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 The Business Realist

   A dose of reality for a saner workplace


Initiatives can easily become the program du jour when companies want quick and easy results Not every program is right for every situation. Understanding how the program works and how it attains results is key to its success and the key to modifying it to fit your situation. Like everything,  you get out of it what you put into it.

The best thing since sliced bread

Posted  on 6/23/09
Slice of bread

If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail

In this scenario, the company that embarks on the program is usually not in crisis mode but is looking to improve a capability in one area, like new product development, lean manufacturing or innovation. To do this, a department head will hire an expert in “the best improvement program”  to obtain the new capability. The expert works with the Department Head to develop a charter, plan, and objectives for “the best improvement program ever” and then the Department Head and a few of his direct report attend an intensive 4-6 week training program. These few are then dedicated to implementing the program in their department with the help of the expert. The expert offers advice and helps customize the program to meet their particular objectives. Under the supervision of the expert, the team implements a very rigorous improvement plan and also gains quite of bit expertise themselves, benefiting from the expert's direct coaching.  Most of this work is kept hush-hush because the Department Head wants to get results before he promotes his program.

Once the department has real results, both the Expert and the Department Head embark on a self-promotional spree and earn the attention of the CEO who thinks other departments could benefit from “the best improvement program.” However, the other department don't want to pay for the expert's time, so the CEO assigns one or two of those already trained to help the other departments with their programs. Not being strong advocates, none of those department heads send their resources for the intensive training but instead opt for local "experts" to give them mini-sessions and advice. Of course, these employees are still responsible for their own departmental jobs and don’t devote as much time as they should.  Still, the program is implemented, not quite as rigorously as before, and some benefits are achieved, but not quite as dramatic as those in the original department.  Word of these successes spreads through inter-company PR articles, presentations, and emails, and now everyone wants the program, or at least, the CEO wants everyone to want the program which is almost the same thing. 

The in-house "experts" are asked to develop mini-training programs because the company cannot afford to send everyone to the intensive program. Besides, the main messages can easily be boiled down to one day. Who needs all that detail? They conduct these one-day training sessions for a number of their colleagues, and those trainees are sent out to implement the program in their areas. Although these other departments have very different issues than the first department, the same approach is generally used, because no one is aware of any others, but it is simplified to implement quickly without the bother of all that rigor.

The departments then pick and choose what they feel like implementing without understanding how each step contributes to the overall success. Those responsible for implementing the program in their areas still have their full-time jobs and are not using the Expert to help because he costs too much. In other words, they don’t devote much time or effort to understanding or implementing the program.  In this iteration of the “best improvement program,” few benefits are realized, and everyone looks back on the program as a lot of hype and a big waste of time. In essence, it’s a lot like following the Atkins diet on Thursdays.

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Featured Neologisms

Undue diligence   –
the endless process of collecting more information in order to avoid making a decision
Team vynamics   -
Group behavior wherein individuals at a meeting vie for dominance