Process Improvement by Osmosis

You may remember the word “osmosis” from high school science (things tend to flow from areas of high concentration to areas of low concentration), or you may have learned it in Psychology 101 as “the unconscious assimilation of ideas”.

(Raise your hand if you just thought of the Borg from Star Trek when you read the word “assimilation”.)

Today I want to show you how you can apply the word osmosis to the creation of a Process-Driven Culture.

Resistance is Futile

Are you a change agent? Are you a process improvement nut? Are you lucky enough to be both? If yes, I bet you have a permanent bump on your head because you feel like you bang your head into a brick wall all day long.

You have some great ideas that would make your organization better, faster, and/or cheaper, and you’ve even proven that those ideas work. You have the experience and the data. There is an excellent business case for doing what you suggest and industry best practices show that your idea is working elsewhere.

So why won’t your boss/staff/peers make the changes you suggest? Why won’t they apply simple process improvement tools or go to a conference on business process design?

It comes down to science really.

Back to high school science: remember learning about inertia from Newton’s laws? “An object at rest (or in motion) will remain at rest (or in motion) unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.” It’s the same with people – all people will resist changes in their current state unless they are given a darn good reason not to.

Or, Unless They Decide to Change On Their Own

Many of you are probably familiar with the term “coaching” as it refers to employees. A good manager “coaches” their staff members to do the best job they can do via conversation, open-ended-questions, and leading by example.

Cy Charney, author of Just-in-Time Management, says that “Coaching is a process that will let your employees know that what they do and who they are matters to you. Good coaches train their people to do the job right every time.” I would add to that by saying that good coaching involves coaching up and across, as well as down!

Teach your boss, your peers, and your employees to Define It! Map It! Prove It! without them knowing they are being taught!

By using good coaching techniques you can engage people in conversation and get them to start really thinking about problems they are trying to solve, using process improvement tools, and looking for data to prove that what they are proposing will work.

Have a flip chart (or a Whiteboard!) in your office. Ask people to draw their ideas. Slowly steer them in the direction of a process map with swimlanes. Start requiring that kind of diagram on a regular basis.

Ask people for numbers to back up their issues and concerns. Lead them to develop clearly defined problem statements. Start to help people to continually frame their statements in a data-driven manner, and do the same yourself.

Essentially, people will learn by osmosis.

By introducing concepts via coaching, you are making the concept of a process-driven organization and data-based decision-making commonplace. People won’t realize they are following a specific methodology, just as they don’t realize they are using algebra when they analyze numbers.

They assimilate to the new culture you have created. And then, when they are ready, you can start introducing formal programs.

Hey – if you do it right, they will think it was their idea.

Until next week,

PS – check out Cy’s book for some excellent coaching tips, as well as literally hundreds of practical management lessons. Click here to go to his website

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