Nature vs. Nurture? Cultivating Process Acumen

On the hunt for the elusive "process" gene...

We have all heard or uttered the expression, "They were just born with a gift!", referring to people that possess skills or attributes that are not commonly displayed by most of us. Just recently, I was in a conversation with a highly talented colleague, when we began to discuss the black belt role and the attributes of individuals that excel in solving process problems. During this dialogue, my colleague took the stance that this mind set or process acumen was something that these ‘process minded’ people were born with. That is took a very special individual to see things and problem in a ‘process way’.

This statement got me thinking. I have always being a ‘process minded person’ believed that at some level we work and live according to our processes.

Are process people just born that way?

So I asked myself, "Does that mean we could isolate a ‘process gene’ which would be found in all belts? And if you did not possess this gene, you would have to spend the rest of your life struggling with process?"

My conclusion was no and that process acumen is a little of both nature and nurture!

So as process experts/leaders, like parents, should be nurturing the skills of continuous process improvement throughout our organizations, not just coaching and mentoring those born to be green/black belts.

Here are some easy steps to start the nurturing of process improvement in your employees.

  1. Create an awareness
  2. Demystify Process Improvement - KISS
  3. Make it fun!

Creating an awareness starts with having a plan. A communication plan should identify the various audiences, messages and methods of delivery. For example, we were very successful in creating awareness and excitement when the company launched Lean as part of our process improvement deployment. We created a slogan and designed posters, which we hung throughout the buildings. Along with the posters; presentations were given at various staff meetings to further the awareness of employees.

Demystifying process improvement and keeping it simple allows more employees to get involved. Process improvement skills are no longer thought of as skills for specialized groups but something that everyone can have. First thing to do is to stop speaking in jargon. Translate methodologies and tools in to commonly used language in your company. For example, in my company we longer speak of DMADV or DFSS projects instead we say design, brainstorming, or innovation projects. They mean the same thing but the latter is more understood by the employees. Second, introduce simple tools. We all enjoy a good ANOVA, but in most cases asking employees to use statistics to solve everyday issues is overkill. I have found that simple data analysis like pareto works well, along with brainstorming and 5 WHYs.

Finally Making it FUN! Simply put, make improving processes fun. We have had contests for the best project and the most innovative solution. The winners were announced at staff meetings and small prizes were given out.

In the end, some of us might have been born with some crazy ‘process improvement’ gene, but everyone can develop the skills for continuous process improvement.