We invite you to view our Blog posts which contain many interesting articles relating to all aspects of Continuous Improvement. Our articles are contributed by authors with technical expertise in the fields of Lean & Six Sigma, change management, influencing skills and more.

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Are you a Lion or a Gazelle?

Lion and Gazelle

Lion and Gazelle

Successful business improvement initiatives do not just look after themselves, they need serious management commitment… Continue reading

Root Cause Analysis – how do you get it to work effectively? Part 4: Bringing it all together

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In this four part series of articles, I’ve explained some of the more well-known brands of root cause analysis and how these differ not just in approach but also in complexity.

Some of the techniques do need more expertise in administering them, and so lend themselves to being co-ordinated by more specialised job functions. Some are simpler techniques which are easy to learn and use – yet in my experience I’ve found all too often that these simpler techniques still don’t get used effectively, if at all by the ‘people in the process’. Continue reading

How do you get Root Cause Analysis to work effectively? – Part 3: C & E Analysis

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I discussed in part 2 of this series of Root Cause Analysis articles that 5-why analysis is a ‘deep and narrow’ approach to fixing immediate problems. In part 3 of this series of discussions I’d like to talk about a technique that’s better placed to resolve more complex issues, and especially where it’s necessary to explore multiple causes of failure, both real as well as potential. Continue reading

How do you get Root Cause Analysis to work effectively? – Part 2: 5-why analysis

 

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The 5-Why technique was developed by Sakichi Toyoda within the Toyota Motor Corporation and it quickly became a hugely effective root cause analysis tool throughout Toyota and beyond. Taiichi Ohno, who developed the Toyota Production System described 5-Why as “the basis of Toyota’s scientific approach”. Continue reading

How do you get Root Cause Analysis to work effectively? – Part 1: A bit of background

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There are numerous logical techniques that have been developed over the years to help us identify the relationships between process and system failure and their root causes. These range from basic techniques to more complex analytical approaches. Continue reading

What makes the world’s #1 Customer Experience brands?

1-cx-brandsAs I quite literally travel the world talking, listening and working with individuals and organisations who have an interest in Customer Experience, I am regularly asked who the world’s ‘best’ Customer Experience brands are. ‘Who is good at CX?’ is a pretty typical question. It is a good question to ask and one that I can most certainly answer ‘in my opinion’. However, having been asked the question so many times, rather than me just citing my opinion, I thought I would go a significant step further and ask as many people as possible for their opinions. Continue reading

What impedes the success of innovation and supply chain improvement programme implementation?

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Company culture can often have a silo mentality that can manifest itself in varying degrees of a “them and us” attitude.  These silos often occur, not only within the company, but with a company’s suppliers and customers.  These silos can lead to a failure to recognise the importance of value-stream execution, by not allowing for the realization that the silos have more in common, and need each other more, so they can achieve more across the whole value stream, than can be achieved within the various functional silos.  Continue reading

The cost of the ‘Big ego’

Last night was one of those rare occasions when I managed to switch off and try anaesthetise myself in front of the TV. In actual fact I was a reluctant audience as the programme I was subjected to was something my wife likes watching. You know, one of those ‘fly on the wall’ programmes about people who are having some sort of problems and some ‘expert’ who descends to help fix them (mercifully  it wasn’t yet another of those endless string of cooking programmes). On this occasion it was Alex Polizzi in the guise of “The Fixer”. I was quietly impressed with her approach on her venture to help a business owner put fresh life into a business that had all but consumed his own ‘raison d’être’.

I was passively interested in this story because it focussed on someone who had a very organised mind, in fact his background was originally in the military and it showed through in ways I all too often see in my business travels – someone blinkered in their own paradigm of how a business has to run. I was genuinely feeling emotional about this person – as a person I felt he didn’t deserve to be in the trap he was in, even though it was clear that he was indeed part of the problem – but as is all too often the case wasn’t able to see it. And I suspect he probably never had the time, opportunity or inclination in the past to be able to learn from others.

What really was the ‘hook’ for me in this programme though was the mention of just four, very appropriate words uttered by Alex – The cost of ego. I couldn’t let go of this one comment and it’s been playing on my mind ever since. To the point that I thought I really must exorcise this demon and share this concept because it really is an interesting phenomenon that we should perhaps take more notice of.

Back in 2007, David Marcum and Steven Smith published a book called egonomics – what makes our greatest asset (or most expensive liability) if you can get hold of a copy I would thoroughly recommend it.

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They state in their work that fifty-three percent of businesspeople estimate ‘ego’ costs their organisations between six to fifteen percent of annual revenue. Moreso, twenty-one percent say this cost ranges from sixteen to twenty percent! Putting that into perspective that would translate to over $1bn for the average Fortune 500 company in the US or, the equivalent of what the average Fortune 500 company realises in annual profit. Frightening, yes?

Many years ago, the esteemed psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a theory of self-actualisation based on a hierarchy of needs. I think it draws interesting parallels to what Marcum and Smith speak of in egonomics. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs alludes to the fact we build up our character from basic instinct, then through social interaction, leading to a state of self-actualisation – a place where our ‘egos’ can start to dominate – for better or for worse.

