Guest piece written by John Gilham
There are varied views and opinions as to why some transformation succeeds yet other transformation does not achieve the intended benefits. In this short article I would like to focus on one area which in my opinion is a critical factor to increasing the likelihood of process transformation delivering a successful outcome. That is the importance of engaging staff.
All businesses depend to varying degrees on the input from people. Whilst the level of dependency on people can vary to significant degrees they will tend to be involved at some stage or other. In my experience unless those people the majority of whom are likely to be staff are engaged and committed to delivering the intended outcomes of that business then there is an increased likelihood that the full benefits will not be achieved and the experience of the businesses service users will suffer .
If you accept this perspective then how do you successfully engage staff so that they can put all of their efforts into continuous service improvement thereby delivering on an ongoing basis the best outcome and experience for the businesses service users?
Answering this question and making the necessary changes to a business from my own experience is not as easy as some may think but making the required changes are essential to realising success and therefore is a worthwhile and critical investment for senior management to make.
With regards to what changes are necessary and need to be made I can only focus on a few in this short article. The ones I have chosen to comment on and come from a presentation on this topic are those which I have found to be some of the most important to achieving increased engagement. Firstly for staff to be engaged they need to have a clear vision of what they are required to do and the rationale for this to be understood. This depends on senior management visibility and true, two way dialogue and this also depends on the right language being consistently used supported by aligned messages.
Taking the above, I wish to share one example of how staff can be engaged or disengaged by the use of language. In a healthcare environment where clinicians see their main purpose and correctly so as provided quality care to patients then the use of the term CRES which in the 2000’s meant Cash Releasing Efficiency Savings resulted in a number of clinicians becoming disengaged from the task of working with managers to identify and introduce changes which would lead to financial savings whilst not undermining the quality of services.
A different approach using the same acronym did however achieve engagement. This came about from the work I did with my own senior team; including lead clinicians, looking at how we could improve care and its safety through adopting best practice and removing avoidable variation and waste, thereby improving cost efficiency. In this case the acronym CRES which was used in discussions with staff across the organisation but stood for: caring, reliable, effective, and safe.
As individuals will know making services more reliable will improve both their effectiveness and safety, and as things that are delivered right first time more often, then waste is removed, thereby delivering cash savings. Additionally customers experience will improve. As such, a focus by staff on this set of parameters which aligns with their own values not only assists with engagement but also creates a framework for their willingness to work differently.
As a failure to engage staff will potentially result in staff not being fully committing to the purpose of the business with the consequential results, it is important therefore that senior management ensures that even something as simple as the language used within the business is correct and aligned to its vision and values.
The second area I would like to briefly cover is that there needs to be recognition by senior management that achieving engagement and enabling delivery has implications on organisational design, structure, roles and starts at the top. Before looking at the implications on roles, I have now referred not only to engaging but enabling so I need to say a few words around this aspect. What I mean by engaged staff can be described as:
- Will be able to own their own work
- Are encouraged to identify problems
- Will experience skills development
- Have access to right tools and resources to manage problems and introduce improvements
- Will benefit from effective Team coaches
- Will see adaptable organisational design
As can be seen from the above, in my experience in order for staff to deliver transformation they must not only be engaged but they must be enabled which means having the skills, and the business framework within which to work unconstrained. They then need to be supported by senior management in order to deliver (and continue to change) the right service in the right way, at the right time.
Factors which I have found that can prevent staff from being enabled even once engaged is that they are asked to work in an organisational structure which is not designed to deliver the desired business outcomes; or they are not given the appropriate and required skills to be able, for example, to identify the root cause of a problem and then to define the appropriate solution or they are constrained by a culture or governance framework of control and command.
This leads me onto the issue of organisational design, structure and roles. Whilst CEO a few years ago and whilst using some external support to assist in the introduction of Lean Management Principles - the importance of senior management establishing the correct framework to enable staff to achieve process transformation was made clearer.
The following hopefully helps to summarise some of the main features required:
Recognition that achieving engagement and enabling delivery has implications on organisational roles and starts at the top;
- Shared vision
- Strategy to deliver vision
- Underpinning values and behaviours
- An organisational design that is fit to deliver strategy and not constrain it
- A management system to deliver the strategy and which incorporates the agreed values and behaviours
- A governance policy framework which enables and not constrains process transformation and delivery
Recognition that achieving engagement & enabling delivery has implications on organisational roles;
Visibility so as to:
- Mentor and encourage engagement; ideas generation and problem solving at staffs own level
- Move away from control and command to employee engagement
- Embed the right culture
Management of organisational resources so as to:
- Ensure agenda is manageable
- Increase likelihood of delivery by targeting resources – e.g. Through use of Programme Deployment/De-selection
- Provide the appropriate support and change system for staff to use to maximise delivery opportunities
In summary, the points above highlight the focus for the senior leadership team and how they should use their time to create the framework to support and enable process transformation thereby.
In trying to increase the likelihood of success, one of the key parts to this is for the senior leadership team to live by and embed the elements of the right culture. If one accepts that all business systems are unlikely to be ideal and without defect then successful process transformation is likely to depend on an environment where staff on a day to day basis are encouraged to report problems and defects so that systems can be improved. Unfortunately my experience has not always shown this to be the case. Can you for example ever remember being told ‘I don’t want to hear about any problems’ or ‘I only want to hear good news not bad news’.
For process transformation to succeed one of the roles of senior management therefore needs to be one of encouraging the reporting of errors, problems and defects and then underpinning this with a supporting work culture where staff are enabled to resolve these and not be blamed for them. Leadership from the very top of an organisation will be critical for this change in culture to be achieved and recognised. An example of this can be seen in the following where the wording also used, coming back to the point of language, helps to communicate the right message to all staff.
“No Problem is a Problem” - John Neil, Unipart Group.
In summary, in my experience delivering process improvement through process transformation depends on Staff Engagement which itself depends on Senior Leadership Working Differently & Enabling staff which itself depends for example on leaders:
- Establishing a clear vision & rationale
- Using consistently the right language
- Developing and embedding the right culture and
- Giving staff the correct skills aligned with an organisational design and management system fit for purpose.