Making Time - How to Change your Process DNA

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Jeff Cole

Good time management is essential to any change initiative, but how can you change if you simply don’t have the time? This month, columnist Jeff Cole reveals two simple solutions to create value-added time and how to "pay yourself first" within process improvement.

Have you ever noticed that some changes are no big deal? Right lane is closed so I’ll move to the left lane. We do it unconsciously and frequently. Heck, we wouldn’t survive if we didn’t. Other changes are so massive they make you want to sleep on the couch and pretend it isn’t real. What do you mean my mother-in-law is moving in???

This may seem counter-intuitive, but a lot of personal behavioral change happens in an instant. Granted it may take a very long time for you to get ready for that moment, but the change happens in a nanosecond. Say you stopped smoking or started exercising. There comes a moment when a mental switch is flipped and it’s locked into your core memory – it’s part of the DNA of your identity: "I am now a non-smoker", "I am a person who exercises three times a week no matter what". The journey to get to that moment takes a varying amount of time for each person.

The same applies to business process change. If people aren’t following your new process it’s due to either ability (I don’t know how) or willingness (I can follow your process but choose not to). For the latter group, the switch has not yet been flipped. Willingness issues often mascaraed as ability issues and the following phrases are passed around faster than hot wings at a Super Bowl party: "I don’t have the time", "I’m spread too thin", and "I have a pretty full plate"… Guess what? Real life is complex, unfair, and fluid. In the actual combat conditions of your office every day there may never be a "perfect" time to change. The brilliant process you designed will be perceived as just another of the 154 distractions the workers in your organization will see this week (or maybe today).

If you’re looking for praise, the process improvement business may not be for you. (Print your flowchart and give it to your mom. She’ll tape it to her fridge and give you a hug. Your co-workers? Not so much.) If you’re looking for results, we need to hit the willingness issues – specifically, the "I don’t have time" portion head-on. Here are some tips:

#1: N.E.T.

CEO consultant (and former infomercial king) Tony Robbins has an interesting approach to personal change he calls "NET" – No Extra Time. That’s his code words for you being able to complete his audio programs while driving in the car, exercising, ironing your shirts, etc. Time that traditionally was considered non-value added "down time" that can be used to multi-task a value-added activity. How can we leverage that approach into business process change? A few ideas:

· Can you break your process training into smaller chunks in multiple formats (video, audio, print, etc.)?

· Can you make it exceedingly easy to obtain and follow the new process (while simultaneously making it inconvenient and hard to follow the old process)?

· Can you make the new process information "omnipresent" so everywhere people look they’re seeing it?

· Can you incorporate some kind of "Wow" factor into the new process that will create a buzz or pull demand for the information?

#2: Pay Yourself First

Sometimes business process change doesn’t lend itself to doing it 2 minutes at a time (such as a 6-month long Black Belt project). In this case, we can learn something from our financial planners. Almost every successful investment advisor tells you to "pay yourself first" when planning for retirement. What does that mean? If you automatically deduct, say 10% of your paycheck into a 401-k, you’ll never see that money and thus never miss it. People who take their whole pay amount and rely on their discipline to put aside 10% after the fact tend to fail as often as they succeed in keeping to that plan.

In this case we’re talking about your time. Would you consider showing up for a key meeting with your CEO and clients unshaven and in your pajamas? Hopefully not (but if you answered "yes" please contact me – I’d like to meet you). Getting ready for work is something we all do automatically– it’s not optional – we must do it. When you move something mentally from a "could do" to a "must do" you are paying yourself first.

Want to engage in process improvement? Pick a chunk of time and pay yourself first – establish a given block of time you navigate everything else around. It places it in the must-do column of your mental ledger. I advise placing it early in the week. Time management experts often advise to place those things you don’t want to do as first on your agenda (because the rest of the day feels wonderful when you are done – vs. dreading doing it and allowing the creative portion of your brain to go into hyper-overdrive generating ways to avoid it).

Happy improvements!