Lately I have found a common thread in my discussions with leaders here in Calgary. With a lull in the market there is a focus on taking this time for developing a culture of continuous improvement. The rationale is valid - take time now to develop this culture so that we can get more done with fewer people and when things pick back up we will be ready to move forward.
There are legitimate and strong reasons for wanting to move in this direction and they are not all just based on saving a buck. The reality is that we are undergoing a seismic shift in the work force with "boomers" moving into retirement which is creating challenges in a number of ways.
First there is a demographic gap in that the groups following after the boomers are smaller in size. There are fewer of them to go around and so companies are now determining how they can run effectively with less.
Second the groups moving up into leadership are for the most part entering these roles with less experience. That is not to say that they lack desire but surveys of these various sub groups (X'ers, Next'ers, and Millennials) consistently show them clearly concerned about their lack of leadership experience and skill.
For those looking in from the outside these moves to redefine their culture might look like austerity measures to deal with the slow down and no doubt for some that is all this is. But for those I speak with it goes far beyond austerity to something I will call simplicity. Often austerity and simplicity find connection in that when companies implement aggressive austerity measures it typically tends to bring a level of simplicity. The need to cut costs results in levels of complexity being removed and for the moment at least things become simpler. The difference between the two lay in their longevity.
Austerity eventually fades away as things pick up and profits start rolling in. In these parts the evidence of that can be found with those now famous bumper stickers that read "Please send another boom and I promise not to pee it all away like I did last time!" That really defines how many deal with austerity - tighten the belt now but only until things pick back up.
Simplicity however is long term. The goal is to create a simpler approach and a culture of continuous improvement built on a foundation of innovation. Herein is the dilemma. Many of the methodologies and trends currently being used while effective and beneficial are not simple. There is a certain logical inconsistency when we introduce complex approaches to creating a simpler company and operational culture.
Not that we throw the baby out with the bathwater but we need to take a different approach in terms of how to implement the useful bits of Lean or Six Sigma or Agile or Total Quality and highlight them in meaningful ways with our leadership and operations. In short we need to simplify our approach to creating a culture of continuous improvement.
The more "methodology" pieces you throw at staff the less likely they will be to adopt them. It becomes crucial then for companies to glean from their leadership just what pieces work and which ones don't. Now throw into that mix the advent of new leadership replacing this large retiring cohort and you begin to see the challenge being faced by companies in our city.
I suspect many of you are already wrestling with this issue. So my question is this; how are you creating simplicity as part of your drive to continuous improvement?