Tag Archives: best practice

Engaging staff in operational excellence – a case study on the visual workplace

Managing cargo shipments in the Port of Felixstowe

I’ve been catching-up on my business reading.  I always find something fascinating when I do….

True to form, my efforts were quickly rewarded this morning, with a case study on digital signage at the Port of Felixstowe in the August 14th issue of Business Weekly. This article caught my attention for two reasons:

  • I’d been impressed, whilst sketching* on the beach during a late summer trip to Felixstowe, by the size and frequency of the cargo ships going across the horizon.
  • I’m always intrigued by how organisations engage their staff in a commitment to operational excellence.
Cargo ship and operational excellence in Felixstowe

Cargo ship on the horizon and operational excellence in Felixstowe

(*I’m a very recently initiated amateur! More about this for anyone interested in the July-August RiverRhee Newsletter.)

Collecting metrics is a step towards operational excellence

Most business teams collect metrics or KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) on their performance.  It’s a requirement from management.  Variations on cost, time and quality – often expressed as frequencies, quantities, timings etc. – are dutifully collected and included in monthly reports.

We talk about these metrics during the RiverRhee training courses that I run on Lean and Six Sigma, and on Change Management.  Questions that are often raised are:

  • Are the right things being measured: will they give us meaningful and useful information on how we are performing in relation to our customers and our goals?
  • Is anyone paying attention to the metrics and using them to make decisions, to improve performance on a continuous basis, to monitor whether anticipated  benefits are being delivered?
  • Have we in fact got too many metrics?

‘Stand-up’ meetings and a visual workplace can make a real difference to engagement and results

One of the things I enjoy about working with multiple customers is witnessing the diversity of their approaches and hearing about examples of operational excellence.

One company uses ‘stand-up’ meetings at the start of the day and at lunch time (to catch people working on different shifts).  They update a white board in a narrow corridor with their key targets and up to the minute metrics on performance in relation to customers and operations.  The local manager or supervisor runs through the figures, celebrates achievements, asks for comments and suggestions.  One or two members of staff might also share an item of news or a good practice.  The narrowness of the corridor and the absence of chairs help to ensure that the meeting is very brief – it lasts 15 minutes at the most. Everyone is engaged, informed, energised and committed to the organisation’s aims and their roles within it.

Other organisations have more sophisticated white boards or electronic displays in more spacious locations that can be viewed as people go by as well as in similar ‘stand up’ briefings at key points of the day or working week.

Using ‘media screens’ at the Port of Felixstowe

The case study in Business Weekly features Anders+Kern (A+K) PADS (www.anders-kern.co.uk) and the Port of Felixstowe’s decision to use their ‘media screens’ to provide ‘real-time and relevant information’ to the approximate 75 per cent of their staff involved in operational roles and delivering services to their customers. (The Port of Felixstowe A+K case study is also available online.)

The article describes how the information communicated includes ‘progress against customer service targets’ and ‘changes to operational procedures’.

This is all very good to hear about.  It would be wonderful to get an inside view on the impact that this approach to the visual workplace is having on employee engagement and operational excellence.

How are you engaging your staff in operational excellence?  Do you have some form of visual workplace?

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), APM (Association for Project Management) and is also registered as a Growth Coach and Leadership & Management trainer with the GrowthAccelerator.

Getting it right rather than ‘firefighting’…unless that’s your job!

By Elisabeth Goodman

Being a ‘farmer’ not a ‘firefighter’

Some years ago when I was first learning about Lean and Six Sigma, a colleague shared an article he’d found comparing farmers and firefighters. People in organisations are often singled out when they have worked all hours to deal with a crisis, and yet the people who have worked more quietly to anticipate those problems and put preventative measures in place (the farmers) can often go un-noticed.

Lean Six Sigma and Project Management techniques advocate just that quiet and steady farming approach (the FMEA technique described in an earlier blog is one way to do this).  Lean Six Sigma also advocates stopping and addressing problems as soon as possible after they do arise so as to prevent the same thing happening again.

What can we learn from the competitors in the Olympics at London 2012?

It’s impossible to write blogs at this time without referring to the Olympics and London 2012, which has kept many of us supporting Team GB glued to our television screens!

