Six Reasons Improvement Efforts Fail


by Tom McBride, Partners for Creative Solutions, Inc.



In this rapidly changing global environment it is increasingly important that businesses constantly improve the processes they use to serve customers.  A vast number of organizations have achieved dramatic improvements using philosophies like Lean Thinking and Six Sigma, while others have failed.  Here are six mistakes to avoid when undertaking any improvement program.

  1. Failing to motivate the organization -  Leaders at every level must clearly communicate why change is needed, how the process will work, and how it will impact employees.  Leaders must also demonstrate their commitment to the improvement process and establish expectations for everyone in the organization.  Motivating workers to provide their best ideas and efforts will set the stage for success.
  2. Lack of visible leadership – Nothing will stall a project faster than the feeling that it is not worthy of management’s attention.  Effective leadership requires more than just voicing support or managing from afar.  It means frequently displaying an interest in how things are progressing and giving feedback.  It could include frequent visits to the improvement site or taking a more active role, such as leading an improvement team.  Showing genuine interest will motivate and encourage those carrying out the process.
  3. Insufficient training – Employees at all levels need training to help promote a new awareness, develop new skills, and encourage new habits.  Without adequate training, employees will not be equipped to provide their best contributions.  I generally recommend overview training for all employees in early stages, followed by more thorough training as it is needed.
  4. Not having improvement experts – Improvement experts help teams and individuals produce superior results.  Either outside consultants or internal “gurus” can be effective; however, outsiders will not be distracted by other duties and will provide a fresh, independent perspective.
  5. Poor focus – Resist the temptation to introduce change too fast.  Too many improvement activities at once will strain resources and stall progress on everything.  It is much better to first focus on two or three projects that are critical to success of the business and begin others once the critical few are complete.   
  6. Not making improvement part of job expectations – Everyone needs to accept improvement as an integral part of their job and not as an “add on” activity to be done as time allows. 

Avoiding the above mistakes will boost the yield from your improvement efforts.