Ergonomics done right.®
November 4th, 2008

Are your improvement initiatives all talk and no action?

Carmine Coyote at Slow Leadership recently highlighted  a blog post by Freek Vermeulen, an Associate Professor of Strategic Management at the London Business School, which pointed out that in reference to management strategies of the past 10-15 years (TQM, Six Sigma, Job Enlargement, etc.)…

"there's little or no hard evidence that they add anything to company performance" and "none of these techniques seemed to have produced any positive benefit on corporate results, despite containing what sometimes looked like little more than basic common sense".

To anyone that has worked for or with large organizations in the last decade, this should not be a surprise. The "flavor of the month" fails for one of two reasons:

  1. the initiative is slow to show results
  2. the initiative is not driven into the culture from the top down

Let me address the slowness factor first. In many situations, these management strategies involve initiation, definition, and completion of projects that may take weeks, months or even years to close. This long lead time, from initiation of the project to the point where tangible improvements are achieved is not cost effective nor does it contribute to a culture of improvement (were you ever sitting in your office and the landscaping crew starting working outside your window? In the beginning its distracting, but eventually it just fades into the background. Compare this to the continual drumbeat of the latest corporate initiative). Front line employees and senior management want the same thing, improvements and improvements now. Simply put, if you did something for weeks or years and you didn't see any results, would your heart be in it?

In terms of creating a culture, we all know what's important to your boss is important to you…the only way these types of initiatives work is when everyone has performance objectives associated with the plan from the top of the organization down to the foot soldiers, and what's more, they all understand their roles. This will not only drive completion of the tasks necessary for the strategy to be successful, but it is also the best way to create a culture in an organization where one currently does not exist.

A quote from Vermuelen's post really flushes out a key issue:

"Finally the piece-de-resistance: The influence of the adoption of popular management techniques on a CEO's compensation package (salary and bonus)…Yep, you guessed it, and the effects were very strong. If a CEO's firm adopted one of the popular management techniques, his compensation went up."

What Vermuelen found was that the mere appearance of one of these popular programs was enough to give the CEO credibility with investors and the Board of Directors that would merit higher pay. No results, just the effort. Is it any wonder why these programs fail?

Lastly, Carmine Coyote noted, "what all fashionable management fads and techniques seem to have in common is that they promise a quick fix based on a simple recipe"

Unfortunately, too often, the recipe looks a lot better than it actually tastes. All powerpoint, no results.