Discussions around improvements are really interesting. There will always be some people who are in favour of an idea, some who are opposed and some that don’t really mind either way. When an improvement makes sense to the majority of people around the table it usually gets traction and things happen. When enough people aren’t sure about the merits of an improvement it can be easy for the idea to be killed off. However, changing the way that we present our ideas can bring about a completely different outcome.
If the idea is fundamentally sound, if the principle behind the idea is good, then the improvement is worth fighting for. What I don’t think we should do is get hung up on is the ‘style’ of the improvement when our idea is shouted down. When we bring a solution to the table it doesn’t mean that everyone will understand it. When we talk about the improvement principle and then the solution, the context can help others to get onboard with the solution a lot more easily.
If you haven’t developed a solution yet, looking at an improvement from a position of its principle can help you to get a lot more creative and generate alternative ideas as to how you can implement the improvement. This is like using the 5 Why method to identify a true root cause to a business issue, so that you can develop a really powerful change for how your business works. The principle is the generic, fundamental, fact or truth behind your idea. This is what we want; the way that it gets implemented is a matter of choice, ease or style.
For every improvement principle that you want to implement there will be lots of different ways that you can approach it. Presenting a finished solution to your colleagues might get you the response I mentioned above, but bringing a principle and a potential implementation approach (with the opportunity to generate alternatives) might get a completely different reception.
I remember the Assembly Team Leader at a factory I used to work at locking the doors to the Assembly Shop because he didn’t like one of my ideas. He disliked it so much that he stopped production of the entire business and tried to march me up to the European CEO’s office (we didn’t get there, after a lot of huffing and puffing from the Team Leader!). After he had calmed down we were able to talk about the principle behind the idea (I hadn’t even tried to implement it at this stage!) and we were able to re-work the idea; a minor tweak and the idea (in his eyes) was palatable.
It would have been easy to walk away from this improvement, to back down from the aggressive reaction, but the principle behind the idea was sound. The actual improvement that we did implement dropped over 20% from the lead time of the product line in question (large, heavy, bespoke products) and cost nothing to implement, other than a couple of hours of our time. The improvement could have been lost very easily if I hadn’t persevered.
If you find yourself in a similar position, with your ideas being under attack on a regular basis, then try stepping back and identifying the improvement principle behind your idea. With this in hand, try the conversation again and see if you can come to an agreement as to how this improvement can be implemented.
It is always a shame when a good idea is dismissed unnecessarily, whether this is out of fear, ignorance or something else. Let’s see if we can increase our hit rate and implement more of our great ideas!
About the author Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes. Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.
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