The competitors have been training for 4 years or more for the Olympics. ‘Firefighting’ is hardly an option when you’re up against the clock in your event, and you just have to get it right on the day.  How did the medalists and the other competitors who achieved their personal bests manage to do so?

“Hard work and grafting” was the approach described by Mo Farah after his exciting finish in the 5,000 metres: the culmination of his strategic planning and execution of the race itself.

Contrast this with Brazil’s men’s football team’s desperate attempt to equalize Mexico’s 2-point lead in their final match. In the words of the BBC commentator: they “started sloppy and underestimated Mexico”. They managed to score a goal in the 90th minute but missed scoring a second with a simple header because “it was too much” for the player involved.  Their ‘firefighting’ was just too tall an order.

The quality of the Olympic competitors’ coaches and their ability to pass on their knowledge, experience and expertise will have been a big factor in these games. It was intriguing to watch the dynamics between the pole-vaulter Holly Bleasdale and her coach as she tried to cope with a persistent breeze. She did seem to be in ‘firefighting’ mode and sadly things did not work out for her on this occasion.

Project management heroes

Coming back to the world of project management, Tony McGoldrick Opinion Piece in July’s issue of Project writes about how we can all be ‘heroes’ by doing the basics well. He also queried the all too frequent emphasis on ‘firefighters’.  For him, getting the basics right involves understanding and delivering what your stakeholders want, and getting the quality, timing and budget right.  Incidentally, the July issue of Project also carried an article by Andrew Hubbard on BT’s goal of ‘flawless delivery’ and getting it ‘right first time’ for the Olympic games!

Being the best that we can be

Amongst all the marvelous reflections and pronouncements about the Olympics, I found the following in this Sunday Observer’s ‘The farewell’ report by Tim Adams: “What these Olympics have been about, though, is not the necessity of being the best, but the pleasures of finding out the best you can be”.

Whether through “hard work and grafting”, anticipating and planning for risks, never underestimating the competition, being clear on how we can deliver value to our shareholders, and being committed to doing so, we can all not only become better farmers and heroes rather than ‘firefighters’ in our everyday lives, but enjoy the process of becoming so.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Team development, pre-requisites for success and temperature checks: tools for effective change management

By Elisabeth Goodman and Lucy Loh

This is the fourth in our series of blogs on “Enhancing Team Effectiveness in a time of change” based on our recent publication in Business Information Review(1), and other publications and seminars in progress.

In our first blog (Enhancing team effectiveness in a time of change – an introduction), we described the challenges being faced by organisations, teams and individuals and the impact that these changes have on them.

Our second blog (Recognising reactions to change, and responding to them) explored how people (either as individuals or teams) respond to change and how to help them through their journeys in a positive way.

Our third blog (Tools for supporting teams during their journeys through change) introduced five more specific tools for supporting teams during their journeys through change.

This fourth blog explores three of the tools: team development, pre-requisites for success and team temperature checks in more detail. Our next and final blog in this series will explore the other two tools: Lean and Six Sigma in Change Management and Dilts’ Logical Levels of Change.  We will also prompt you to reflect on the series of blogs on this topic, and initiate some activity to review and enhance the effectiveness of the teams you belong to.

Using a team development model to progress towards and sustain a ‘high performance’ team

We have used a version of the Tuckman(2) and Hersey-Blanchard(3)  team development models with teams that are just starting up, as well as with already established teams.  It helps leaders and team members to understand where the team is in its evolution, and what they could do to help it develop towards a stage of ‘high performance’.

The renewing (also sometimes referred to as ‘mourning’) and forming stages are the ones that will happen most frequently at a time of change for the team.  These are the ones that require the most ‘hands-on’ and directive attention from the leader.  For a team going through change and renewal, it is important for the team leader and members to celebrate the successes of the past (as previously mentioned), and to take note of what made them successful.

Team leaders and members may fear and try to avoid the storming stage but this is an important time for people to air their views openly and share their ideas constructively in order to make the team stronger.