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Although Maslow’s hierarchy of needs draws out the positive aspects of self-actualisation, as always there are two sides to the human condition aren’t there, and the balance of nurturing and social interaction that we are ‘permitted’ to experience during our development essentially has to have a marked impact on where our self-actualisation actually takes us. Sometimes our egos can get out of control, almost inevitably without us even realising it.

We typically associate ‘ego’ with negative attributes such as arrogance, self-interest, inability to listen, defensiveness and conceitedness. ‘Big’ egos apparently can get in the way of progress. Yet we all have to culture some degree of ego to drive our ambitions – ego is in fact an important attribute to have. So degrees of ego could really be considered a continuum which can range from having a well-balanced and effective decision making character right through to megalomaniac tendencies! In business, megalomania isn’t a good attribute.

So what are the warning signs we need to observe to avoid the ‘dark side’ of the continuum? Marcum and Smith’s research, which took them more than five years to develop, draws our attention to the ‘cost of ego’ influenced specifically by a number of negative characteristics we sometimes experience in the workplace – recognise any of them?

  • Hearing but not listening
  • Me-first
  • Only the ‘right’ people can have good ideas
  • Inability to challenge the status quo
  • Inability to speak candidly within a group
  • Hiding failure
  • Rule and divide – silo mentality
  • Fear of being seen to make mistakes

A successful organisation has to be populated with talented people – at all levels – who must strive to avoid these tendencies for it to stay healthy, progressive and profitable.

The trouble with overblown ego is that it can be good at hiding behind apparently positive attributes. Successful positive management ‘strengths’ could be characterised as being charismatic and dedicated to the cause while projecting an optimism in delivering these. Possessing a healthy ego will promote a healthy return, but consider what can happen if ego gets out of hand and becomes self-centric:

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Dr. Paul Nutt of Ohio State University spent more than twenty years researching hundreds of organisations looking for underlying patterns for why businesses fail, publishing his results in 2002 (See Why Decisions Fail – avoiding the blunders and traps that lead to debacles). He found that fifty percent of decisions fail for just three key reasons:

  1. More than one third of all failed businesses are ‘driven’ by ego
  2. Nearly two thirds of executives never explore alternatives once their mind is set
  3. Eighty one percent of managers push their decisions through by persuasion or authority rather than by the relevance of their ideas

Sadly, egocentric behaviour is hardest to see by those suffering from it – yet it is the most obvious to those around them. According to the research in egonomics, more than sixty percent of businesspeople say that ego negatively impacts work performance on a regular basis, while an additional thirty-one percent state egos impact business decisions weekly.

So how can we ‘tame’ egocentric behaviour? Well there must fundamentally be two participants in any solution. Irrespective of the consequences, it is essential that egotistic behaviour is confronted by bringing it to the attention of the perpetrator. Easier said than done perhaps, but there are ways which can be taught to do this, and in reality most people will be thankful in the long run of knowing how they are really perceived. So we owe it to our colleagues as well as our organisations to be open and honest about how we interact.

An egotist can’t change unless they know there are better ways to interact. Once there is awareness, there can be acknowledgement. And then behaviour can be modified.

There are three key attributes that can effectively control egos – humility, curiosity and veracity. And humility is the ultimate key that tempers our ego towards effective behaviour. There is no disgrace in humbly acknowledging the contributions of others – it is actually perceived as a strength in its own right. Not to be confused with defeat, humility projects an ability to be open-minded which releases more potential into the decision making process.

Curiosity then plays its part to explore alternatives and validate those ideas that work best for the organisation as a whole.

Veracity is the ability to relentlessly pursue the truth, however it is perceived and uses that truth to drive our decisions in the right direction – even in the face of adversity.

So, be humble then, listen to others and let your curiosity explore the alternatives.

And what was the outcome for our poor business owner? Was he an egomaniac? Well, actually I don’t think so at all, even though he clearly displayed some of the more prominent signs of a big ego. All he needed was a reality check. In typical cringe-worthy manner that these programmes include for dramatic effect, our unsuspecting victim was made to attend a strategic meeting with Alex on the gloomy premises of a business chain that had already recently failed. Not subtle, but a real eye opener. And this did indeed trigger a genuine inward look resulting in some really satisfying business decisions with that ‘happily ever after’ outcome he deserved.

There’s an old saying in the north of England where I come from ‘there’s nowt so queer as folk except for thee and me, and even thee’s a little queer’ (actually its roots are Welsh). Re-stated in modern parlance ‘theres nothing as strange as people’. How true, but wouldn’t life be boring if it wasn’t.

 

 

 

Sustaining change – people and solutions

Recent articles, have introduced the concept of a model to help drive sustained business change, with the foundations for change within organisations being people, processes and systems.  All 3 elements interact and overlap; therefore it is essential that balance is achieved in order for change to be sustainable and to really deliver the desired breakthrough in business performance. Continue reading

Sustaining change – Setting direction and creating alignment

In a recent article, I introduced the concept of a model to help drive sustained business change, with the foundations for change within organisations being people, processes and systems.  All 3 elements interact and overlap; therefore it is essential that balance is achieved in order for change to stick.  Development of the organisation’s ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills can vastly improve the likelihood of change that is tangible and sustained. Continue reading