A recent conversation reminds me of a common blind spot for improvement teams: getting so caught up in implementation that they lose focus on creating lasting change.
His cross-functional improvement team was charged with driving out unnecessary costs in the operation. The task seemed straightforward: use data to find opportunities for making better spending decisions, and improve related processes. The team got straight to work, quickly finding significant savings just by looking at spending more closely, and tightening controls where needed.
Having had the initial success, the team leader asked me, “Now what?”
The trouble is, as a strategic initiative, the team’s objective was not to conduct a one-time spending hunt, nor was it meant to be a permanent team. The objective was to create lasting change in the organization. They had been so busy working to attain the goal on their own that they lost sight of the true purpose of the team.
Achieving a one-time result is fairly easy with a team that’s dedicated to achieving that goal. But achieving something once doesn’t change anything. If the team stops working on it, then the result goes away.
I too ran into this issue when I was an internal change agent earlier in my career. One of our strategic objectives was to foster innovation, and a key goal was to increase the number of ideas from employees. As the leader of the program, I assembled a team from across the organization, and within a year, we had increased the number of ideas by a factor of nine. But the improvement was all due to the team’s activity. Once we realized that we had achieved our goal but hadn’t implemented change, we had to modify our approach to embed the change into the fabric of the organization.
Has your team fallen into the same trap? The test is easy. Just ask yourselves: Is the activity of the team required for the ongoing success of the project? If the team went away, would the results fizzle out because no one else has adopted the change? If the team is the only thing keeping it going, then it’s time to step back and look at what it would take to embed the change into the organization.
His improvement team was off to a great start. They discovered an approach that works. Now it was time to transfer that learning to the rest of the organization, so everyone can have a hand in achieving even bigger — and more lasting — results.