In fact the team leader needs to play a different role at different stages: one-on-one interactions with team members are especially valuable in the storming stage and a focus outwards to stakeholders in the high performing stage.  Through awareness of these different stages, team members can also support the team leader and other team members, as well as ensure that they are fully developing their role within the team.

Structured learning techniques such as discussing other teams’ experiences in ‘Peer Assists’ at the start of a team’s life, conducting ‘After Action Reviews’ (timely debriefs on lessons learnt) at key milestones, and holding in-depth ‘Learning Retrospects’ at the end of a team’s life can be particularly useful to capture and share lessons learnt between existing and new team members and others outside of the team(4).

Identifying and agreeing on best practices as pre-requisites for success

We have coached team leaders in using variations of a list of prerequisites as a checklist for effectiveness.  Team members can help to identify, prioritise and explore best practices for check-lists such as the following:

  • Clear purpose & goals
  • Trust & support each other
  • Open communication
  • Clear roles
  • Diversity
  • Task / Relationship Balance
  • Decision Making
  • Meeting management
  • Information Management

Using team temperature checks to monitor and enhance team effectiveness

We use team temperature checks as a diagnostic with the previous prerequisites, at a time of change, to determine the status of the team, and to actively engage team members on the priorities to be addressed going forward.

The relative importance of each prerequisite will change during the life of the team, as will the team’s perception of how well they are performing.  Rather than dwell retrospectively on everything that is not working, the team should focus on the biggest gaps between importance and performance of a prerequisite, and explore the suggestions for improvement in order to move forward in a constructive way.

At the request of team leaders, we have polled members individually to obtain ratings of the perceived importance and performance against each prerequisite, and to encourage them to make suggestions for improvement to bring back to a team workshop.  Using an external objective facilitator can help with this, although in the long-term teams could manage this themselves e.g. by doing periodic ‘After Action Reviews’ in team meetings, or at key milestones.

In a time of change it may also be appropriate to involve customers, suppliers and other stakeholders in this process.  This will deliver two benefits: getting some external input, and also building relationships with people of importance to the team either during or after the change.


  1. Goodman, E and Loh, L. (2011) Organisational change: a critical challenge for team effectiveness.  Business Information Review, 28(4) 242-250
  2. Tuckman, B. and Jensen, M. (1977) Stages of small group development revisited, Group and Organizational Studies, 419-27
  3. Hersey, P and Blanchard, K Situational Leadership.  See for example : www.12manage.com
  4. Collison, Chris and Parnell, Geoff (2004) Learning to Fly: Practical Knowledge Management from Leading and Learning Organizations. Capstone; 2nd Edition

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), and APM (Association for Project Management).

Lucy Loh is the Owner and Principal Consultant at Lucy Loh Consulting, a consultancy that helps businesses and organisations develop their business plans, and manage change in their organisations and teams to be able to deliver those plans.  She is also a RiverRhee Consulting Associate.  Lucy has 25 years’ experience in BioPharma, where she has held management roles in strategy development and all aspects of performance management, as well as extensive internal consulting.  Lucy has expertise and experience in organisation development, benefits management and in designing and leading business change. She is a certified Master Practitioner of NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), which enhances her work in change management and individual coaching.  She is also an accredited trainer with the Institute of Leadership and Management for Strategic Leadership.

2nd Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices (1 of 2)

Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, The Brewery, London, April 2011 (1 of 2)

John Riddell and Elisabeth Goodman, RiverRhee Consulting1

This was the second of IQPC’s specialist conferences on this theme, and as last time2, many of those questioned by the authors were finding it of real value for learning about the specific application of Lean and Six Sigma in their environment.

The conference extended over 2 days, with pre-conference workshops covering a range of topics3. With the conference themes including strategy, change management, relevance to non-manufacturing environments, and innovation, it was obvious from the start that deploying Business Process Excellence was going to be about more than Lean and Six Sigma tools.

Business Process Excellence is not just about the (Lean and Six Sigma) tools

Martin Conroy, Director, Global Lean Sigma at Medtronic, kicked off the conference by reflecting about the pains encountered when moving to a continuous improvement culture and what can be done about them. He argued that Lean is an apparently simple concept, but one that can be difficult to ‘nail’: it’s not enough to have the tools, but they need to be used intelligently (with know-how), together and, especially, with the right mindset.  He also emphasized that continuous improvement is neither a ‘bolt-on’ nor something to be done once (quickly) before moving onto the next initiative: it is something that requires careful planning and integration within the business.

