The Soft Side of Operational Excellence

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Operational excellence builds a strong foundation for profitable growth. Much energy is devoted to improve efficiency and productivity, modify processes and rules so employees could do their work faster, better and at a lower cost.

That’s only half of the solution. The other half is building an environment that fosters continuous improvement.

To cultivate a mindset where employees proactively seek optimized solutions, leaders need to be actively involved as well. There are three areas they could work on.

  1. Bandwidth for operations improvement

Most organizations pay little attention to operational excellence until a trigger stirs up a kerfuffle. In the midst of chaos, quick and adhoc fixes are adopted to appease customers or bypass a choke point.

Given that these triggers are inevitable, accumulation of adhoc fixes builds an intertwined mesh of operational processes. This mesh becomes very complicated quickly, fused by irrelevant rules and unnecessary procedures. Subsequently, contentions lead to divided teams and work silos.

To avoid firefighting and unconscious support of haphazard solutions, leaders need to allocate time for operations review. Just like designating time for innovation, the idea is applicable for operational excellence too.

By ensuring teams have the bandwidth to review and make operational improvements, time ought to be made available. Have teams designate time to review their processes and tools regularly. By doing so, concerns would be highlighted for correction.

  1. Bridges for collaboration

Cross-functional teams are used for projects. When employees across an organization are brought together, they share expertise and learnings. It provides a powerful forum to devise cohesive solutions and build alignment.

Siloed teams have myopic views of workflow. They might not fully understand the context of what is done upstream or what is needed downstream. As a result, they develop solutions that are catered to getting their tasks done, possibly creating unnecessary headaches for other areas.Siloed teams have myopic views of workflow. Share on X

A coherent operation requires collaboration. Leaders could help by promoting collaboration and facilitating the connections throughout the organization.

Promoting collaboration emphasizes the need and its importance. Facilitating the connections across the organization takes effort. This requires a solid understanding of operations to identify non-trivial needs. For instance, how best to support ‘knowledgeable’ customers when they shop in the store. What else do the sales staff need to know besides product knowledge to help customers with their purchase decisions?

Having a good handle on the peripheral knowledge for fulfilling operational mandates enables a leader facilitate collaboration. Whether it is a reminder, an initiation, or a strategic push, it is beneficial to involve appropriate teams and get them work together.

  1. Support for experimentation

Every change carries risks. It would be excellent if each change could deliver the exact anticipated benefits. Unfortunately, there is no guarantee.

In some organizations, failures could lead to demotion or firing. Such penalties discourage employees from bringing forward impactful ideas.

Establish an approach to identify, assess and mitigate risks instead. This would facilitate an open discussion on potential risks and ways to reduce negative impacts. This fosters a culture for experimentation.

When leaders are prepared to accept failure, learn, and move on, it sends a message that risks are inherent in change and failure is part of trialing new ways to do work. With a consistent approach to tackle risks, it becomes more malleable to be creative in improving operational excellence.

Successful businesses have coherent operations and cohesive teams that work together as a succinct unit. Operational excellence requires ongoing commitment to refine and hone adhoc solutions introduced over time. With leaders fully behind the need, a business could develop a well-coordinated operations engine.

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