Why Improvement Efforts Fail

John Crossan

Why do improvement efforts fail or perhaps not sustain the recent gains? There are many reasons, but those most often stated are "lack of commitment" and not "following the process." But why is there lack of commitment, and why aren't processes followed? Here are a few of the most common reasons:

Too Much Focus on Tools Instead of People

Analytical tools and improvement process steps are important, but people are more important. It's not about "selling" them or using "change management" tools to have them accept whatever the "really smart" people have come up with. It's about involving them (all of them) and having them own the process.

Communication Not Emphasized, Structured

Without communication, paranoia develops between work groups, shifts, departments, individuals, etc. This destroys involvement and ownership. Casual (now and again) conversations and major presentations are only a small part of what it takes. Communication must be structured and orchestrated, part of the everyday routine, and flow both ways.

Not Knowing and Respecting What is Already in Place

Every organization does some things well, and the people there have pride in their particular organization (despite what they might tell you). To ignore this is insulting and arrogant. Too many times the "everything here is wrong" attitude is evident (and sometimes outright stated) by program "experts." Setting up "negative waves" like this never helps. Use what is in place as a start.

Developing the Elite vs. the Majority

Improvement is an "everyone" thing. It's too easy to just work with the bright, energetic people and count on them to carry it all. Most people are hesitant or unwilling to accept what they haven’t had some involvement in developing or improving. Besides, this ignores a huge pool of capability. Everyone brings something to the table, but some may be unwilling to share for many reasons, such as their past ideas may have been criticized or not welcomed, there are peer-pressure issues, trust issues, etc. Sincere, routine involvement efforts can overcome these obstacles.

Improvement Events vs. Routine Improvement

While big events are good at generating interest and knocking out a lot of work in a short time, the heart and soul of sustaining improvement is getting a solid, everyday, routine process to have everyone continually dealing with the many small opportunities.

Focusing on Solving Specific Issues Rather than Developing People

It's easy to get absorbed in solving specific issues and using specific problem-solving techniques instead of using the issue-solving process as a way to develop people. Of course, there will always be plenty of issues and opportunities to deal with. The scarcer commodity is the capability to deal with them. Even rarer is the ready motivation to do so.

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About the Author

Currently working as a consultant, John Crossan retired after spending 30-plus years with the Clorox Company. His roles for much of the past 14 years were mainly focused on improving operations ...