The Mystical Zone of Improvement

The zone … the sweet spot … the mother lode. All through time there have been fables and legends told of this mystical place where time stands still and all needs are met. Do I have your attention? Excellent … let me carry on for a minute about where this spot is any manufacturing plant,…

The zone … the sweet spot … the mother lode.

All through time there have been fables and legends told of this mystical place where time stands still and all needs are met. Do I have your attention? Excellent … let me carry on for a minute about where this spot is any manufacturing plant, or actually any endeavor where people turn ideas into products and sell them to customers for a profit.

Millions, perhaps tens of millions of dollars are spent every year on improvement and “making things better.” Having watched this cycle play out for the past few decades under different names and approaches with basically the same information packaged and sold differently to capture a current trend, I began to ask direct questions of myself and my involvement with organizational change efforts.

There was TQM or Total Quality Management. Then organizations recognized the benefits of JIT or Just In Time. This evolved into a practice called simply Lean. Then Motorola introduced manufacturing to the idea of ​​collapsing variability and marketed it as Six Sigma. Today we have Lean Six Sigma and if you are still reading this, I need go no further because you have the idea I'm trying to present.

One concept is clear and absolute in any change initiative … the top decision maker must buy at an an emotional level for any program that asks people to change work and personal habits to have any chance of succeeding.

Try asking a smoker to stop.

Many work habits are just as pervasive.

So the top person must have the equivalent of a conversion experience so their behavior comes closer to matching the words they use. Because we are generally watching examples, and not listening very much.

My observation has been that many expensive change initiatives run out of energy, not from a lack passion from the top decision maker, but the ability of the people who actually touch the product being made to change the new message into new behavior.

Let me say that again … theability of the people who actually touch the product being made to change the top decision maker's new message into their new behavior. Effective change can never be imposed and most often will not happen apart from a “significant emotional event.” We are people after all.

I have sent the better part of thirty years in improvement implementation efforts of one type or another. Some failed in spectacular fashion … shock and awe. A very few were extraordinarily successful in terms of producing less error and putting more net profit against the bottom line. And over the past few years I've taken the time to reflect on those differences. And arrived at some substantial discoveries (at least for me).

What was the difference? If you knew you could focus on one area of ​​your business that would almost guarantee exponential yield against each dollar invested, it would be like a money tree, would not it? All you would have to do is show up to collect the windfall! Where is this place?

It's actually in the distance between a person's eye and hand … and what is happening in that space. Think with me for a minute about what happens while someone is doing their job.

The first test event is com-pre-hension. Interesting word, and an even more interesting concept.