Linking continuous improvement to organisational strategy

Many of the speakers referred to the importance of taking a holistic approach to implementing Lean and Six Sigma and of linking this to organisational goals.  See for example Elisabeth Goodman’s4 presentation that included case studies on this.  Tom Cochrane, Head of Security Operations and Process Development, Napp, described how their charter supports a continuous improvement culture although Lean and Six Sigma are never explicitly mentioned.  Instead, they take a systems approach to the whole production process, and use statistical process control as an intrinsic continuous improvement tool across all disciplines, with cross-functional teams operating from the QA department.

Damian Morgan, Senior Executive, Accenture described how industry pressures and the Pharmaceutical Industry’s own responses were resulting in slowing growth and margin pressures.  He suggested a consequential increased reliance on Operational Excellence (in the sense of Process Excellence) for winning.  Pharmaceutical companies need to be agile, to be operationally excellent, and have differentiated capability.  Indeed a cross sector study has shown that those who ‘win’ make investments in people and processes and, although they may look worse than their competitors who make draconian cuts in the short term, they recover more quickly and their recovery lasts longer (for more than 5 years).

Sauman Chakraborty, President and Global Head of Quality, HR & IT, described “Dr Reddy’s Way” which is a 4 strand strategic framework combining versions of EFQM’s Business Excellence Model, the Balanced Scorecard, Policy Deployment, and a Strategy and Tactics Logical Tree and underpinning everything that they do.

Top-down, middle-out or bottom-up implementation

Elisabeth Goodman also explored the pros and cons of taking a top-down, middle-out, or bottom-up approach.

This was a theme that came up in the first panel discussion.  Responses centred on “Yes, leadership can be sceptical” or “just don’t get it”, but can be brought round if they understand, or more importantly, tangibly see the benefits.  The bottom-up approach can be used to generate examples that demonstrate value and approaches.  Middle-out must not be forgotten, and here champions and change agents provide a key influence.

The theme also came up in the second panel discussion, when Karsten Benzing, Boehringer Ingelheim said that their most successful project were those driven top-down by leaders.  A further thought was that a bottom-up approach only has a finite life as “you can only do something for so long without your boss’s approval”.

Engaging leadership: senior management need to be involved

It was suggested in the second panel discussion of Day 1 that there are two levels of leadership support – passive – “I’ll let you do this”, and active – getting involved and showing commitment.

Celia Banks’ (R&D and Medical BT CI Lead, Pfizer) initial work in Pfizer was as a contractor engaged to prove the benefit of a Continuous Improvement programme to a sceptical leadership (they were unsure how a “manufacturing programme” could be applied in R&D).  Some pilot projects were carried out, ensuring that they tied in to a strategic imperative, and the necessity of top-down support identified.  Celia also recommended the use of Nemawashi with senior management i.e. introduce ideas step-by-step (and involving them in developing), and not going to them with a packaged solution.

Engaging staff: it’s about improving people’s lives at work

The first panel discussion on day 1 included the theme of engagement of staff.  Delegates and panellists discussed the importance of using simple language, giving recognition, and ensuring that people’s lives improve.  The word “humility” was used in the context of recognising that managers “are non-value-adding” and that their role should be to ask questions and facilitate and look for their people to provide answers.

Chris Christodoulou, Head, Laboratory Compliance, MedImmune came back to this theme in his presentation when he described how Operational Excellence is introduced to new employees during induction, and yellow belt training is available to everyone, with a target of >80% take-up.  There is an emphasis on communicating successes to show measurable result, and showcase projects including small yellow belt projects.  All projects are expected to deliver tangible benefits.

The underlying message of his various case studies (management of consumables in the lab, analytical process simplification, 5S of the fridge, templates for writing up, and eliminating duplicate HPLC testing ) was to “do simple projects to make peoples’ lives easier and happier, and make things work better.”

