Management commitment vital to ensure process improvement
by NEIL POTTER
It is difficult for process improvement to succeed long-term without management commitment. Very few people actively seek the commitment they need.
Getting management commitment requires the following steps:
- Determine the manager’s needs
- Present the process improvement idea in a way that shows how the manager’s needs can be met
- Determine and address the manager’s concerns and fears about process improvement
- Verify that process improvement is meeting the manager’s needs.
Determine the manager’s needs
Each manager in an organization has needs to be filled. Commitment results from meeting those needs. Your focus should be to help the manager and the organization.
To determine a manager’s needs, arrange a meeting to understand his or her problems and goals. For example, you may start the meeting saying: “I have some ideas about process improvement, a means of continually improving the methods and results of an organization. I wonder if you could tell me your group’s business goals and any specific problems that you have, to see if this idea might help?”
The intent of this initial meeting is to understand the current situation, demonstrate that you understand it, establish whether there is common ground for proceeding, and if so, determine some initial ideas on how to proceed.
If there is an unmet need and process improvement can help, then you have a key element for the commitment. If not, you need to keep listening, probing, and uncovering needs that may be buried. If your manager understands the concept of process improvement, but there are no needs, no goals or problems to solve, then you should mutually agree that nothing will be done. Forcing the issue would be creating a win-lose, and eventually a lose-lose situation. (It is very rare that a manager has no problems to solve.)
Many engineers state that they have tried to interview their manager and the results were disappointing. In reality, most people suggest an improvement program or solution before determining the needs of the manager and organization. In this case, focus on determining the manager’s needs first, and then offer a possible solution.
Present the process improvement idea in a way that shows how the manager’s needs can be met
Now is the time to suggest your process improvement idea and ask for feedback. Focus on the aspects that will help the manager and the organization. Be open about weak areas in your proposition. A manager will most likely help you improve any weak area once you have demonstrated an understanding of the problem.
Obtaining the commitment of any individual requires desire and involvement. Desire is the result of a currently unmet need. Involvement gives the recipient some control over the selection, eventual customization and use of the idea. Involvement promotes long-term adoption and ownership.
Determine and address the manager’s concerns and fears about process improvement
During an individual’s decision process, if more pain (or discomfort) is associated with a proposed change than in leaving things unchanged, the change will not take place. If sufficient pain is associated with status quo, and pleasure (or benefit) with the change, the change will occur.
The manager may believe that process improvement will result in pain or loss. These areas are potential barriers that you must understand and address. Since the process improvement idea may be conceptually sound, but perceived to be painful, you must present ways to reduce the risk of pain. Options include the addition of no-go decision points and experimental improvements. If your manager feels that he or she can maintain sufficient influence, and the risk of pain can be significantly reduced, then the idea will have genuine appeal.
For example, people often associate process improvement with teams of people writing procedures documents that will inhibit creativity and waste time. If this is the belief, then you will need to communicate that process improvement should consist of identifying and solving the most important problems of the organization. Process documentation is not necessarily the result. Current perceptions and fears about any proposed change should always be addressed by education.
Verify that process improvement is meeting the manager’s needs
While implementing process improvement, you will need to communicate the results accurately and in a way that is meaningful to the manager. Don’t guess how the results should be reported; ask them specifically.
Getting management commitment for process improvement involves understanding and meeting the needs of management. Solving the organization’s key problems is the true definition of successful process improvement.