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  • Journey Consultant

Change Champions – Aligning Process Improvement to Strategy

Process improvement can be a small steppingstone to strategic initiatives, or it can be a rocket ship. The difference lies in “Change Champions,” a group of skilled, empowered, front-line employees who volunteer to identify and remove roadblocks to attaining clearly defined strategic goals.

So often process improvement initiatives become narrowly focused on making employees as efficient as possible. While this is a worthy goal, there's only so much juice to squeeze from that fruit! Eventually efforts peter away until all you have left is a list of ideas that don't have enough impact to be worth the effort of implementation. However, if you instead align process improvement with strategic initiatives, and engage a team of Change Champions, then you'll foster innovation that propels your business toward its goals.

The first time I took this approach, the business hit its annual goal in the first quarter. Let me set the scene: our department was attempting to transition a significant amount of work in-house which required updating processes, engaging new vendor relationships, and training staff. We knew employees wouldn't be able to handle 100% of the work immediately – they would need to handle the simpler pieces of work first, building skill, comfort, and speed before handling more complex issues.

To get started, we very narrowly defined employees’ responsibilities. As their proficiency increased, we then asked them to stretch out of their comfort zone to handle increasingly complicated files. We also instituted Change Champions. Our “Champs” made process improvements, edited the company system profile to automate certain aspects of the work, spoke with vendors and used their feedback to redesign a required form, and created job aids and a buddy system to train their peers on best practices. In short, they provided a huge BOOST to our process improvement initiative! Our first quarter target was to have 25% of files handled internally. In March we exceeded 75%, the target for Q4.

To create your own team of Change Champions you'll need to enlist, educate, empower, and energize your volunteers:

  • First, enlist your Change Champions. Start by asking people to apply for the opportunity. This can involve submitting an e-mail explaining why they want to be part of the team. Requiring an application communicates that this is an opportunity to be coveted, not a burden to bear. However, even though you are asking for volunteers, you should also shoulder tap individuals you think would be a great fit and suggest they apply.

  • Second, educate the team. Teach them some basics about process improvement. I usually include the 5 whys, 8 types of waste and the effort-impact matrix. It can all be covered in about an hour. Also, give them a list of roadblocks you want them looking for: What in the process is overly cumbersome? Are some of their peers resistant to the change? What are their reasons for this reticence? Is the incoming product meeting quality expectations? Could improvements in the upstream/vendor/supplier processes make it easier to do the new process? Are there any unintended consequences to this change?

  • Third, empower them. Let them know that nothing is off the table. If there is a problem that could prevent the business from reaching its goals, they can and should bring it forward. Ask for their ideas and empower them to work together on solutions.

  • Finally, energize your Champs and ask them how to best energize the rest of the business. Identify early wins and key milestone to celebrate. Tell the team how much you appreciate their ideas and hard work, and don't stop telling them. Make sure you tell senior management about the amazing job the Change Champions are doing and be sure they know you're bragging on them. And when it comes time for performance reviews, make sure their great work is recognized.

Utilizing teams of Change Champions to focus your improvement efforts on the actions that drive strategic initiatives will skyrocket your business to limitless innovation. This powerful approach combines process improvement methods with strategic thinking and empowers employees to find amazing solutions while having fun in the process.

“The thing is, continuity of strategic direction and continuous improvement in how you do things are absolutely consistent with each other. In fact, they're mutually reinforcing.”

–​ Michael Porter

Written by Michelle Duncan, SSBB, CSM


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