Building Operations Excellence capability at all levels of your organisation
Best practices and common pitfalls
As Change Leaders we all appreciate the need to develop individuals and teams in different Improvement Methodologies to enable both transformational and incremental change.
Every Operations Excellence Programme has a learning element but what competences are we trying to develop in which roles?
I am regularly asked: 'What is the best training course for my improvement team to attend to help them deliver change within our business?' This is a relatively easy question for me to answer once I am aware of what their challenge is likely to be, the outcomes they are targeted with and the area of business they will be working in.
To deliver a successful Operations Excellence Programme, however, we need to think much broader about what capabilities we need to develop with which groups of employees and how we can create them. We also need to answer questions such as 'is standard Lean training appropriate at every level of my organisation?' and 'what are the most effective delivery methods for our own individuals to learn?'
I have been fortunate to witness many different learning programmes over the past 12 years and have identified elements of both best practice and common pitfalls.
In this article I summarise some key points to consider when designing an Operations Excellence Capability Building Programme, such as the competences you may be trying to develop, the learning delivery methods, standard vs bespoke material and the option of internal and external accreditation.
What competencies do you need to develop at each level of your organisation?
One key observation I have made across many Change Programmes is that there isn’t real clarity on what competencies need to be developed at each level of the organisation and consequently what should the individuals learn.
You will most probably agree that the competencies you are aiming to create should be different for different roles. Yet, it is not rare to see the exact same training content being delivered to individuals working at different levels of the organisation. Does this make sense and should we be surprised afterwards to receive some negative feedback from the learners themselves, saying they don’t feel the training was relevant to them and to their role? Probably not.
So which competencies should we target at each level of the organisation? Below are some of the typical capabilities you may want to develop for different role types:
Senior Leaders – Presenting the right behaviours and asking the right questions, supporting the change and removing barriers, creating and communicating the strategy.
Operations Managers & Team Leaders – Using effective day-to-day Continuous Improvement methods to drive service delivery e.g. effective huddles, using purposeful measures, use of a team performance board, process confirmation, capacity planning, coaching team members, etc.
Internal Improvement Team - Workshop Facilitation, Coaching others, End-to-End Lean Process Diagnosis and Design, Project Management, Stakeholder Management, Root-Cause Problem Solving, Data Analytics, etc.
Front Line Employees – Awareness of the different Continuous Improvement techniques, how they can practically be involved and influence day-to-day improvement, the benefits of Continuous Improvement to customers
Which delivery method(s) will best achieve these competencies?
In order to build the right capabilities across your organisations, you need to choose the most appropriate delivery methods. In other words, for the learning to be successful, you cannot just focus on the content, you also need to carefully choose the delivery methods based on your audience, timeframe, location and cost. Here are some of the key points to consider before you make a decision:
Classroom Training – This approach, although often over-used, is ideal for training Operations Excellence techniques to internal Improvement Practitioners as it gives them the upfront knowledge of the methodology and tools. Classroom training can also be very effective for teaching Operational Managers and Team Leaders the different Continuous Improvement techniques they can use in their work environment.
One word of caution though, classroom training also requires some planning so for practical purposes, it is not always possible to deliver a classic classroom training 'just in time', meaning that some people might not get the opportunity to use their new skills just after the training - and your organisation will not be able to capitalise on its investment as much. It is important that you don’t restrict yourself to classroom training:
'Learning' doesn’t just mean 'training'. There are many different learning delivery methods to consider and they could be more beneficial to your organisation and to your learners.
Face-to-Face / 1-2-1 Coaching - An approach which can unlock huge potential for individuals and allow people to understand where their current capabilities lie and where they need to develop further. Coaching ideally will be planned after workshops or training at different intervals for individuals to further their development and support practical use. I would recommend all individuals to seek personal coaching as this is appropriate at all levels.
'In my experience, effective coaching is uncommon and there are misconceptions of what coaching is. An effective coach will only use open questions for the coachee to define what they want to achieve, where they are now and what they need to do to improve.'
Facilitated Group Workshop – This is in my opinion an ideal approach for engaging Senior Leaders, agreeing how the group can lead Operations Excellence and devising the strategic objectives for the next 2-3 years. The best senior leaders workshops I have observed have included a ‘go and see‘ element of an area/organisation deemed as best practice. Classroom training with this audience is typically less effective as is less action-orientated.
E-learning – I have seen this delivery method grow considerably in the last 5 years. E-learning can be successful to create widespread awareness at a global level quickly and at a reasonable cost. I strongly believe in the benefits of giving access to this learning ‘just in time‘. For example if the learning was specifically on Root-Cause Problem Solving, the individual could access this just before attending a problem solving workshop with the added benefit that it will give the group of learners some common ground knowledge and get them in the right mindset even before the workshop starts, allowing for a more focussed and productive workshop.
