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A sense of urgency as fertile ground for improvement and results

“Good is the enemy of great,” James C. Collins wrote long ago. And his famous statement is every bit as valid today. It is precisely in those organizations where the feeling “everything’s going well enough” that one encounters the greatest difficulty in effecting improvements. To say nothing of creating a methodology for continuous improvement and achieving better results. A sense of urgency, that broadly recognized and endorsed realization of the need to change, is essential.

New roads that lead to lasting and ever-improving results. Many companies in the foodstuffs and food-processing industry are looking for something like that. It may, for example have to do with boosting the efficiency of production processes, reductions in waste or downtime and the achievement of lower maintenance costs. Sometimes, the development and implementation of an extensive program of improvement serves as the prelude to a takeover or to a production site going independent.

Mobilizing internal forces 

Companies regularly call in external specialists like ARV Group, in order to tap into specific expertise and additional experience. In order to speed up internal discussions and decision-making, and to get the entire organization focused on continuous improvement. At such moments, we are the external force that mobilizes and stands by the internal force within a production site. Creating clarity and providing insights into opportunities for improvement, reassessing the operations strategy, kickstarting plans for lasting change and improvement and helping the executive staff, management and team during that transition. Including the development of teams, and above all of the middle management that is part and parcel of such programs.

Joint point of departure

But before we can get going with that, there is one thing that is essential to the success of every step taken in such a major process of improvement: is everyone – from the top of the organization to the shop floor – convinced of the need to change and improve? Is there that shared realization that something has to happen? For example: if we don’t get our costs down, we’ll price ourselves right out of the market. The plant will shut down if we don’t become more efficient. And: our jobs and our futures are at stake unless the company succeeds in bringing out the best in everyone and everything. In other words, what is the joint point of departure for change, the burning bridge? The need for improvement to which everyone subscribes? A sense of urgency as fertile ground for improvement and results.

New focus, new roles

If a widely-shared sense of urgency exists, and if it is nourished by the executive staff and plant management, then the important thing during the implementation of plans for improvement is to establish a direct link with the people on the production lines. People there focus – and rightly so, because the shop needs minding – on the day-to-day business. It is essential that team leaders and other key players rise up, and that they support the actual change, monitor the steps towards improvement and stimulate a lasting focus on continuous improvement. In my experience, there are people present in every organization who know the processes and the people from start to finish, and who possess the talent to grow within that new role. If there are too few of those people, then they’ll have to be hired quickly, for otherwise the process of improvement will grind to a halt. We personally assist them in their development into a hands-on head of production, head of maintenance, team leader, facilitator, etc.

Steering towards results

So, does the story end there? No. The crux of every process of improvement is the way in which progress is steered. A system of multi-stage consultation is needed at each level, and at individual intervals: within each production team, at each change of shift, in daily reviews, weekly meetings and monthly consultations. Results are discussing during each meeting, on the basis of hard facts. Departures from the plan are noted and agreements are made about corrective actions to be taken. Each meeting is important, but it is essential that the plant’s operation team provides a monthly report to the management board. That is the only way to be sure that the desired results are actually being achieved. Are we making progress? What’s going well? And what isn’t? What is the reason for that? Is good actually good enough? And above all: how do we make any necessary adjustments? As I already said: “good is the enemy of great”. If you know where you are going but fail to steer towards results, those results will never be achieved.

Jan Donkers

“We are the external force that mobilizes the internal force.”

Publish date 15 June 2017