How do you Change Firefighting Routine into Continuous Improvement Culture?

Following question was posted in LinkedIN Group “Operation Management in Practice”.

<Start>How can you change a culture from “Firefighting” to every employee looking for ways to improve tomorrow?

Can you give ideas that you have used to motivate employees to look at their process for innovations and productivity changes? Can you also mention the most important part; executing them! Thanks for your input.<end>

Like ‘Firefighting’ the word, that is taken as a given thing and more so during these uncertain and ever changing times, above question question keeps riveting in management discussions. I therefore, thought to explain it a bit for everybody’s benefit on how some of my clients have been able to do this remarkably well. The fundamentals are deep rooted in psychology and management science, but i am not going into real fundamentals. As asked, I will give the execution aspects. Try to read it in logical fashion from top to bottom.

<start>

First indication of employee feeling ‘motivated’  takes place when they look forward to come to work everyday. This happens when they go home everyday, feeling that they have achieved something that day. They must not only achieve something for themselves during the day but also must feel that what they do on the day contributes to the progress of the company as well. This aligns individual motivation, progress and company’s progress towards its goals. The progress made everyday by the employee is actually reflected into the ‘improvement’ we talk often at Organizational levels.

Now, the most most important part in this alignment between organizations improvement and the progress an employee makes, happens only when there is an unambiguous, simple and single priority system that aligns the organization (employees) to common goal. Which means that the measurements at each levels and functions, are linked back to back to the goal of the company.This must avoid conflicting way of measuring different building blocks of the organization, (example: measuring purchasing department by cost of  purchased items, operations by throughput, maintenance by energy saving, HR by Empoyee cost…).

The ‘Firefighting’ takes place because there are too many things that every one wants to handle at one moment. However, if one looks into these things (tasks), one would realize that a vast majority of cases 1. Tasks which are not required now are done NOW. 2.Tasks which are required NOW are done later. Now as one moves forward, there is often clashes in priorities and people tend to switch between task too often, switching between tasks leads to “Bad” multitasking, which is manifested as Firefighting. “Bad” multitasking (read switching between tasks) leads to delays in most of the tasks and leads to failure in commitment. This is what is manifested as poor execution.

Now to improve execution and therefore, to achieve our objective of achieving motivated employees to make improvements; following 3 steps are needed:

1.Have a mechanism to avoid doing things which is not required NOW.

2. Have a single priority system that guides employees (as well as functions and subfunctions) on what is the most important thing to do now (e.g. set urgency levels of different tasks, activities or projects based on due date or commitment made to end customer).

3. Have a focused mechanism to identify and  deal with disruptions and blockers of task movements. Once, only the tasks that are valid to be executed are identified, and then they are prioritized, they will often face disruptions in their execution. Organizations must provide  system, process and tools to facilitate dealing with these disruptions and flow blockers. Effectively dealing with disruptions which could be due to assignable reasons (e.g. supply disruptions, machne breakdown etc.) or due to systemic reasons ( a bad policy), by collaborating with employee will build a process of ongoing improvement (while reduce Firefighting dramatically). And you would be surprised to find how capacity of your system improves and simultaneously how cost effective your organization becomes.

We have found these three principles very effective in small as well large organizations. Actually, these principles are based on management philosophy like, Lean, Agile Processes, Theory of Constraints, that are key to Operation Excellence. Here is a good link you may find useful.

TOC for Smart Opertations.

My apology for this link pertains to manufacturing industry, but i promise to get another one for service operations, very soon.

wish you happy reading.




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