The value of training everyone: organise training so that it is utilised immediately

The second panel were asked about the value of training everyone.  Chris Christodoulou said that this would result in everyone talking the same language and plant seeds [i.e. it’s part of the culture change].  David Hampton, Rath & Strong, “controversially” pointed out that training itself is non-value adding and that green and black belt training needs to be integrated with a project and support.

Celia Banks described how specific training was devised for Continuous Improvement leads – on-demand, on-line, rather than as a block in a classroom.

Charles Aubrey, Vice President Performance Excellence, Anderson Pharmaceutical Packaging, echoed the approach of integrating training into application. Their programme was initiated through 4 days of training with the Leadership Team (to create understanding) then a pilot project was carried out in order to get buy-in.  From there a comprehensive programme developed with the aim of everyone in the organisation having a role e.g. Yellow belts objective was to improve the way they work (they defined the 8th of Ohno’s wastes as that of the human mind).

The role of black belts

Martin Conroy was the first to raise the role of black belts in organisations.  He referred to them as experts parachuted in “behind enemy lines” and described the challenges that they face the biggest one being the need for people to recognise that continuous improvement is not about these experts “doing things to or for you”.

A panel discussion later in the day came back to the role of black belts.  It was generally thought that they should be full-time so they are more practised in the basics and have a wider set of tools, but there were mixed views on where their expertise should be applied.  One panellist’s view was that black belts can be a “nuisance” e.g. in causing processes to be reworked unnecessarily e.g. Kanbans, to achieve standardisation across an organisation.

Using consultants: bring in someone to help kick-start programmes

There was agreement in the first panel discussion, that building internal capability is essential, but external involvement by consultants can bring in lessons learnt and play a role in mentoring senior management.

Panellists in the second discussion suggested that consultants were useful for transformational projects, although a further guarantee of the success of such projects was that they would necessarily involve senior leadership commitment.

Notes and further reading:

  1. RiverRhee Consulting enhances team effectiveness using process improvement, knowledge management and change management.  Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting and about Elisabeth Goodman and John Riddell
  2. Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech & Medical Devices – April 2010 – Key Themes http://wp.me/pAUbH-2u
  3. John Riddell and Elisabeth Goodman ran a workshop entitled: “Communities of practice and other knowledge management techniques to implement and sustain continuous improvement”.  Please contact us if you would be interested in arranging a version of this workshop for you. http://slidesha.re/eoqKH5
  4. Elisabeth Goodman.  “Sustaining Effective Continuous Improvement In An Organisation: A Holistic View”. Presented at Business Process Excellence for Pharmaceuticals, Biotech and Medical Devices, The Brewery, London, April 2011 http://slidesha.re/h2vVhN

Intuition revisited – implications for process improvement and Lean Six Sigma (Part 2 of 3 blogs)

Intuition has an important role in process improvement

In a previous blog “The problem with relying on intuition for process improvement and decision making” I emphasized the problems with, rather than the opportunities for intuition.

However, as Gary Klein(1) points out, the analytical techniques practiced in Lean Six Sigma also have their shortcomings.  A point also often highlighted to me by participants in process improvement workshops or Kaizen events.

Some of the infrastructure created in Lean Six Sigma and other process improvement based programmes can also create some real barriers for intuition.

This blog follows on from part 1: “Intuition revisited – or how it could be important to a business environment”, to explore the implications of intuition to these aspects of process improvement.

The limits and strengths of intuition and analytical techniques

The potential for using intuition is limited for example where people do not yet have sufficient expertise in an area, or the area is too complex, or where people may have become ‘blinkered’ and so unable to spot important or subtle cues or patterns.

Conversely, people sometimes try to force-fit analytical techniques in situations where others have the expertise to make judgements.  The use of decision matrices, with weighted criteria can be an example of this(2).  And so some alternatives, suggested by Klein are:

  1. Use intuition first when comparing options e.g. ask people for an initial indication of their preferences – so that this can be used as a ‘sanity’ check on outcomes from an analytical approach
  2. Try a strengths vs. weaknesses approach as an alternative to weighted decision criteria
  3. Use mental simulation of how the options might play out to understand them better
  4. Look for ways to simplify the comparisons: there might be some factors that are really not important
  5. Recognise situations where the difference between options is really too small to make a difference and where it would be better to just pick one rather than continue the evaluation

Barriers to intuition created by process improvement programmes

Process improvement programmes encourage the documentation of procedures (standardized ways of working), using metrics to monitor performance, and automating routine or complex analytical tasks.

