17 January 2012
Investigate the latest improvement fad
The term 'fad' is applied correctly to those activities or ideas that enjoy a short-lived popularity. Fads are not good because their negative impact is cumulative.
Each failed initiative raises the bar above which future improvement processes must rise to deliver lasting improvement. However, just because an approach has been around for a long time doesn't mean that it is effective. For example, for around 2,000 years blood-letting was a common medical practice for many ailments. Even once medical diagnosis showed blood-letting to be ineffective for all but very specific conditions, it was still used despite the evidence that it increased the risk of infection and extended the healing cycle.
Just as there are new continuous improvement fads, there are also continuous improvement ideas which have similar characteristics to blood-letting – monetary motivators, for example.
Evidence from a recent McKinsey study shows that not only is money the most expensive motivator, in fact it's the non-financial motivators (such as praise from bosses or an opportunity to get involved in important projects) that play a critical role in engaging employees to deliver corporate goals. What's more, non-financial motivators make people feel more valued – which is priceless. In the words of the song, 'Money can't buy you love' (or loyalty).
One of the reasons why managers turn to such simplistic 'transactional' solutions (financial incentives, training and IT systems), when what they really need are transformational solutions (engagement, skill development and collaboration), is their lack of detailed understanding of the frontline reality in their organisation. If all decision-makers experienced frontline reality first hand – like the executives who appeared on TV programme 'Back to the Floor' – they would see that the road blocks to engagement are usually caused by inconsistent or incomplete management practices. Interestingly, the latest improvement 'fads' include Management Standard Work and revisiting the TWI (Training Within Industry) concepts which proved so successful in improving manufacturing productivity during WWII. Both of these focus on improving the way managers manage – a fad worthy of further investigation.
Dennis McCarthy, director, DAK Consulting
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