No matter which business performance management and improvement (BPM&I) model you are thinking of/trying to implement in your organization (i.e. LEAN, the balanced scorecard, etc.), I have learned that there are three universally critical success factors you must put in place if you are going to get the transformational performance results you are hoping for. These include: (1) the specific tools and techniques associated with your selected methodology or model; (2) the aligned management structures and approaches, processes, resources, and infrastructure; and (3) an engaged workforce supported by an aligned, values-based culture.
Let’s take a closer look at each element in this trio of BPM&I essentials.
1. Specific Tools and Techniques
Every business performance management and improvement methodology has its own set of tools and techniques that contribute to organizational transformation and successful business results achievement. Regardless of the approach, these tools must be deployed fully if the model is going to be effective. Based on my experience implementing performance management and improvement approaches such as the balanced scorecard, the framework for business excellence (the Canadian version of the Baldrige Criteria), and business process re-engineering, I have learned that you run the real risk of overwhelming your organization if you try to introduce all of the tools associated with your selected methodology at once. Take it from me - you achieve greater success if you take a sort of “just in time” approach and deploy tools in direct response to a perceived business need. That is, as gaps and opportunities are identified, take the opportunity to introduce specific tools and bring them into play at just the right time. I have found this approach to be more effective because each new tool that is introduced to the organization ends up serving a visible business purpose and solving a real business problem.
Quite simply, this small change in approach significantly increases the chances that your new performance management and improvement model will be accepted and valued by business leaders and employees. And, by maximizing tool implementation and adoption, your organization will be better positioned to achieve the maximum benefits promised by your selected methodology.
2. Aligned Management Structures and Approaches, Processes, Resources, and Infrastructure
Every company is a self-contained “system” where a change in the way of doing things in one part of the business or system has an impact on other parts of the business. If the system isn’t primed for change, the part of the business that is attempting to change will face huge pressures to change back to the old way of doing things. This happens because change in one part of the business disturbs the balance of the entire system. Unbalanced systems naturally want to get back into balance at their old “set point” and the easiest way of doing this is to force the small change to change back to the way it was.
While many organizations choose incremental change over system-wide change (usually because incremental change tends to be perceived as less disruptive, less risky, and easier to implement), there is actually a big risk that incremental change will be stamped out before it gets a chance to gain a meaningful foothold in your organization – exactly for the reason I outlined above.
However, small scale, incremental change CAN be nurtured and sustained if the entire business system is properly prepared to accept, and begin accommodating to, a change in the one small part of the system. When you implement new management structures and approaches and the processes, resources, and infrastructure required to support whatever operational and/or organizational change you are trying to implement, incremental change in one part of your business stands a greater chance of survival. However, this can be a tricky challenge - success requires co-ordinated effort across your organization.
My biggest lesson? When your company wants to change the way it works, you’ve just got to implement the new management approaches and other supports required to sustain the small changes until a tipping point is reached, triggering massive cross-system change.
3. An Engaged Workforce Supported by an Aligned, Values-Based Culture
I see it over and over again - an organization’s people are often the biggest untapped resource it possesses. Successful companies recognize this and they know that an important element in implementing any business performance management and improvement methodology, and achieving high levels of business performance on an ongoing basis, is accessing the knowledge and wisdom of their employees. They do this in the simplest of ways – by engaging employees in two-way opportunity identification and idea generation dialogues, and problem-solving discussions, through a variety of methods that include face to face conversations and cross-functional exchanges. They actually get people talking with each other!
It’s important to realize, however, that all this dialogue can’t happen without a culture that values the input of employees in the successful operation of the business and gives everyone the permission to engage in thoughtful discussions and idea exchanges as part of their every day work. Successful companies instill, and live, by a set of core values that create exactly this environment.
Organizations that invest in cross-company conversations know that, rather than being a time-waster, these activities translate into greater organizational efficiencies and exceptional business performance. This is primarily achieved through an accelerated innovation curve, more aligned business decision making, better customer and market intelligence, and increased corporate agility in the face of change. However, besides these important benefits, there is an even more significant reason to make dialogue and conversation an essential element in the way your organization works.
One of the biggest concerns I hear from business leaders is the level of employee accountability in their organization. Organizational and employee accountability is essentially built on two things: (1) clearly defined expectations for performance that employees understand and are evaluated against and rewarded for; and (2) an environment where a dedication to action and follow through is built right into the culture. Building a culture of employee accountability is a worthy target for companies because it helps ensure that important business and customer activities get done. At the end of the day, better organizational and employee accountability translates into higher levels of customer satisfaction.
However, exceptional business results and profitable business growth require something more than customer satisfaction – it takes customer loyalty.
You need something more than accountability to create the conditions for customer loyalty – it takes caring and investment from your employees. This caring and investment is what drives your employees to go above and beyond and exceed expectations on a consistent basis. It turns out that accountability will only take you so far. In fact, if you want to achieve sustained organizational and business performance excellence, you need your employees to really become committed to your company and the work that they do to delivery value for both your organization and your customers. The best way to develop this level of commitment from your employees is for you as a business leader to commit yourself to fully engaging your employees in an ongoing process of developing and redeveloping your business processes, operations, and strategy via conversations and two-way dialogue.
To achieve the transformational business results and profitable business growth many companies are looking for, business leaders often turn to one or more of the various well known business performance management and improvement methodologies for help. Many investments in models such as LEAN or the balanced scorecard fail, or are sub-optimized, because of one critical mistake – focusing on tool deployment alone and thinking that that, on its own, is the key to success.
While tools and techniques are important, a focus on also deploying the other two members of the trio of BPM&I essentials is the only path to transformational results. In addition to tools, this triad includes the required supporting management structures and approaches, processes, resources, and infrastructure; and an engaged workforce operating in a values-based culture that enables employee participation and conversation, and facilitates a new way of thinking and behaving in relation to business performance management and improvement.
Essentially, this three pronged approach to business performance management and improvement represents an investment in both the “what” (the tools) and the “how” (supports, conversations, and culture) of implementing and using your selected methodology.
So - What’s the reward/return for your investment in the BPM triad?
That’s easy – higher levels of operational and organizational performance and customer loyalty, and, ultimately, breakthrough business results and sustainable business growth!