Published on March 1, 2014
Nine critical roles of top management in improvement programs By Anirban Mazumdar, Valcon The success of the improvement programs, in most organisations, not only impacts their competitiveness but in many cases also their survival. In many organisations, programs like operational excellence, lean transformation, process re-engineering, cost reduction, etc. are launched with lot of fanfare but sadly, they either die an unnatural death after some time or become painfully slow. A lot of care is taken to roll out projects and initiatives across the organisation and high expectations set from the working teams. However, what normally do not get focused upon are the critical roles that the top management needs to play to ensure success of such programs. While the intent and objectives of these programs are in place, not being able to support such programs with the appropriate policy and procedural changes is one of the key reasons for failure or subsequent slowdown – across many organisations. It is the top management’s responsibility to effect those changes in policies and procedures while such programs are being run in the organisation. Here are nine such critical roles that the top management needs to be play to ensure success of such transformational programs. 1. Create the right vision This is not the organisational vision. This has to be crafted by the top management for the improvement journey and entails the overall objectives and timelines clearly. Articulating this vision and communicating it ensures that the employees understand the purpose of the journey as also that the objectives and targets motivate the teams. Conversely, absence of a clear vision could lead to mis-aligned initiatives as also ‘dull moments’ during the journey when next targets are not clearly known. ABOUT ANIRBAN MAZUMDAR Anirban Mazumdar is an Associate Director within Valcon Management Consultants and operates from the Gurgaon office in India. CONTACT Anirban Mazumdar could be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT VALCON Valcon is a consulting company with Scandinavian roots and a global reach. Valcon’s local presence and insights currently cover Denmark, Sweden, Norway, India, China and Eastern Europe. In India, Valcon has offices in Chennai, Gurgaon and Bangalore. Valcon helps in managing both strategic and operational challenges to growth, efficiency, innovation, globalization and transparency. Valcon works with companies in improving their supply chain and operational performance in the areas of supplier development, procurement, manufacturing, distribution and sales processes. 2. Set the right improvement team structure There could be a need for subtle re-structuring of many teams along ‘routine’ and ‘improvement’ oriented tasks/objectives. 10-15% of the team strength may need to totally focus on improvement with few routine jobs and the rest focuses on routine with few improvement objectives. Also, in many improvement journeys, cross-functional teams would play a key role in delivering success. It is important, therefore, that the right kinds of teams are formed for driving the initiatives. These types of structures are not usual and the top management needs to play a key role in guiding the structuring. 3. Align the KRAs and KPIs KRAs/KPI of the individuals and teams need to incorporate the improvement goals. Again, for the identified 10-15%, 90% KRA should be on improvement and 10% on routines and the opposite for other group. In many organisations, the teams and members may not be used to having ‘improvement targets’ as part of the KRAs and the top management support may be required to implement them. After all, what gets measured, gets improved. 4. Establish the right review mechanism An appropriate review mechanism is a must to ensure proper monitoring of the improvements regularly. This would involve identifying and establishing the right review structure, identifying ‘what needs to be reviewed’, and defining the review frequency While establishing the review structure, it has to be ensured that the competence of reviewing teams at various levels is appropriate. In many cases, when the reviewing team is not competent to review the improvement initiatives, it leaves the working teams more frustrated than motivated. ‘What needs to be reviewed’ should only be reviewed. Over detailing in reviews can make the process boring while it should be ensured that the critical performance measures are not missed out. Design of appropriate benefit/ improvement trackers is important. The reviewing frequency should not only be decided but also adhered to strictly. Missing out on the review schedules or postponing them frequently would raise doubts about the seriousness of senior management for the journey.
5. Ensure adequate resourcing In many cases, while the improvement objectives are handed over, the team members are not able to free themselves from regular jobs and it becomes an additional responsibility. The top management would need to ensure that the teams are adequately resourced. In the absence of this, over-stressing could lead to frustration and slowing down of the initiatives. The top management should also provide some authority to the teams for taking decisions regarding modifications and changes, including expenditures. This would ensure ownership getting developed in the teams. 6. Remove hurdles – prompt decisions Many challenging situations crop up during the improvement journeys which need the senior management involvement and prompt decisions. It is the top management’s imperative to not only identify such situations but also ensure prompt decisions to ensure their resolution. If the alacrity is not displayed by the top management, after some time it may find slow down in many areas with many ‘balls in its court’. There is a catch, however. Too much involvement would be detrimental. Wherever the resolution is possible at working levels, the top management should judiciously send it back to ensure that the teams do not get into the habit of ‘delegating upwards’. 7. Appropriate reward and recognition The reward policies of the organisation may need to be recast to identify and recognise improvements. These could be done in many ways like monetary rewards, share of benefits accrued, career benefits, public recognitions, etc. The organisation would need to frame the appropriate policy aligned to its culture. 8. Invest in skill development Most improvement initiatives would require new skills to be learnt by the employees at various levels. It is important that the top management considers this skill development as a necessary investment for ensuring success. Failure to upgrade skills of employees, where it is necessary, could lead to many dead-end situations in projects. 9. Periodic process walkthroughs Did someone say this is traditional and passé? Well, some techniques are forever. Nothing motivates the teams more than the senior management visiting their process and them getting to explain their improvements on the site. While doing this too frequently would dilute the impact, in the right frequency, this would create tremendous pride in the teams for their work and initiatives.
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