These can be extremely effective ways to streamline work, ensure that good practices are re-used, identify when timelines, quality or safety and budgets are at risk, and release people to get on with more creative activities.

However, as Klein points out, they can also not only create barriers to people using their intuition, but they can also gradually undermine what intuitive powers people have.

How to use procedures and intuition

Standardized procedures are essential in regulated environments, and invaluable in helping new staff get up to speed quickly, or as a reminder to those who carry out certain tasks infrequently.  They can also help an organisation ensure that everyone benefits from good practices in how to perform processes effectively and efficiently.  However, as Klein points out, people need to use standardized procedures in a way that keeps them alert to what they are doing, so that they can spot unexpected problems, or opportunities to do things differently i.e. fostering their intuition rather than in effect ‘turning it off’.  Such an attitude will foster continuous improvement and this is also how, as I’ve written elsewhere(3), people can maintain a dynamic between standardization and creativity.  Understanding why the procedures are as they are: the context around them, will help with this, so that this should be an integral part of teaching people about procedures.

How to use metrics and intuition

The same is true for metrics: they have a vital role to play in monitoring performance and in alerting people to risk, but too often metrics are collected for their own sake, and without people having a proper understanding of their purpose or of how to interpret them.  Again, if used intelligently and with awareness, people can foster their intuition and not only derive real value from the metrics, but spot situations when the metrics alone are not enough.

Automation and intuition

With some skill in mental mathematics, our intuition will alert us if calculations done on a calculator or in an excel spreadsheet are tens or hundreds of units out from what we would expect.  However there is a risk when routine analytical tasks, or even more complex ones have been relegated to computers that we will be under-rehearsed or have insufficient expertise to spot problems that might arise.  So where processes or parts of processes are selected for automation as a result of process improvement, we need to find ways to continue to maintain expertise and foster intuition, so that automation does indeed continue to act as a support tool rather than the master of our work!

The third blog of this series will be addressing intuition and knowledge management, and ways in which people can actively enhance their intuitive skills.


  1. The Power of Intuition: How to Use Your Gut Feelings to Make Better Decisions at Work, by Gary Klein, Crown Business, 2004. ISBN 978-0385502894
  2. There’s more to decision making than meets the eye or…. Why we shouldn’t dismiss gut feelings.
  3. Elisabeth Goodman (2010) How Lean can bring real benefits to innovation in Pharmaceutical Research Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ, 8th January 2010, http://www.sixsigmaiq.com/article.cfm?externalID=1720
  4. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.  Read Elisabeth Goodman’s blog for more discussions on topics covered by this blog.

Communicating change – some practical procedural guidance

I’ve been on the look out for a good book on how to help teams develop their key messages for introducing change.  Whilst ‘Perfect Phrases for Communicating Change’ by Lawrence Polsky and Antoine Gershel1, does indeed have a rich array of phrases to use in different situations, it still did not quite help me with the ‘how’ for developing them.  However what the book does have is some very useful perspectives on how to go about communicating change.  This is what I will summarise in this blog.

Different phases of change require different kinds of intervention

The authors describe 3 phases: launch, execution, sustain.  There is of course also ‘prepare’, but this is something that we change management practitioners already know a lot about!

