Nudging Operational Excellence

Ideas
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September 5, 2022
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4 min

People are the key players in any Operational Excellence initiative, yet are often the most overlooked factor.

A nudge is a light suggestion or push to guide people in the right direction. Nudges can be reminders or decision aids that are sent by text, email, or digital application. These nudges are tailored and timed to spark small continuous improvement actions by providing suggestions, information, or choice architectures to guide lean behaviors. 

Nudges are increasingly recognized for their effectiveness in helping people across an organization make small changes to the way they would normally think and act. Companies have started relying on nudges to help individuals across the organization guide their actions toward the unified, long-term benefit of the organization.

This organization-wide coalescence of tiny actions toward a singular goal is a key requirement for Operational excellence and is now possible through the use of smart nudge technology. 

Moreover, each operational excellence initiative must harmonize across people, processes, products, and technology. Nudges are being seen as the key technology for connecting people to the processes needed to make the product more efficient.

What is Operational Excellence? 

Operational excellence is a mindset that promotes continuous incremental progress to achieve a more productive, efficient, and competitive state of work. Excellence is considered an ideal yet attainable goal state where continuously striving for perfection and improvement has become an organization-wide habit. Operational excellence is developed from methodologies such as the Shingo Model, Six Sigma, Lean Management and Kaizen. Each model has a unique set of core principles and behaviors. 

Behaviors of operational excellence:

Practitioners and teachers of Operational excellence initiatives have promoted the idea of “Standard Work” or system to create process improvements to increase efficiency, reduce variation, improve training, and create a lean culture. Standard Work requires specific behaviors of managers and their associates. 

  • Improvement is part of the work and not an extra activity
  • Promote scientific thinking
  • Focus on processes
  • Build-in quality at the source
  • Daily conversation about impact with internal and external customers
  • Encourage systematic thinking
  • All employees turn in suggestions
  • “Go and observe” is part of the leader’s standard work
  • Near-misses are captured and addressed immediately

“Hard stuff is easy, soft stuff is hard” 

This lean way of working also requires a culture that is flexible, empowering, and values improvement and innovation. Companies that focus too much on change management strategy and process improvement often overlook the cultural element necessary for the success of any operational excellence initiative. 

  • Demonstrate respect for every individual
  • Practice humility
  • Establish consistency of purpose
  • Promote psychological safety – successes and failures are openly communicated
  • Decision-making is handed down to those doing the work with feedback given for any decisions made

Challenges to continuous improvement

Not only are people the main driving factor behind Operational Excellence, they also present the biggest challenge. The employee mindset is the largest obstacle found in companies that conduct transformation processes aiming at the pursuit of Excellence. In order to break the mindset in favor of improvement, leaders must capture people’s attention and motivate them to act. 

Capturing attention is an increasingly difficult challenge given the current dire state of the attention span which is now said to be 8 seconds. Furthermore, stress affects many employees and prevents them from wanting to continuously contribute to improvement initiatives or sustain the use of new tools. 

The solution to aligning people with the continuous improvement initiative requires leaders to follow these three steps that come from change management approaches inspired by digital marketing trends. 

  1. Break through the noise and capture their attention by making the change message brief and relevant to them.
  2. Meet employees where they are inside their regular flow of work. No new tools to learn and remember to access. Today, much of the work is accomplished in chat apps like Microsoft Teams which has 91% of Fortune 500 companies using the app to get work done.
  3. Remind people to take simple bite-sized actions. Operational excellence initiatives consist of hundreds if not thousands of context-dependent behaviors that are difficult to keep in mind. Reminders are important – especially if they can arrive just in time when they are needed. When reminding, keep it simple, it’s easier to get people to make small changes rather than large ones. Actions also change people’s perceptions about themselves and the way employees perceive the organization and its culture. 

Here are some example nudges designed to help leaders and their associates bring operational excellence initiatives to life:

Is perfectionism getting in the way of excellence?

Do you notice excellence?

Author
Adam Fridman
Serial entrepreneur, author, and speaker, Adam is a co-founder and visionary behind ProHabits. Currently, he hosts ProHabits' podcast: The Future of People Initiatives.

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