How many times have you been asked if you’re crazy?
Insanity has been defined by many great scholars, including the great theoretical physicist Albert Einstein, as doing the same thing over, and over again, but expecting a different result. Historically we have shown the tendency as the human race, to prove over and over again, just how insane we really are.
So often when we have an idea or propose a different way of doing things, the response will, more often than not, be along the lines of 'That’s not how we do things around here' or you see that nervous twitch in their eye, and you just know that they are trying to figure out a polite way of saying 'that’s nuts'!
In developing an organisation, company or business sector, do we just keep doing the same thing but expect a different result, showing that we are comfortable in our insanity? Or do we do something different, thereby, achieve a different result, so is said to be a ‘sane’ method of business? There is increasing evidence of companies recognising that their focus needs to be on not only their goals and targets, but also their values. This could be expressed as the desire to seek perfection in all activities.
I am sure we have all had the latest and greatest ‘idea’ thrust upon us from some well meaning executive or manager. But how often do we question this? We would benefit from reflecting on everything we do every day, and ask ourselves “Was today a day that I achieved sanity?” In other words, did my activities and actions impact positively, due to something different that I’ve done?
In the case of our project; understanding the impact of ‘doing things differently’, and the effect on our team’s engagement. Understanding what engagement means to our companies and the benefits a highly engaged team can create, this is my ‘Sane’ activity.
Recently my team was awarded the ‘Whareroa Make a Difference’ award at the regional prize giving. This was in recognition of a project that we had implemented in the manufacturing process in our company. The project brief was simple “Install safety caging on the packing lines for the Milk Powder Plants”, enabling an increase in the safe operation of this equipment, and, deliver the project on time and in budget.
Relatively straight forward you would think? And it was - we delivered the project on time and in budget, while creating an improved safety environment. This type of project activity has been implemented in companies all over the globe; you could almost say it’s a ‘business as usual’ activity. What were not quite so straight forward during the project were the intangible benefits, That is, the realisation in benefits to the engagement of the staff involved in the operation of this equipment.
In the companies eyes we were to implement a safety systems project, utilising the company policies and procedures. My intention was to engage my team to deliver on this directive in a manner that enabled my staff to realise their potentials of engagement.
The project brief was simple “Install safety caging on the packing lines for the Milk Powder Plants”, enabling an increase in the safe operation of this equipment, and, deliver the project on time and in budget.
Relatively straight forward you would think? And it was - we delivered the project on time and in budget, while creating an improved safety environment. This type of project activity has been implemented in companies all over the globe; you could almost say it’s a ‘business as usual’ activity. What was not quite so straight forward during the project, was the intangible benefits, That is, the realisation in benefits to the engagement of the staff involved in the operation of this equipment.
Previously staff involvement would start at the commissioning phase, as opposed to the development phase as was the case in our project.
‘The Project’: Wanting Something Different - Doing Something Different
The project team followed Kotters 8 steps for managing change (figure 1), as a basis of ‘let’s do this differently and create a difference result’.
It all starts with a sense of urgency, formation of the team, then create the vision – what is our plan? Identify what are the critical points? Formation of the project team was the next step. This was followed by the communication of the plan, and updates of the process. The check process is important, as are the ‘wins’ along the journey. Lastly celebrate the success, know what it looks like.
By following John Kotters ‘8 Step Change Model’, this project was able to become more than just the implementation of our ‘Top - Down’ requirements, namely the safety systems. But also, it was an opportunity to deliver on an ‘Inside – Out’ approach, engage, grow and develop strengths within the team.
Step 1 – Establish a Sense of Urgency
This is often driven from the top, in our case the company realised that there were areas of the business that created risk to staff, and the department carried out an assessment and risk scored each plant, this led to the identification of a potential ‘gap’ that needed to be addressed.
Step 2 - The Team – Form a Powerful Coalition
Behind every successful project is a great team. There are many examples of projects that have been executed on the basis: delivered on time and in budget, but was it truly successful?
If you spend the next two years ‘fixing’ the problems with the original installation, then just how successful was it?
Our project team’s formation was based on an ‘inclusive’ theme with all stakeholders involved, from staff on the floor, that would ultimately operate the machinery, the maintenance team who service the equipment, through to the ‘experts’, that is the designers and project engineers.
The team were then tasked with the challenge of meeting both the companies’ tangible needs, and the intangibles, which in turn would be of most benefit to the business in the long run.
Step 3 - Start with ‘A Plan’ – Create the Vision
For us left brain thinkers, it’s uncomfortable to use the right and more creative side of our brain. The first key to success, therefore, is to recognise our weaknesses, but focus on our strengths. Using strengths based approach and aligning the team’s strengths to their roles and responsibilities, results in increased engagement and productivity. There are many tools available to support this, such as 360 degree reports etc.
At the beginning of our process, we recognised that we wanted to ensure we met our business key performance indicators (KPI), and, legal responsibilities. But also ensuring, our thinking focussed on the engagement, growth and development of our staff. The challenge, therefore, was to find the ‘sweet spot’ of where ability, aspiration and engagement intersect . From there, create a logical thought process, build the picture of where you are; know what success looks like; including checks and measures that tell us we have arrived at, not only our end point, but also the key milestones along the way
Step 4 – Communicate the Plan
It was important that we addressed at an early stage to ensure a successful project, all the potential hurdles to the project success. First though, you need to have an environment of trust, an environment where employees feel their opinions count. Due to past experiences, we had to overcome staff perceptions that were sceptical, cynical and fearful of sharing their ideas. It is important to know and understand the differing opinions from the operational staff.
It’s one thing to have a great plan, it’s another to execute it well, and this is where a solid communication strategy comes into play. There were regular staff updates and shift meetings, often after hours, and was a forum to support our team and encouraging them to be engaged and ‘onboard’.
Step 5 – Empower Others
This was a key point of difference for this project, enabling the staff to have a voice was a founding ingredient to the success of the project. Taking and making the time to have the conversations with people from the floor, and in an environment that they were comfortable with, ensured we had maximum buy in.
Step 6 - Create Wins
The ‘Toyota System’ seeks to identify and remove obstacles, and relies on the ‘system’ or ‘plan’ to achieve the desire of perfection in each and every activity. For every activity we do is an improvement opportunity and having a clear; Plan – Do – Check – Act process, ensuring we have built in reflection points.
Step 7 & 8 – Consolidate and Institutionalise the Changes and Improvements
With any change process, change control is another step in the success process. Building the way we do things differently, into the everyday culture, ensures the success of this work, but also future works.
The project success was centred on the work during the design and implementation phase. Time spent at the beginning of the process ensured a smooth implementation, and commissioning. The final product was a project delivered ahead of schedule, on budget, and created a step change in the work environment. This step change was the enabling of staff members to realise their potential for improvement works. Notably, there has been a marked increase in the number of ideas from the shop floor for improvement works. But more importantly, people have been able to realise some previously untapped potentials, the growth and development of a number of staff has been the true benefit.
The positive impact of the project on our staff engagement was achieved by doing ‘this something different’ so the ‘sanity’ outcome of our actions. This resulted in a marked lift in their ‘happiness factor’or engagement, and the knowledge that they were capable of adding real value to their roles. This was the true benefit
So before you engage in that next project or task ask yourself an important question – Is the activity I am about to undertake reinforcing my insanity, or am I ‘going to do something different today, because I want a different result? This will relay to your organisation, you are indeed completely and constantly sane.
I am fortunate to work in a company where information sharing is the norm, so there have been many people who have given me the ideas contained in my hack.