  1. Launch. This is the point at which it is essential that leaders communicate what is changing, and also what is not changing (this can give some sense of reassurance in an otherwise changing landscape.  Leader also need to consistently communicate the ‘why’ – something that sometimes gets left out of key messages.  I particularly like the authors’ suggestion that leaders practice being able to communicate the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ in 60 seconds to help people absorb and retain the information.  They also stress the importance of leaders being readily available to help answer the inevitable questions that those affected by the change will have.
  2. Execution. Polsky and Gershel’s suggestions here come under 2 broad categories: performance management and teamwork.  Performance management involves the focus on desired new behaviours, what people need to learn to achieve them, having clear definitions of associated roles and responsibilities, defining and monitoring measures to know that the new ways of working are being achieved, and celebrating success!  Teamwork is about leaders working with their teams in multiple ways to secure their engagement and involvement. It includes 2-way dialogues for input and decision making, defining and sharing common goals and rewards, surfacing concerns and resistance, and above all cultivating trust through role modeling and acknowledging contributions.
  3. Sustaining also involves continued acknowledgement of people’s efforts, positive attitudes and results.  It includes reviewing learnings about how the change was handled for the next time, and thinking about and articulating what the next change will be!

Different types of communication require different types of intervention

Polsky and Gershel distinguish between 1-way communications i.e.  broadcast communications with limited or no opportunities for dialogue e.g. town-hall presentations, voicemail messages, postings on the company intranet; and 2-way or multi-dimensional communications which allow for more dialogue.

They list a number of different communication objectives and suggest which method of communication would be best for each:

Type of communication 1-way communication 2-way or multi-dimensional
Announcing change To get the facts out With line managers, to get buy-in
Responding to questions For more technical changes e.g. using FAQs Where personal emotions are likely to be involved
Creating urgency To communicate deadlines, to ensure line managers are informed When wanting to make a personal impact
Clarifying roles and responsibilities For initial information, and for final confirmation When discussing personal implications
Communicating individual objectives As above To reach mutual agreement on what is involved
Empowering employees Once what is involved has been understood To set expectations and gain understanding
Keeping people motivated To send reminders and for more routine congratulations To acknowledge special achievements, and to address issues

They also cite the characteristics of communication that would be suited to 1-way vs. 2-way approaches:

1-way communication 2-way or multi-dimensional
Transactional Relationship
Fact-based Emotional
Sharing information Collaborating on a piece of work
Repetitive (especially if previously successful) Innovative
Maintaining a good relationship Dealing with relationship issues
Structured information (roles, responsibilities, milestones) Untructured
Simple Complex (requiring thinking and discussion
Audience fairly uniform* Audience very diverse*

(*I would not tend to use this particularly distinction as the individuals within an audience will invariably have their own ‘take’ on the communication and how it affects them personally.)

Best practices for communicating change (and for handling resistance)

The authors’ list of “do’s and don’t’s” really resonated with my own experience of managing change.  It included:

  • Build trust before you actually need to introduce change
  • Be direct (this is especially important when anticipating or managing resistance – see more on this below)
  • Talk to people early!  Get news out fast to  minimise rumours and raising false expectations
  • Adjust your communication style and messages to your audience (recognizing when 2-way communication is needed)
  • Watch your body language: it can affect the credibility of what you are saying
  • Find your own personal style (again, it will not only make you more comfortable in delivering your message, but aid in your credibility)
  • Choose the right person to deliver the message (it may not be you)
  • Don’t expect to have all the answers (and be prepared to acknowledge that you don’t)
  • Don’t expect to have the ‘perfect phrase’ (but see the earlier comments about the launch phase of change)

Handling resistance. It is not only inevitable that people will demonstrate resistance during change, but something to be welcomed as an indication that people are paying attention to the change, and thinking about the implications for them.

Polsky and Gershel suggest 4 steps in handling resistance that may be heading in the wrong direction.

  1. “Empathise” i.e. ensure you have rapport with the individuals concerned and that you understand, or at least acknowledge what they are going through emotionally
  2. “Level” i.e. make it clear to them how you perceive their behaviour and what impact it may be having
  3. “Listen” to their reactions to, and views about what you are saying
  4. “Take a stand” to explain what they need to do in order to comply with the change, and what the consequences will be if they do not (making sure that you have checked with HR first).

In my, and RiverRhee Consulting’s2 work with teams, we not only aim to surface resistance so at to take corrective action if needed, but also to help us review the communication and change management approach.  Insights gained from those affected by change could be an indication that we have not addressed everything we need to, but that we may need to do, or communicate things differently.


