A common challenge that OpEx Leaders and Practitioners face in their efforts to generate traction is how to drive workforce accountability for improvement. And there's good reason why broad-based workforce accountability is a tough nut to crack. As I've written before, there's a fundamental tension that exists in virtually every organization, but particularly those that are early, less operationally mature, and therefore highly reactive, between spending time to manage the business vs. improve the business.
Put another way, improvement work is generally perceived to be less urgent than the day to day activities required to make product, serve customers, or treat patients, which contributes to a mindset that it's somehow optional. So what needs to happen to start changing that paradigm such that more employees feel accountable for doing their part to make the business better? Here are 3 tips:
Tip 1: Set Expectations Early and Often
Think about a particular job role that needs to be more engaged in OpEx. Now take a look at the job description for that role. Where in the job description does it state that helping to improve the business is a core job requirement? How about during the onboarding process or as part of annual performance reviews?
Long story made short, if we don't set expectations that employees need to be engaged with OpEx, then why should we be surprised when they fail to do so?
Tip 2: Talk Performance vs. Activity
If we want the workforce to feel be more engaged in OpEx, we need to frame their work in terms that will increase their desire to improve. In other words, we need to talk more about the performance of the team, function, or business. Once employees start thinking about their jobs as being more than a series of activities that are only vaguely connected from the business, then their desire to give discretionary effort to improve the business will increase.
A concept that has generated some traction in certain organizations is the "performance dialogue." A performance dialogue is a structured discussion with one or more employees about the performance of the organization in order to:
- Educate the workforce about how the business is performing
- Surface improvement opportunities
- Create energy and enthusiasm within the workforce to make improvements
While it seems straight forward, the problem is that many organizations think they're doing performance dialogues when in fact what they're doing is unintentionally reinforcing a "status quo" mindset, because they aren't going about it in the right way. The short assessment shown below can be used to assess the quality of performance dialogues taking place anywhere in the organization.
If you want a printable copy of the assessment above, you can get it here. No forms, no strings attached.
Tip 3: Increase Transparency
A phrase that comes to mind is "transparency drives accountability." What this means is that people will intuitively behave differently under observation. And that's why it's important to create greater transparency when it comes to OpEx, specifically with regards to the improvement activities that employees are tasked to complete. That transparency is important because it helps to ensure follow-through.
A key question to consider is how easy it is for leaders at any level to get immediate visibility into the status of improvement activities taking place anywhere in the enterprise, and who is responsible for these activities. If the answer ranges anywhere from "not easy" to "virtually impossible," then your organization suffers from a lack of OpEx transparency, which is likely contributing to a lack of accountability.