"A foolish cabin owner eventually lost his cabin to the rot that set in through the leaky roof. When it was raining, he couldn't fix the roof. When the sun was shining, he was too busy outside doing other things — and the roof didn't need fixing then anyway."

As Yogi Berra would say, "It was déja vu all over again." Five years earlier I had conducted a few introductory service/quality improvement workshops for the senior management group and head office support people of a large distribution company. Performance and feedback surveys were conducted and reviewed during these and follow up workshops. The company clearly had problems with sagging morale and customer service, rising costs from inefficient processes and quality problems, and low innovation levels.

I recommended they begin a multi-year service/quality improvement process. I showed them how they could significantly boost the performance capability of the organization. The senior management team wouldn't buy it. They felt the time and money needed to plan, coordinate, train, and support such an extensive improvement process was far too high. Instead they threw a few "home-baked" service, quality, and motivation training programs at everyone.

Then they hired expensive consultants to design and install millions of dollars worth of new computer systems. This was based on an extensive strategic plan that took months of senior management time, market studies, financial analysis, and more expensive consultants.

Now, here I was five years later, watching the CEO deliver a presentation to his company's managers and head office support people. He outlined the company's stalled results for the past few years and talked about the changes needed. He said everyone needed to work together better. They had to get costs down. He said they all needed to work harder and smarter. Service and quality levels had to rise. Managers needed to take more responsibilities and empower people.

But there were no plans for doing all this. He was merely exhorting them to improve. He was clearly operating on the assumption that if they knew better they'd do better. He urged them to help change the culture to "full participation, full communication, and full disclosure." He argued for "not thinking in traditional ways" and "finding innovative ways to get the job done."

He suggested they "look for ways to add value through totally accurate shipments, timely delivery, quick turnarounds, a positive attitude, eliminating unnecessary paperwork and tasks, cooperative teamwork, an open door policy, improving efficiency, sharing ideas, reducing shrinkage, and initiating change."

He went on to outline "a suggestion program" (which was a form to fill out and send to him) and stressed the company's open door policy. He then suggested that managers should be "kind enough to have meetings with your staff" and have them fill out a suggestion form and send these to him. "I will take a hard look at it and if there are any worthwhile suggestions there, I will act on them very quickly."

That was it. There was no skill development, no systems alignment, no systematic approach to process reengineering or improvement, no measurement and feedback systems, no education and communication, and no changes to the company's reward and recognition systems and practices. In short, there was no improvement plan. There was nothing but good intentions and exhortations to improve. He was trying to get different results while continuing to do the same things!

Unfortunately, this company's senior management team has lots of company. Many managers confuse making changes within their organization with making changes to their organization. Both are needed. But they have to be balanced. Changing an organization or team's composition or reporting structure, introducing new technology, pulling people and money from one area, or pumping money and people into another area isn't enough on its own. Unless organization and team skills, systems, processes, or habits are changed, the other changes won't make any lasting improvement to performance.

Author's Bio: 

Jim Clemmer’s practical leadership books, keynote presentations, workshops, and team retreats have helped hundreds of thousands of people worldwide improve personal, team, and organizational leadership. Visit his web site, http://jimclemmer.com/, for a huge selection of free practical resources including nearly 300 articles, dozens of video clips, team assessments, leadership newsletter, Improvement Points service, and popular leadership blog. Jim's five international bestselling books include The VIP Strategy, Firing on All Cylinders, Pathways to Performance, Growing the Distance, and The Leader's Digest. His latest book is Moose on the Table: A Novel Approach to Communications @ Work. www.jimclemmer.com

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