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Continuous Improvement, Performance Management, Problem Solving, Process Improvement, Processes

How to “do improvement” – the missing link in too many Leadership Development programmes?

In the early stages of my career, as a new manager and leader, I went through many training and development programmes. Of course, they covered all of the so-called “soft skills” as well as the more rational skills required to manage (Forecasting, Planning, Organising, Controlling). Importantly, they also included how to “do improvement”. The latter includes knowing how to structure and define problems, how to manage and improve processes, and how to collect, analyse, interpret and present data.

It seems to me that, all too often, leadership and management development programmes these days ignore the skills required to “do improvement”.

100% of an organisation’s performance is a result of how well its people design, operate and continuously improve its processes. If anyone knows another way to improve performance other than by engaging people in improving processes, please let me know. We can then write a book and make our fortune!

In the absence of that particular magic bullet, people (and leaders in particular) need to know how to “do improvement”.

I do acknowledge that many organisations have been “doing” Lean or 6-Sigma (or any re-badged combination you care to think of). However, these often seem to end up as initiatives that senior managers tell middle management to do to the shop/office floor staff.

CI 3 circles

Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to design and facilitate sessions on improvement skills as part of wider leadership development programmes. They usually include a combination of three themes:

  • The processes needed for doing improvement
    • Problem-solving
    • Process improvement
    • Benchmarking
    • Change management
  • The tools to use within these processes
    • Problem/opportunity definition and structuring
    • Data gathering and analysis
    • Creative thinking
    • Solution generation and testing
  • The leadership behaviours required to create the climate for improvement and to sustain it
    • Questioning and listening
    • Coaching and mentoring
    • Team-building and leading
    • Facilitation

The sessions are very practical, often using action learning approaches and case studies to allow participants to explore how all this “improvement stuff” can be applied in their team. The focus is on enabling them to apply the learning to their immediate workplace challenges.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of all the other elements of these leadership programmes; rather, I’d like to remind you that you can have all the “soft” leadership skills in the world but if you don’t know how to “do improvement”, you won’t get very far.

Of course, I am slightly biased because my experience as a manager and leader had a firm foundation of improvement skills which I used to improve customer service, reduce costs and increase staff engagement.

Read more of my performance management and process improvement articles.

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