Sustaining Process Improvement Momentum: Three Golden Nuggets


Leaders who bravely embark on a process improvement initiative, whether in small pockets or across an organization, will understandably have high hopes. Fixing broken processes, creating more fulfilling jobs, eliminating activities that don’t add value and providing more autonomy to the front line all hold the promise of a better, more successful business. Often, these efforts will deliver impressive wins early on that create momentum, build confidence and support additional investment. However, these initial successes don’t always translate into sustainable improvements. The question is, why?


Drawing upon experience across various industries and regions, I believe that most problems in achieving process improvement sustainability stem from insufficient focus on the attitudes and engagement of managers and leaders. More often than not, “people factors” are bigger contributors to poor outcomes than things like budget constraints, resourcing or technology. The reshaping of employee attitudes and behaviors is just as critical to overall success as is the methodic implementation of process changes and learning new technology.

The need to reshape attitudes can be a tough sell. Too frequently, senior leadership will tell their process improvement consultant, “Our culture is amazing, we have great, totally dedicated staff. I am not in the business of changing attitude and behaviors. Let’s focus on the real work at hand.”

As a business consultant, I work hard to help leadership understand the need for behavioral adaptation and embrace this part of the process as much as the “real work”. By sharing with managers and their leaders some of the simple factors that can influence behavior, I enable them to create synergy and improve results when these techniques are combined with important project delivery activities.


When it comes to winning hearts and minds to sustain change, my current count of golden nuggets is at seven. Here, I share my top three:

1. People won’t change unless their leaders do. Leaders are often happy to commit upfront to being good role models and supporting the transformation. Sometimes, however, there are empty promises or words but no real change. Leaders may not see themselves to be part of the problem, and/or may not have the real motivation to alter their behavior – they may even believe they are already doing the right thing. A well-executed 360-degree feedback exercise or a self-assessment with team ratings can be effective for various leaders and managers.


2. People need to feel that the change really matters. Across the organization, staff may hear about the vision and strategy, they may join town halls to listen to pillars of success, and read about growth objectives on the intranet. But somehow, the apparent logic lacks the power to motivate real change. Social science research points to factors that directly impact the individual as reliable influences for change. Think about highlighting how the team works together, inter-team dynamics and the interests of the individual employee. At the end of the day, it’s important to emphasize how the change will impact customers and manifest in the day-to-day roles of employees.


3. Involvement at all levels generates ownership. It is impressive how leaders may devote significant energy to communicating the business transformation underway, and describing how the future (service, product, technology) will help the organization recapture its competitive position. But effective communication is a two-way process. Only by speaking to employees AND listening to them can leaders and managers truly make the business transformation successful. And after listening, it’s crucial to demonstrate how the input has helped to shape the change. People must feel actively involved not only in making the change happen, but in deciding what to change and how to make the team function more efficiently and effectively. Two-way communication supports personal involvement at multiple levels, enhances discovery and helps create a vested interest in success.


Leilani Plougmann, MBA and Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt, has been delivering business consulting projects for over two decades. She excels in problem solving and partners with senior leaders, implementing solutions to business challenges. Leilani works relentlessly through ambiguity while applying the structured, systematic thinking and tools derived from Lean Six Sigma to deliver tangible improvements for her clients.