Are you wasting human potential in your processes?

Are we spending too much time improving the technical elements of a process and missing a significant opportunity in optimizing the human potential in processes?

At a recent conference, someone commented that the largest investment that most organizations make is in human capital yet when we try to transform our operating environment to improve performance, we often fail to fully tap into the human potential of our team members. Instead, we focus on compliance to an improved process.

Indeed, when analyzing the balance sheet of most organizations, particularly in the service and knowledge work sectors, we’ll find that payroll costs typically account for one of the top two investments, reinforcing the first part of this statement.

The second part of this statement proposes that through most improvement approaches, the focus is on creating a solution which we then implement while focusing on adherence and compliance rather than (1) institutionalizing an improvement "discovery" approach and (2) focusing on driving employee engagement by unleashing each team member’s passion to drive continuous improvement against a common process goal.

Are you wasting human potential in your process improvement efforts?

I would assert that most common improvement approaches are focused on leveraging experts to define an improved state. While in some cases team members may be involved, we aren’t sufficiently leveraging these opportunities to involve them in a true continuous improvement process while aligning them to the end customer outcome. While there is a demonstrated impact on the change process, we aren’t maximizing the lift on employee engagement. More importantly, it doesn’t fully leverage the passion and talent of team members to continuously drive improvements.

The correlation between employee engagement and business outcomes has been very well established in numerous articles and case studies. Over the years, I’ve personally seen numerous cases where a joint focus on process improvement and employee engagement has driven outcomes that are well beyond the reach of traditional process improvement.

While we don’t often consider "soft" disciplines such as Organizational Development to be core to process excellence, I believe that it adds an extra dimension that, if cleverly combined with more traditional process excellence approaches (Lean, Six Sigma, etc.), would significantly increase business impact.

As an example, one might:

  • Put greater emphasis on engaging more team members through collaborative problem solving activities;
  • Push beyond a project-focused approach to improvements and start embedding problem solving techniques into daily continuous improvement coaching, tapping into the critical thinking of all team members;
  • Build leadership capabilities to shift towards a "tight on outcomes but loose on approaches" leadership style to give team members more autonomy in creatively solving challenges;
  • Increasing team member autonomy while creating tighter visibility on the end to end process;
  • Focus on breaking down organizational boundaries through facilitated cross-functional improvement sessions, process orientations/"gemba walks" at all levels, aligning core process performance indicators and focused interventions to break organizational barriers.

These types of leadership approaches focus on organizational alignment against the process outcomes and result in increased end-to-end collaboration across the business.

In my experience, achieving this cross-silo collaboration is one of the most challenging obstacles in knowledge work processes.

Additionally, this approach pushes process improvement teams to take joint accountability for employee engagement outcomes, particularly as they pertain to questions around tools, work processes and questions around whether "my opinion counts".

What has been your experience in unleashing the passion and talents of your team members across an end-to-end process?