Let's review what we have explored in this discussion so far. A leader's role is to create coherence, to provide meaning and context for their company. Arising out of that is creating a climate of consistency and safety so that staff can experiment and innovate. You will notice incredible changes on your team by this point, but now the work of "setting" this performance in place as a permanent feature of your company begins.
You must create a culture for tackling challenges as the first phase of making continuous improvement sustainable. We all want to do good work, and we want to know where we stand with our peers, our boss, and the competition. We are competitive creatures by nature. You don't have to look too far to see evidence of this. A good portion of our leisure time (and for some of us not so leisure - lol!) involves activities around either participating in or watching sports or games of some type. Have you ever gone out for an evening of bowling and not kept score? How about golf or hockey? Competitiveness is woven into the fabric of what makes us human.
As a leader, you need to tap into that wiring to compete. Let me add a quick caution here before going on. You cannot skip coherence and climate and jump straight to challenge. Too many well-meaning leaders have torn the fabric of their companies or groups to shreds with misguided competitions that actually inhibit performance rather than drive it. Once you have created the context for the team and ensured a safe climate to pursue innovation, then you can look at using challenge.
Whose Metric Is It Anyway?
Where does that start? It begins with you, but it is initiated with each and every staff member. What does that mean? By this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what you need each of your staff doing to promote and achieve the goals of the group or company. The way you confirm that is to get them to set their own metrics for performance. Getting your staff to set their own metrics is vital for several reasons. First, it will confirm to you that everyone is on the same page and align with your goals or the company goals. If they aren't, you get the opportunity to guide those staff through a "coarse adjustment" so that their metrics come into alignment with your goals, and they see how they fit.
Second and more importantly, having staff develop their own metrics will allow you to tap into that competitive nature we all have. You can give them metrics to be sure, but they will be "your" metrics and not theirs. Let them develop their own metrics (under your discrete guidance), and they will "own" them.
Keep It Simple
Keep a couple of things in mind. Metrics should be simple, measurable, and tied to achieving group or company goals, and they must be personal. That is to say that each staff should be tracking their metrics but ensure they know they are competing against themselves and not others on the team.
Be There But Listen, Don't Talk
When I have walked leaders through this, I tell them to develop the habit of visiting staff daily and getting them to explain their metrics and how they are tracking them. I instruct them to let their employees do the talking. When folks show their metrics (and you have created the right climate), they will be eager to discuss their performance. Also, they are now driving their own improvement, and you only need to provide encouragement.
This phase must be allowed to grow organically. Don't push it, but let staff become comfortable with the metrics. Eventually, a team conversation will start regarding those metrics. That's when the magic will really begin to happen.
The next step toward this sustainability is about using the information that your staff has been collecting. This really becomes a milestone in the process of establishing continuous improvement. While there may be many ways of achieving this, I have found that the most successful approach can be broken into two pieces.
Build It Into The Schedule
First, establish regular meetings with your staff around performance. If you are in operations, that will most likely take the form of pre or post-shift meetings. If you are corporate, it could be in the form of weekly or bi-weekly sessions. In each case, time must be made for staff to report on performance in their area and discuss with peers overall group performance.
Focus On Goals Not People
I cannot overstate the crucial role you and your leaders will have in this process! The nature of these meetings must be focused on group goals and performance in a frank and non-judgmental spirit. Demeaning or negative comments directed at specific individuals must be avoided at all costs as your goal is to solidify that safe climate. Your access to this crucial information is very much incumbent on making sure it is safe for staff to share it.
You will need to be patient, as this may seem awkward at first. I have timed some of these initial meetings where a group of 20 operators took a grand total of one minute and forty seconds to cover all the areas of operations! Yet within short order, with the patient guidance of their supervisor, those meetings grew into very detailed, 30-minute sessions where everyone left everyone informed and ready to perform.
As this sharing of information begins to take shape, the second and equally important piece is the development of an opportunities list. Your group or team will start to share information, and often as one expresses frustration over one area, another will have experience and knowledge to share concerning possible solutions. I call it tribal knowledge - that collective wisdom that is dormant in the group and generally untapped.
The "Gold" Of Opportunity Lists
A lot of this sharing of ideas will be informal, but you will find as the group matures that more solutions will be generated for improving processes or performance. Those need to go onto an opportunities list. This list will become a metric in its own right as you and your team move through addressing and exploring these ideas for improvement.
This list, and what you do with it, is the "gold" that you have been carefully cultivating on your team. It is the heart of continuous improvement, and each and every idea regardless of how small it may seem has an actual dollar value attached to it. This can be done in small groups, or it can be done across entire companies. There is no limit to what can be achieved, as long as you and your leaders remember to provide coherence, a safe climate, and a challenge to overcome. Hu centered leadership - think about it.