You Can't Manage What You Don't Monitor
“So let it be written; so let it be done”, and with those words the great Pharaoh commanded that a massive city temple be built to honour him– or so Cecile B De Mille would have us believe!
Jean Luc Picard would initiate an entire adventure to brave new worlds with the phrase “Make it so Number 1” – and the starship, and its crew, would follow his direction to the edges of the universe.
If Only it was that simple.
With over 170 million books, the Library of Congress is the largest in the world. Think about the sheer amount of information contained in 170 million books. So many adventures documented, so many IDEAS. Most of which most of us will never have even an inkling of. The hard work of millions of people, their efforts undelivered, because the thoughts committed to those pages will not see the light of day in our hands – the ideas hidden from our experience for the lack of opening the covers.
As an entrepreneur fresh out of University, I had a vision. I took the steps to make it come to life – to make it so. With just the two of us – my partner and I – our policies, practices and procedures lived their life in action. And this method served us well while it was only the two of us in the organisational ecosystem. The combination of hard work, effective advertising and lots of leg work produced results, and our organisational ecosystem expanded with employees. Our policies, practice’s and procedures passed from the experienced to the inexperienced through the time-honoured convention of hands on training and verbal communication. Those we trained we entrusted with the responsibility of passing on our culture. As our ranks grew, our culture diluted. And the company policy handbook was born.
Since then, I have passed through many an organisational ecosystem, and been exposed to many policy handbooks. Some have been excellent; many have missed the mark; some are collecting cobwebs in desks and on shelves; some updated judiciously to reflect regulatory requirements yet inhabit an un-accessed drive on the network; some reflect the words that caused their existence – a legal necessity, whose creation concluded the exercise. For those striving to solidify a culture, how do we avoid the cobwebs of obsolescence? How to ensure a living, breathing guide to a cultural foundation of the organisation? A reference to deliver guidance, understanding and organisational improvements? Those organisations that excel at branding, and delivering their product are the most likely to excel at policy creation and delivery. Successful delivery of a product, policy or practice has at its roots fundamental quality management practices. The documentation does not in and of itself predict that the policy will move from page to practice. It is the joining of process and people assigned to “Make it so” that brings the words to life. The process needs the people, and the people need the process. Structure is the framework upon which to build successful delivery.
As with those unopened texts in the Library of Congress, an organisation is blind to the content and intent of the policies if no one is charged with the delivery and implementation of what is committed to the page. Unlike W.P. Kinsella’s Field of Dreams, just because you build a website does not mean they will come – Google Analytics delivers that message in bounce counts and page visits daily to those of us hoping to see our web presence drive customers to our door. And so it is with all we touch at work, and life. Just saying Make it so, does not. Make is an active verb – and we need to act meaningfully to have impact.
More than one expensive set of policies has been delivered to a company executive, who in turn passes it on to a delegate where they die a death of neglect, fading into unused obsolescence. Doubtless, the executive feels confident that compliance will now be realised as he passes the book to its new and rightful owner. The book of policies, complete with official logos strategically placed on the cover and header of each individual page, a slick and structured edict awaiting a long and productive role in organisational mantra. But what happens now? Is that book distributed to the respective people in the organisation, to take up a place of its own on a shelf or in a drawer? Is it hyperlinked to the corporate resource page, doomed to never change colour from having been followed? OR, is it a reference document that is part of an active learning and information distribution campaign, led by a champion charged with ensuring it is brought to life, and provided on going maintenance?
Osmosis and diffusion work with fluids. Particles will pass through membranes to find their own way from an area of concentration to areas less concentrated. Over time the concentrations will equally disperse throughout the environment. And while knowledge is certainly fluid in nature, workplaces do not effectively disseminate it throughout the environment by the mere posting of a document or verbalisation of an edict. New processes, policies and goals will not spread through an organisation on their own, unlike rumours. The audience for these initiatives is people; and people need leaders, coaching, reiteration, assessment, feedback, and follow-up.
Successful program delivery has a feedback loop that undergoes constant improvements. This is represented in many ways, by many different diagrams – the one depicted here is an example of how a continuous improvement feedback loop delivers results– how you “make it so”, and bring success to your campaign.
Create your policy. Document who is responsible for achieving its goals – develop a Roles & Responsibilities section to address the question Who and What – identify how each component of your organisation participates in realising the policy goal. From the senior management identifying the need and providing the resources, to the front-line employee living the activity. A Scope section identifies who it applies to – everyone, or just a subset of the organisation. The Purpose – answers the question – Why? And a created date and review date acts to assist in maintaining updates - providing a target to conduct and document the changes necessary to keep it relevant.
Benchmarks – quantify what you want to realise. How will you measure your success? Objective, measurable goals are the easiest to realise and the most effective at delivering change – so work hard at ensuring these meet the organisation’s intent in this exercise.
Disseminate & Train – Delivery of your product is the halfway point of the process, and the point at which you transfer the knowledge. Ensure the materials are incorporated into the employee’s awareness – make the delivery succinct enough for retention. Verify it has been understood through knowledge verification and follow up. Consider your audience and materials. At times it may be appropriate to schedule a single day-long session. At others, a more phased in approach my be warranted. Avoid the temptation to broadcast large amounts of information in a short period of time. Better to take a phased in, step by step approach delivering manageable sound-bytes over multiple sessions. It is important to understand delivering the information to the target audience is not the end of the process.
Monitor & Assess – the part where failures most often occur, for lack of follow through. Using the benchmarks, look at trends and indicators – both leading and lagging – to quantify successes, and identify failures. This is the stage where recognition, bonus and rewards programs are the most effective, provided the organisation is dedicated at maintaining the initiative, publishing the metrics (Key Performance Indicators – KPIs) and working through root cause analysis of where benchmarks are not achieved. You can’t manage what you don’t monitor.
Identify & Respond to Failures. Using the root cause analysis of missed benchmarks, identify the necessary elements to correct the deficiencies. It is this component, more than anything else, including the recognition of success, that will determine your overall success. Recognition and rewards are important to maintain interest and drive, but it is fixing the misses that drives improvement and delivers results. These updates and improvements are fed back into the Standard, and the process starts all over again
That is continuous improvement. So simple. So effective. So necessary for success
Make it so, and watch your success grow. Absent this, it’s just another title in the library of unopened experiences.
For more on Continuous Improvement and other Quality Management techniques, please feel free to browse my website or contact me directly
This article explores the concepts of quality management and continuous improvement. For the purposes of today’s discussion, I am using the concept of Policy creation and implementation. My recent interactions with clients and peers has certainly contributed to the choice of timing and topic, so this is not a mere academic exploration, although I have not used specific examples. The concepts here are equally applicable to processes, activities or operational challenges. Larger concepts and implementations may require additional processes such as Strategic Planning to optimize outcomes, and I will discuss this in a later article.