If George Orwell looked at critical factors for the success of operational excellence efforts, he might say, “All factors are equal, but some factors are more equal than others.” One of those more equal requirements for OpEx success is leadership alignment or buy-in.
The Process Excellence Network 2015 Nordics Week described stakeholder buy-in as “the fundamental supporting pillar to a successful process excellence project.”
Of course, this realization of the importance of stakeholder commitment isn’t unique to the OpEx world. The PMP community recently recognized the critical nature of alignment by adding the new knowledge area of Project Stakeholder Management in the PMBOK® Guide 5th Edition.
In fact, a fundamental truth in most aspects of work and life is that if those who control the resources don’t feel committed to projects, the projects won’t happen. Once we recognize that stakeholder alignment is critical, we can apply a standard work approach to achieving alignment.
Start by identifying OpEx stakeholders
Stakeholders go beyond hierarchical OpEx organizational roles. The stakeholders for the OpEx strategy are the people anywhere in the organization who can impact or will be impacted by OpEx work.
1. Business leaders
They provide the strategy and resources, especially funding, for the overall organization, including OpEx. They need to understand how the OpEx strategy aligns with the business strategy and provides organizational ROI so they can provide top-down commitment.
2. Operational and functional leaders
They need to integrate OpEx tactical plans into their ongoing and future efforts. They need to remove barriers to implementation and leverage improvements as OpEx gains are achieved.
3. Workforce leaders
They need to understand how employees will contribute to the OpEx work and be impacted. These may be union representatives or workplace change agents. Once stakeholders are identified, the stakeholder management process can begin. General and President Dwight Eisenhower used the Eisenhower Matrix as a simple and effective method for prioritizing tasks by urgency and importance. Use a similar approach to characterize the level of impact on and resistance to OpEx success that specific stakeholders are likely to have. Assign these individuals or groups to the appropriate quadrants identifying the level of engagement needed.
Think about root causes for resistance
Resist the urge to jump into engagement before doing some good process work on potential problem analysis. When stakeholders apply their WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) thinking, they may come up with issues that will cause them to be resistant. Brainstorm these root causes and come up with solutions so that you can be proactive in allaying fears.
For example, OpEx process efforts frequently improve quality, efficiency, or cost, which can in turn cause “redundancies” in an organization.
Most people don’t want to be made redundant. Most managers don’t want to see their budgets reduced. If you don’t have a plan for a smooth transition after improvements, stakeholders may balk at participation or even act dysfunctionally to cause failure.
Other common issues include a lack of understanding of OpEx terminology, processes, and relevance; a concern that the OpEx work will interfere with the normal business operation; a scepticism that this OpEx work will be sustained rather than becoming the latest “flavour of the month ”; and an operational focus on short-term commitments or crises.
Try to predict the objections specific stakeholders will raise and build convincing solutions to these potential problems into an engagement strategy. Be open-minded and sensitive to recognize other objections you didn’t foresee.
Communication is key
In the engagement phase, you’re sharing the OpEx strategy and vision, showing the alignment with the stakeholders’ areas, and seeking their commitment for not only verbal support but also active participation in building the behaviours needed for shared success.
When trying to get business leaders to understand and align with OpEx vision, strategy, and tactics, communicate using the language of business, not of OpEx. In the early days of Lean implementation in the US, businesses were encouraged to make a full commitment to organizational cultural change.
That meant using the terminology of the Toyota Production System (TPS), including Japanese words. So managers were told to “go to Gemba” and use the 5S approach of seiri, seiton, seiso, seiketsu, and shitsuke. (Yes, I did have to look those up.)
However, these foreign words could actually put barriers in place for management buy-in. Leaders can understand the concepts of daily shopfloor engagement and 5S workplace organization (sort, set in order, shine, standardize, sustain) without having to learn a new language.
This problem doesn’t stop with foreign words. Even though standardized work, value stream management, visual factory, overall equipment effectiveness, and other Lean Sigma tools have been given English names, the value of these tools may escape someone not fluent in OpEx language. Make discussions easy to understand, without the acronyms, jargon, or process buzzwords that we use within the OpEx community. Use a plain English approach that communicates business value.
In seeking commitment, you must sell your OpEx strategy and tactics to your stakeholder clients. Sometimes sales messages need to be delivered differently for different listeners. Salespeople frequently use their understanding of social styles to get buy-in from their clients.
1. The DRIVER Stakeholder
They want the big picture without a lot of fluff. Bring an overview showing alignment with overall strategy, areas of opportunity, and projected results impacting the bottom line. Make sure this is a short and very efficient meeting. FOCUS = RESULTS
2. The ANALYTICAL Stakeholder
They want details. Be prepared with charts and graphs, with supporting data. Share detailed projections and benchmark info. Let this stakeholder take the data to study and schedule a follow-up meeting to answer his or her many questions.
FOCUS = ACCURACY
3. The AMIABLE Stakeholder
They care about people. Discuss some of the “touchy-feely” elements of the implementation plans, including how workers will be engaged and impacted. FOCUS = RELATIONSHIPS
4. The EXPRESSIVE Stakeholder
They can become enthusiastic cheerleaders powered by emotion. Make the information exciting, showing how significant the projected accomplishments will be and let the stakeholder develop shared ownership. FOCUS = RECOGNITION
FOCUS = RESULTS
FOCUS = ACCURACY
FOCUS = RELATIONSHIPS
FOCUS = RECOGNITION
Sustain the commitment
In 2010, the Wall Street Journal reported the alarming statistic that nearly 60% of all corporate Six Sigma initiatives fail to yield the desired results. They compared a typical process improvement cycle to the stretching, yielding, and failing of a spring.
Workers and managers frequently get excited when OpEx efforts begin to show results and goals are achieved. However, as performance plateaus or new challenges arise, attention shifts elsewhere, people fall back to old ways of doing things, and many of the gains are lost.
To assure that your OpEx successes are achieved and sustained, stakeholders must stay aligned with the OpEx strategy and plans over time. That alignment includes ongoing communications and actions that will embed key operational excellence behaviours into the culture.