The writer, Ron Ashkenas, asks a great question: "how do we make sure that continuous improvement is used correctly, in the right way, for the right things?"
A couple of thoughts came immediately to mind:
#1: Let’s take a look at human nature. Some people’s personality type is highly procedural. That is, they find or build a process that seems to work, and then they stick to it and create repeatable, consistent output. Lean and 6-sigma are exactly such processes, and many of those who implement them are exactly such people. These are people who have preference towards control.
#2: Processes are random acts of chaos. Any process, whether it is 6-sigma, manufacturing, information management, etc., is simply a universal random putting-together of activities that reflects someone’s or some group’s best thinking at a given point in time. Highly procedural people will tend to hold these processes to heart and forget that processes can become as obsolete as say, the original Palm Pilot or the first IBM PC. Non-procedural people will transcend what’s written in a process and constantly look to break the rules.
#3: Rules (and processes) are made to be broken. Using CI correctly, in the right way, for the right things, means creating a mindset that it is ok to break the rules in the interest of making things better. That could be something as mainstream as using 6-sigma or Lean to break down a process and change the rules of the process. It could also mean breaking the rules of your CI processes. Flexibility is key.
It is the types of behaviours that a leader chooses to encourage at various points in a company’s journey that will define whether CI is used correctly. People will be apt to stick with their preferred mode of operation - be it procedural, directive, relational, or some combination of those.
A leader’s job is to make sure that the right set of behaviours are being demonstrated by everyone at the right times to get the most appropriate output for a situation.
Blind adherence to any one model of CI is like walking through the Amazon with blinders on. You’ll only get to see what the blinders allow you to see, and sometimes there are some really interesting things lingering in your blind spot.
Behaviourally speaking then, leaders need to be highly sensitive to the environment. They need to transcend ALL processes of the organization and be continuously in search of the things that are lurking in everyone else’s blind spots. That to me seems like a good place for leaders to put their focus.
If nobody else is looking there because they are engrossed in organizational process, the one person best positioned to transcend those processes is the leader.