Tom Peters said that excellent businesses don't believe in excellence, only in constant improvement and constant change.
In a way that statement is self-evident. The old adage that say "we've always done it this way" unquestionably is still alive(ish) and if not really kicking, rather twitching, it is a wet blanket on progress.
The question is how to implement change, how quickly, with what outcome in mind and crucially whether it should be incremental or big and immediate.
The Japanese methodology of Kai-zen propounds constant incremental change which perhaps takes a little more time but it can be more easily absorbed by more people.
No doubt it has been a very successful technique and certainly can achieve the desired outcomes with a minimum of upheaval and pain.
The big advantage of Kai-zen is that it can become accepted more easily and becomes almost an expected routine in the business.
It could be called a modern version of the old Suggestion Box but with several differences.
Firstly it involves everyone in the business at all levels and positively encourages the flow of ideas, which will change the business in some way.
For example at Nissan in the UK, shop floor personnel are encouraged to put forward ways in which their jobs can be made more effective.
All ideas are carefully scrutinised and passed to a special unit for implementation or not. There is no reward when a good idea is developed except for posters congratulating the initiator and possibly enhanced earnings as a result of the change.
The consequence is that there is a constant flow of change at all levels and most people accept the value of the scheme.
However by its very regularity and minor effects each time, the results are not always noticeable and don't necessarily achieve an overall desired outcome of culture change.
If we are really trying to achieve major effects on performance of the people and the business which does mean culture change at both personal and corporate levels then the change needs to be dramatic.
The great U.S. Vistage speaker and leadership guru, Lee Thayer, prefers exactly that, a far more dramatic approach to change.
Lee thinks that change needs to be big, dramatic and significant in the lives of the people and the business so that it and its implications cannot be brushed aside
He cites the example of the Johnsonville Sausage Company that decided (after some persuasion) that they should go for a doubling of turnover to $40m in their next financial year.
The leader accepted all the shocked and negative reactions but asked his team if they were to go for it, what would they need to do, what changed would be necessary.
They went for it and failed. They achieved $37m and went on from strength to strength.
It all devolves on knowing why we need the specific change, what outcomes do we want and how it should progress the people and their performance.
Remember that Tom Peters says that excellence is derived from constant change and constant improvement.
This implies a planning process of some sort so that everyone can understand why the change is being implemented and, crucially, what will be the anticipated effect on the business and hence on each individual.
In fact the whole idea of the change process needs to be conducted in a totally transparent and honest environment so that everyone can understand the rationale.
Even under these circumstances some people will find it difficult to accept probably through fear of its impact on them personally.
In the end every business needs to pursue excellence in every facet of the enterprise. This driver must be at the forefront of the thinking and taking action at every level.
Then you can honestly say that you have gone for and have achieved true culture change.
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