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deming, improvement, leadership, lean, management, transformation, Uncategorized

Performance Improvement or Performer Improvement?

To truly reap the benefits of continual improvement, what should be the focus of a kaizen process?  Should efforts be focused on improving business performance or improving people through learning and development?

Obviously every company wants to continually improve performance, but wanting to do it and knowing how to do it over the long-term are two different things.  It comes down to a question of cause and effect – or what needs to happen to cause improvements to occur on a continual basis?

When a person or team comes up with an idea to improve a process, there are two possible outcomes: the idea will work or it won’t.   You can never guarantee that an idea will result in improvement.  What you can do, though, is design the process so that people learn about the areas in which they work by testing ideas, and learn about the kaizen process by participating in improvement activities.

When an improvement process is only about business performance, team members will not necessarily develop kaizen skills.  And in this situation, the organization misses out on the opportunity to grow kaizen activity because the number of people who are able to facilitate improvement projects remains static.

In most cases, the direct financial benefit from an individual kaizen will be relatively small.  True measurable benefits from a kaizen process will result only when improvements occur frequently.  This can only happen when a large number of people understand the process and are actively involved in improvement activities.

To grow the process and change the culture, leaders must emphasize the importance of developing problem-solving skills with each kaizen project.  Whenever the results of an improvement effort are presented, it is critical to inquire about the learning that occurred.  Too much focus on the business result can drastically stunt the growth of the process and keep the organization from reaching the type of success that few have ever experienced.

About Gregg Stocker

Gregg Stocker is a lean advisor for Hess Corporation. He possesses over 20 years experience in a variety of disciplines including operations, manufacturing, human resources, quality, and strategic planning, and has worked in manufacturing, service, and oil & gas industries. He has extensive international experience, including successfully leading an $65 million business in The Netherlands. He authored the book, “Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral: Recognizing & Eliminating the Signs of Decline,” (Quality Press, 2006) and was a contributing author to "The Lean Handbook," (Quality Press, 2012). Gregg is a frequent speaker and recognized expert in business and performance improvement having been interviewed on television, radio, and in a number of newspaper and magazine articles including The New York Times, Washington Post, BusinessWeek, and InformationWeek. Gregg has implemented change in organizations ranging in size from $10 million to more than $100 billion. He is a team-oriented leader who achieves results by improving teamwork, focus, and communication throughout the organization.


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