E-learning has evolved so much over the last 10 years, that it is now possible to tailor the course to your exact needs, making it much easier to not only amend the content to make it highly practical and bespoke to your organisation, but also to make it fit within a wider learning approach.
Back to our example: your e-learning course could include a video recorded by a member of your organisation explaining the reason for the training, what is expected of the learners and how this online course is an important first step before the workshop. The aim here is to drive engagement and that is one of the main benefits of e-learning.
Although it is predominantly used for awareness level, it is interesting to note that now that it is possible to do much more from a development and design point of view, e-learning is also becoming a credible option for organisations who wish to develop their Change Practitioners using a work-based e-learning solution. The University of Buckingham’s online BSc in Operational Excellence is the first one of its kind in the world and is proving to be highly successful for the students who have enrolled on this degree.
E-learning does have limitations and it cannot be used as a complete replacement for all classroom training; it is in fact predominantly recommended for awareness level learning or for individuals learning alone. If you are looking for a delivery method that requires your students to discuss concepts as a group, or wish to give them the opportunity to ask a tutor live questions, then a face-to-face approach is better suited.
Mentoring – I have seen this method used successfully when there is an expert in a particular field able to give advice and direction to others.
'It is important to recognise that if we are fortunate to be an expert in our field, there are many disciplines we are not able to competently mentor although with coaching skills we can support others to develop themselves.'
In the subject of Operations Excellence, I am for example able to mentor Improvement Professionals on how to design an Operations Excellence Programme but I move to a coaching approach when supporting an Operational Manager to implement Operational Excellence in their working environment. The Operational Manager understands the day-to-day operations in their environment, but they are likely to need support to think about how new ways of working may improve performance in their service.
Finally, a common pitfall I have observed across many organisations is the lack of emphasis on coaching vs classroom training. Training helps us to build up knowledge but this in itself will not build competency.
'We are often guilty of sending individuals on a training course and then expecting them to work differently the following week.'
An ideal ratio for supported time for a change practitioner for example could be 80% coaching and 20% training. Unfortunately it is not uncommon to see the ratio flipped the other way, to the detriment of the learner and their organisation.
Is using bespoke material worth the investment?
There is typically a cost benefit to using industry standard training materials vs having bespoke materials for your organisation, but will you always benefit as much from industry standard training materials and is it worth investing your time and budget in more bespoke materials?
In my experience, the answer mainly depends on who the audience is. Training for Operations Managers and Team Leaders should be strongly focused on specifically what the individuals will be practicing in the workplace. For example, how to create purposeful measures in their environment or how to facilitate an effective huddle. For this reason, it is usually more effective to create bespoke materials.
For Improvement Team Practitioners there is often a benefit to attend industry standard training away from their organisation and learn new concepts which challenge their existing thinking. This can enable them to bring new learning to their organisation and expand their improvement tool kit. Learning from peers in other organisations is often very beneficial.
Tailoring a training course can be as simple as branding your materials with your organisation’s logo etc. In which case, depending on the course objectives, e-learning can be a good option as it will allow you to use a more off-the-shelf solution, but still make it yours by keeping the language and branding consistent. Although this will increase the learning budget, it can still be a very cost effective solution vs classroom training.
Senior Leader workshops should be carefully designed and kept very relevant. In most circumstances, there are few opportunities to have dedicated time with Senior Leaders together so making a great impression is vital. The group agreeing a plan of action as an outcome is crucial.
Will an accreditation of competence add substantial value to your learners and to your organisation?
Having a recognised internal or external accreditation can motivate individuals to embrace the learning and achieve a level of competence. An external accreditation can help to benchmark individuals from other organisations and industries using a recognised standard. Cardiff University‘s Lean Competency System, would be a good example of this as it has qualifications from awareness to expert level.
Internal accreditations can also be very powerful in supporting the promotion of the right behaviours, and achieve a high level of interest. These are usually innovative accreditations with effective internal branding that help individuals by giving them a clear picture of where they currently are on their development journey, and also give them a sense of purpose. On the other hand however, the different colours of Six Sigma Belts seems to have caused confusion across industries with many organisations creating their own assessment criteria, making it difficult to benchmark different individuals outside of an organisation.
There appears to be different interest in different parts of the world in terms of focus on external accreditation. I work with Change teams all over the world and I have witnessed a particularly high interest in India and Poland for example on external Lean accreditation.
Whatever your requirements, be clear on how your capability development approach aligns with the competencies you are trying to develop at every level of your organisation. Bear in mind that the quality of the content taught has as much a role to play in the success of your capability development plan as the flexibility of the delivery methods you chose. One last word of advice: one size doesn’t always fit all so it is important that you keep an open mind as you will often find out that a blended approach to learning can be more efficient than focussing on a single methodology. Find out more about our operational excellence capability building solutions.