In an effort to make a difference in our business or organisations, continuous improvement is vital to make sure our systems keep supporting our mission. But how do we know how to pick the right battles? It is easy to complain about something, but often there is a lot more to it. Organisations, like people, settle into accepted procedures or patterns. This is especially true if a process is meeting a need, even if it appears clunky. But often this can miss key opportunities to improve efficiency, reduce frustration, and improve outcomes. So, when it comes to how to identify areas for improvement, there can be some obvious tell-tale signs.
Key symptoms of an opportunity often comes with phrases like, “we’ve always done it that way”. Even when there are regular complaints about specific systems. How many of us have complained about a bureaucratic process, or poor customer experience? But we often only see the tip of the iceberg. Systems are inherently complex, even in small businesses. There will be nuances that require understanding. It is not until we explore why things are done a certain way; do we discover the reasons. Understanding is the first step to work through when looking at opportunities for improvement.
But understanding takes involvement and analysis, which takes critical thinking. But if something is worth the energy complaining about then it is your obligation to understand it. If a process or function often gets raised in this way by others, then it perhaps warrants a discussion. Get the people involved in the system to help you understand the nature, and give context to the complaints.
What to learn more about critical thinking? See our article here.
It is unlikely you have control over all the systems and processes in your organisation. But you do have a choice. Mindlessly accepting something because it has “always been done a certain way” is accepting mediocrity. All managers have an obligation to help organisations function better. Systems should contribute to the success of a businesses mission, not constrain it. Taking time to understand the rationale behind why things are done a certain way will give you better insights into how the organisation runs. It will also improve your work relationships. But better yet, you might just strike gold and all find an opportunity for improvement.
Identify one system for improvement at a time where this can have a significant positive impact. That is because it takes an even deeper look and commitment from you. You will also need to rally support and effort from other stakeholders.
The following questions will help identify what to focus on: -
- People: Are the right people doing the work? Do they have the necessary skills and doing the right work to support it? Are all the roles identified and filled to succeed? What do people receive in terms of rewards and recognition and does this support the desired outcomes?
- Process: All roles are clearly identified, filled, and resourced? Are the right decisions being made at the appropriate time? Are there any steps that can occur in parallel rather than sequential?
- Tools: Does the team have the most efficient tools and technology to reduce time, human error, or potentially automate some steps?
- Culture: Are people nervous about their role so making extra work for themselves? Is there sufficient trust and communication to enable people to make decisions close to where the work happens? How open are people to change, and what do you need to do to alay fears?