Defining the Role of Champions in Business Excellence

NC Narayanan

The effectiveness of leadership is seen by his or her ability to rock the boat, which means that the leader never becomes complacent at any level of achievement or accepts the status quo. In fact, a leader should foresee the trouble the organization will face in the coming years and initiate changes when everything is going well in the eyes of others. Rocking the boat means driving the organization to change when everything appears to be fine. One need not wait for the trouble to appear to produce change, just as someone should not wait until he or she develops lung cancer before he or she quits smoking.

Even when the top management wishes to rock the boat, senior level management is often not convinced about the reason for change. Paradoxically, human beings want prosperity, which comes from improvement, and improvement is nothing but the outcome of change! The old way of doing things will give old results; if we want better outcomes, we need to change the process. Unfortunately, even when the top management of the organization is committed, it does not guarantee that the executive management of the company will drive the change. Getting the buy-in for the enrollment of the people is a must, otherwise it becomes compliance by the seniors as they don’t invest their heart and soul into the change management process.

In today’s business environment, companies cannot settle for incremental improvement; they must periodically undergo performance transformations to get, and stay, on top. But in the volumes of pages on how to go about implementing a transformation, surprisingly little addresses the role of one important person: the champion. What exactly should the champion be doing, and how different is his role from that of the executive team or the process improvement initiative’s sponsors?

When a company attempts a transformation focused on its operations, a sound plan and a robust execution strategy are not necessarily enough. Another important factor in the success of this type of initiative involving everything from simplifying processes and improving the efficiency of equipment to modifying an entire supply chain is the designation of specific employees as change agents who lead the organization through the journey.

The CEO helps a transformation succeed by communicating its significance, modeling the desired changes, building a strong top team, and getting personally involved. At the end of the 1980s when communism collapsed in Eastern Europe, one of the main questions facing the new national governments was how to transform their command economies to market economies. And years later, Central and Eastern European countries are still struggling to effect the desired transformation. It has become increasingly clear that leaders or champions are important components to successful policy and program development for transforming an organization. Very little results will happen if the champions don’t enroll themselves in the change management process.

Who is a Process Improvement Champion?

Process improvement champions are senior managers who initiate and support a project within their areas of responsibility. They determine the broad goals and the scope of projects. Other roles and responsibilities include:

  1. Reviewing process improvement projects
  2. Coaching and resolving people issues within and among teams
  3. Providing resources to team, both human and financial
  4. Coordinating with process owners to provide smooth hands off

In short, they provide positive action-oriented leadership to ensure that process improvement projects get across the goal line.

Based on a series of surveys and research with nearly a dozen executives over the last couple of years, it has been proved that there is no single model for success. Moreover, the exact nature of the process improvement champions' role will be influenced by the magnitude, urgency and nature of the transformation; the capabilities and failings of the organization; and the personal style of the leader.

Recipe of a Process Improvement Champion:

  1. Ability to envision, and translate it into reality—Strategic intelligence
  2. Espousing and enacting values—Culture building
  3. Alignment of business and social interests—Social relevance
  4. Teach others to be leaders as well—Decision making
  5. Develop and spread trust at all levels—Empowerment
  6. Developing win-win propositions with external partners—Teamwork
  7. Distinguishing timeless tenets (ideology, values etc.) from organizational practices and strategies

Being the complete process improvement champion requires more than diplomatic and warrior skill sets. Process improvement champions must be proficient in four other areas:

  1. Business and operations interface
  2. Project selection
  3. Pace mediation
  4. Results implementation

So, before going any further in your day, take a moment and identify one thing you could do differently to claim the process improvement champion within.