Whether you are a leader in a new role or one wanting to reboot your current one, you need an approach to make your work visible, to assess current conditions, and make a game plan. Here is guidance to help.
Reviewing key inputs
A good starting point is to learn. To learn what the organization is trying to accomplish, how things are going in relation to those aims, and see the organization as a system working together to meet the needs of the customer. Here are some key things to review.
- Review the organizational purpose statement. How does your work support the mission, vision, and values of the organization?
- Review the organization’s strategic objectives. What is prioritized for the next few years? How does your work contribute to the achievement of the objectives?
- Review the organization viewed as a system. This is not the organizational chart (flow of accountability) but looking at the organization as a system of interdependent processes. Where are the processes you are responsible for in the system? How are they linked to other processes?
- Review the vector of measures. What measures are linked to your work? What are the measures underneath these measures at the meso and micro levels? Are they stable or unstable? Are they meeting the goals?
This list is a good start to help ground leaders in strategically thinking about their organization and support learning about your part of the system.
Assessing your part of the organizational system
Leaders are often responsible for key parts of the system. This may be a region, division, department, site, or service line. What part of the organizational system are you responsible for? What should you focus on to operate and improve the system? Reviewing the following will help you learn more.
- Where is your work in the organizational system? What processes and activities is your work connected to?
- What are your big rocks? Borrowing from Stephen Covey’s classic exercise, what are the core processes and activities you are responsible for? What else are you charged with? Take an inventory to identify the core work. What in addition is expected of your area? What are you doing that doesn’t make sense? This inventory helps to see the core work, what is secondary, and what may be wasteful work to discontinue.
- What does good look like? Is there a definition of the desired outcome or output for each process and activity? Agreeing to what success looks like helps you know what is working and what needs improvement.
- What key measures are linked to your area in the system from the organization’s vector of measures? Are they stable (only common cause)? Are they meeting the desired results? Thezs measures help you monitor performance, see if changes result in improvement, and identify special causes requiring attention.
- What is your theory about how to produce great work? Do you have a theory for how work should be done to get the desired performance? Do you have standard work to reliably deliver the first time, and without undesirable variation and rework? If not, define the work.
- What parts of the organizational system do you rely on as essential inputs to accomplish your work? Do your colleagues downstream know what you need to do your work successfully? What parts of the organization system receive the product of your work? Do you know what they need from you so you can design your processes to meet their needs?
- What processes or activities require design or redesign to meet the desired performance? What capacity do you have to do this improvement work? How can you prioritize improvement projects for impact and efficiency?
- What are the predictable tasks you have to manage around? What happens each year, quarter, month, week, or day? This may be reporting, planning, evaluation, and seasonal events. How can you plan it into the standard work process so it becomes planned work?
Operating and Improving
It’s long been said people have two jobs: to do the work and improve it. While not a hard and fast benchmark, the 80/20 rule can be a helpful guide. Eighty percent of our time and effort is spent on operating the key processes and 20 percent devoted to designing or redesigning processes to improve performance.
Operating is doing the work as designed in stable processes. This is the majority of your work time where staff follow the standard work as defined, adjust as necessary, and deliver. If the process is not meeting the desired results as designed, the process is called out and prioritized for improvement.
Improvement starts with processes that are unstable or not meeting the desired results. When a special cause exists, study the process, learn, and make changes to get to a stable process. Stable doesn’t mean we like it, it means it’s predictable but it may not be performing well. These processes need to be changed to get the desired result.
Teams only have so much capacity for improvement work and projects should be prioritized. It’s best to focus on one or two projects at a time in shorter, focused efforts than to charter too many projects. As improvement projects achieve their aims, the work must be implemented with standard work and move to routine operating.
It’s easy to get tangled in the complexity and pace of the work as it is. Working hard may get short term results but it’s not sustainable. All leaders want to focus on the right work, get results, and help their staff be their best as they work to meet the needs of customers. Taking a step back, reviewing the work around you, and having a method to sort through, prioritize, and tackle helps set a course for success.
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