Hopefully, some will bring positive stories examples of C-level participation. I'll be sharing my own experiences about the disconnects both as a former operations executive as well as from my 10 years as a consultant, author and leadership coach. I'll be inviting your participation in the 90 minutes we'll have together. Hopefully you will leave with renewed energy for the purposeful, relentless mindset that's required to achieve and sustain excellence. Perhaps you'll hear ideas of how to help your companies take pre-emptive counter measures to avoid or correct the pitfalls over the long haul.
This workshop is intended for the company's senior leaders, i.e. CEO, Corporate Leadership Team members, VPs and Directors of Operations/Manufacturing. I hope to see some of you there.
This article is the first of Larry's new exclusive BTOES Insights series, 'The Fast Lane to Operational Excellence'. Subscribe to stay up to date on Larry's articles!
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July 11, 2022
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