Culture has come up a lot in conversations with clients lately. Business owners and leaders want to ensure their employees are fully engaged so they don't lose their top talent. Most are surprised when I tell them process improvement techniques are a phenomenal way to build a positive culture. Getting your team focused on improving processes encourages teamwork by opening dialogue, creating safe space to address issues, and breaking down silos. It also shows that you value them and their ideas and turns perpetual whiners (if you have any) into problem solvers. Plus, you're going to save money, reduce your stress levels, and have fun along the way!
Ready to get started? I suggest you begin with these five steps: get visual, talk, problem-solve, communicate, and implement.
First, let’s get visual! (Does anyone else have a certain Olivia Newton-John song stuck in their head right now?) Before they can improve processes, employees (and business owners) need to understand them and how each step connects to the big picture. Process maps and visual management boards are two of the best ways to achieve that. Mapping a process helps you identify bottle necks, inefficiencies, and pain points. It also gets everyone on the same page. For some reason, you can have a written process that everyone agrees is accurate, but when you map it out, someone will undoubtedly say, "Wait, that's not what happens!" Why the disconnect? It may be because so many people are visual learners (some suggest up to 65% of us). Another great tool, the visual management board or huddle board, offers an at-a-glance representation of how the department is doing. Who's busy? Who's behind? What work has to be done today? Each employee has their own section of the board and should update it themselves before each meeting. Create your own huddle board using magnets and a white board crisscrossed with electrical tape or create a digital version to loop in remote workers.
Second, talk about it. (And now it’s Bonnie Raitt singing “Something to Talk About”). Yes, let’s give ‘em something to talk about! How about solutions? Hold regular 15-minute huddles to talk about the status of the work on the team and identify any ideas or problems. Record the ideas and problems on the visual management board and meet once a month to come up with solutions. If an issue can’t wait for the monthly meeting, schedule a quick session to address it sooner, but circle back to it in the monthly meeting to be sure you got to the root cause of the problem.
Third, solve problems together! If there was a problem, yo, I'll solve it (a little change of musical genre to Vanilla Ice!). At that monthly problem-solving meeting, you want to set aside 30 minutes for brainstorming, and 30 minutes for identifying the solution. Once you’ve identified the solution, identify the person responsible for implementing the solution. Hint: It’s not the business owner or manager. This is your chance to delegate and develop. Have the “improvement owner” update the visual management board with their progress and talk about it in huddles.
Fourth – communicate, and fifth – implement. Communicate is its own step because it’s essential to notify others who might be impacted before you make a change. I recall one time the team making a change forgot to tell their call center reps they’d added a new field on the intake screen (oops!). And, of course, all this work is for naught if you don’t implement the idea.
When teams use process improvement techniques to talk about problems instead of trying to sweep them under the rug, the team and the business get stronger. As those problems are solved, employees become more optimistic and engaged. As they get engaged, your team will produce better results and will hang around longer. It’s a win-win-win for any business!
Written by Michelle Duncan, SSBB, CSM