Earlier this year, President Obama asked the citizens of the United States to help him decide which of four improvement project finalists should get the opportunity to present their project and its impact on the US federal budget directly to him. Have a read of what they are here and you may be surprised that none of them are particularly groundbreaking.
Some of you may think this an unusual step, others of you will already be thinking “what a great idea!”. So to help both schools of thought, let’s unpick this a little bit more and see what leadership lessons we can uncover from similar approaches in our own organisations.
Firstly, the concept in its entirety: Can you imagine a situation in which your whole organisation (and even your customers and suppliers if you’re ready for the next step) have the opportunity to suggest improvements to your products, services and processes? Taking a Kaizen approach towards change in everything that you do, including everyone, everyday with the goal of doing all things better today than the way that you did them yesterday. Building improvement into the culture of your organisation in such a way that it becomes a way of life rather than a flavour of the month, fully supported by leaders, managers and employees at all levels of your business.
Secondly, the benefits: Can you begin to count up the benefits to your customers, your supply chain, to your employees, to your bottom line when everyone is focussed on making things better in especially “the small things” (as well as some of the “big things”). I wrote a tip last year call “A Pound a Day” in which I outlined the benefits to organisations large and small when everyone saves literally one Pound, one Euro, one Dollar a day. The potential impact to your bottom line is massive! And it doesn’t always have to be about money, similar benefits accrue when you are looking at saving time (increasing your opportunity to do more with the same resource) or at adding revenue.
Thirdly, recognition: So often we fail to celebrate even the smallest of wins more frequently saving praise and reward for those who have had massive impact or who have completed high profile projects. And that’s not always the best way is it? Do you ignore your toddler until they can walk the whole length of the living room unaided? Would you deride a partner or friend who’s trying to get fit until they can run a marathon?
So why do most leaders ration recognition for those bigger projects? Maybe now is the time to break that paradigm and to consider the big effect it has on employee morale and engagement.
Finally, reward: It doesn’t have to be monetary. It doesn’t have to be all razzamatazz. It doesn’t have to be over the top. Some teams and individuals will be happy with just a simple “thank you”. Some will find reward enough in presenting their ideas and progress and having you listen and ask them some great questions. Move away from the “money = motivation” school of thinking, we know it doesn’t work most of the time so lean towards simpler ways that are more heartfelt, meaningful and full of respect.
So what’s your call to action this week?
1. If you’re not focussed on improvement, get focussed. And if you’re not sure how to then call me now.
2. Re-read my earlier tip “A Pound a Day” and make an estimate of the potential benefits of improvement within your own work, that of your team, your site, your whole organisation.
3. Stop recognising only the big impact, high profile projects and improvements from today. Or pat yourself on the back if you’re already celebrating the small wins.
4. Evaluate the impact of your rewards strategy to date. Has it truly supported a culture of change? Are you still having to push and pull projects through to completion? Have you changed strategy again because you still haven’t got the results you were looking for? Stop what isn’t working and make a list of the alternative ways that you can both recognise and reward you employees and teams.
5. Share your thoughts with me directly by email or by commenting on this tip online.