Transform Your Team: Eight Key Elements to Create a Culture of Continuous ImprovementTravette Webster | Director of Administrative and Student Support Services, Houston Community College
Process improvement is more than an exciting concept used in the manufacturing space. When done correctly, it sets the foundation for a cultural shift that drives efficiency and effectiveness throughout processes. When speaking with audiences on transforming their workplace culture, almost everyone has heard of continuous improvement. However, less than 15% actually utilize improvement tools and methodologies in their space.
At the foundation of process improvement is Total Quality Management or TQM. TQM pulls together all individuals within an organization to participate in improving services, products and offerings while focusing on long-term success through customer satisfaction. It is quite easy to establish a set of rules and standards that make work easier for those of us internal to an organization. However, it’s important to understand that process improvement should be driven by your customer’s wants and needs.
Eight Key Elements of Process Improvement
1. Customer Focused
In process improvement, decisions should be based on the best interest of the client. In most situations the client’s desires and employee preference will align. This is because employees of an organization are also clients of their personal lives and appreciate good customer service. In the rare cases where customer demands result in extra work for employees, the increase in customer satisfaction will undoubtedly lead to increased profits. Data presented by PwC shows customers will pay up to a 16% price premium for great service experiences. Organizations can then share that revenue with employees in forms of bonuses, team outings, extra vacation days, etc. When your customer is at the center, everyone wins.
2. Total Employee Involvement
It’s crucial that all levels of an organization are included when making improvement decisions. Organizations fail when only top executives take part in building processes. Knowing the “voice of the client” is imperative to organizational success and frontline workers have the best understanding your client’s wants and needs. This also ensures full buy-in when the time comes for implementation. Employees will do everything to ensure success when they have been part of putting together the framework. This doesn’t mean you must completely remove your leaders from the process. You will need their vision for the future and their insights on budgets and availability of resources. The best organizations include individuals from all levels.
3. Process Centered
There are various tools that can help guide your organization as you take the plunge into process improvement. Different methodologies may be more beneficial depending on your type of organization and the processes you are looking to improve. A few examples to consider are Six Sigma, Lean, Agile, PDCA, or a combination of these. The bottom line here is that you have some method to understanding how your step-by-step tasks or elements take inputs and transform them into outputs. In addition, following a structured methodology takes emotion and personal feelings out of the decision making.
4. Integrated System
Over the past few years I’ve seen an increase in silos throughout organizations. Why does this happen? Individual departments and even people within those departments fail to see themselves as part of a system. Over time the, “I’m only responsible for my work” mentality becomes detrimental to an organization. When this happens, your customers receive a very different experience depending on who he or she speaks with and this taints your brand. Through process improvement exercises you can begin to breakdown the silos and better understand how each piece fits into the whole.
5. Strategic Approach
Every organization must have a strategic plan. Strategic plans set a vision that everyone can follow by outlining how individual contributors and teams should work together. Great organizations take this one step further by developing departmental strategic plans. Department plans should begin with an overview of the company’s strategic plan and go on to detail how it will function in alignment with the company’s overall vision. Strategic plans explain the method behind the madness. When the time comes to implement new processes, you can point back to the strategic plans in order to get buy-in across the company.
6. Continual Improvement
How many times have you started a project and didn’t finish? This happens all the time in both our professional and personal lives. Part of process improvement is understanding that there is no end date. We constantly look for opportunities to improve the way we work. For this reason, we don’t speak on improvement as a project but as a culture shift. Your goal is to successfully transform the way individual team members think about their daily tasks.
7. Fact-Based Decision Making
One of the most important parts of process improvement is data gathering. Before we jump into changing any process or service, we must first understand how it looks today. I compare this to walking through a maze in the dark. Without knowing where you are, you cannot take a step in the right direction. In addition, fact-based analysis helps to determine your measures of success and if it’s attainable.
George V. Milan, co-founder and chief executive officer of Fortuna Advisors LLC, summarizes this element perfectly: “The problem is that when decisions are made without weighing the facts, there is a risk that the expected benefits will not be adequate. Would it be worthwhile to spend $10 billion on enhanced employee benefits if the net effect were to only retain one or two mid-level employees? Of course not.”
Communication is key. While most organizations are good at engraining that mantra in their employees, far less organizations live out the principle. When important decisions are made by top executives the information does not always make it to the front-line associates. Departments will begin to find their day-to-day tasks more difficult because they have not aligned their process to the strategic priorities. Communication also ensures that employees are given the ability to make suggestions. In process improvement there are no moronic ideas. Actually, wild ideas help to highlight where we have become stuck in old habits. Our first thought is to immediately knock down the idea. However, we must stop and ask ourselves, “Why wouldn’t that work?” Open communication removes the fear of failure and in turn sparks creativity.
Why is Process Improvement Important in Higher Education?
Process Improvement and TQM works by making teams more efficient through elimination of waste, improvement in resource utilization and a shifting of paradigm thinking. Knowing this, why is it that some organizations still do not focus on process improvement? The number one answer is lack of time and resources. In actuality, the converse is true. Actively setting aside time for teams to come together and focus strictly on improving their daily tasks will result in long-term time and cost savings.
In the higher education arena, it is imperative that our institutions have the ability to react quickly to change. There are many aspects that we see constantly fluctuating in response to economical stimuli such as percentage of students seeking postsecondary education, preference of online learning versus learning in the classroom, in-demand jobs, and student demographics across various degrees and certificate programs just to name a few.
Institutions of higher learning must begin to change the way in which we think about our business. Every task, whether instructional or administrative, follows a process that converts inputs to outputs and the sum total of those outputs is your brand. This means every individual—from executives to faculty and staff—directly impacts the image others have of your organization. You must empower employees to think with a process improvement frame of mind. It is only then that your outputs will constantly reflect efficiency, effectiveness and student centricity.
Author Perspective: Administrator