1. “Perfect Phrases for Communicating Change” by Lawrence Polsky and Antoine Gershel,

2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, enhancing team effectiveness through process improvement, knowledge and change management. Follow the links to find out about how Elisabeth Goodman and RiverRhee Consulting can help your team to work more effectively for greater productivity and improved team morale.

Business Process Excellence in Pharma, Biotech and Medical Devices – April 2010 – Key Themes

An integrated approach to Strategy, People, Process, Content and Technology is central to the success of business process improvement.

Elisabeth Goodman, Owner and Principal Consultant, RiverRhee Consulting, opened the conference with the importance of these themes in achieving Business Process Excellence (BPE).  She also came back to them in a later presentation (http://slidesha.re/aVhZso) describing the role that each has to play in implementing BPE as a cultural change.  These turned out to be the central themes of the conference.

Business process improvement initiatives will be more effective if integrated with organisational strategy.

Pat O’Sullivan, VP and General Manager, Genzyme, gave an excellent account of how Genzyme deliberately chose Lean in 2008 as a key component of their new vision, strategic plan, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), key enablers and initiatives.  They chose Lean as a methodology that would enable them to fully engage and mobilize the whole organisation, and so achieve individuals’ and the organisation’s potential.  Their goal was to reduce the cost of production by one third, via new ways of working, by 2012.  They are well on track to achieving that.

Gerald Bradley, Chairman, Sigma, reminded us of the importance of defining anticipated benefits when introducing change at the organisational level, as well as at the portfolio or project level. He gave us an in-depth approach of how we could achieve that, through benefits realization management and also how to tie individual improvement opportunities back to organisational strategy.

Business process excellence will not be achieved if people are not engaged.

Dawood Dassu, R&D Global MBB, AstraZeneca, and Derek Hill, Continuous Improvement Specialist, Pfizer (supported by David Hampton, VP at Rath & Strong), gave us excellent overviews of the approaches they have been taking to engage people in an R&D rather than a manufacturing context.  Dawood Dassu described roll out in the Discovery part of R&D, in Chemical Compound handling and in Lead Optimisation to the point that all R&D sites have now deployed Lean, and benefits are being seen through the whole R&D value chain.  Derek Hill described how Yellow Belt training has been really effective in changing mindsets as well as in getting people engaged.

Yolande Vanhove, Vice President, Business Excellence, Janssen Pharmaceuticals, described how HR can play a pivotal role in enabling engagement through their role in recruitment and performance reviews.

Many of the presenters reiterated the challenges and importance of ensuring that leadership is fully engaged and committed.  Mike Serena, Managing Director and Partner for Pharmaceuticals & Medicines, TBM Consulting, put this across strongly.  Those involved in business process improvement need to be zealots (the ‘Z’ in Kaizen), and should not start unless the company is ready, committed, and prepare to address the consequences when opportunities for improvement and challenges are identified.

It’s all about process!

Examination of business processes is of course key to process improvement!  However, the process of implementing business process improvement itself is a key consideration.  Yolande Vanhove gave us a very useful overview of her 4 Phase approach to implementation: stabilize processes, optimise flow, focus on pull, integrate with suppliers and customers. She and her team assess and support this approach on a site-by-site basis.

David Everitt-Newton, Director of Operational Excellence & Master Black Belt, Carefusion, reminded us of the need to focus on design excellence, as well as process improvement, and of how we can more effectively listen to the customer as we look to develop excellence as a habit.  Bill McIntyre, Six Sigma Training Director, BSI Group, also reminded us to consider internal customers: it may be both easier and more productive to focus on these when people are further removed from their external customers (e.g. patients and health care providers).

Content: we need to use the data and information from our metrics and documents.

Tom Cochrane, Business Process Development Manager, Napp Pharmaceuticals, and Peter Lodge, Advanced Manufacturing Consultant reminded us of how essential metrics are for process improvement, and of how powerful they can be both in developing our understanding of our processes, and in demonstrating success.  Likewise, there is no point in spending lots of time on developing documents such as FMEA (Failure Mode Effect Analysis), if we do not then reference and use them as living documents.

Technology can help us.

Although there was little explicit mention of the role of technology, we had some powerful illustrations of how it can help with visual dashboards or monitoring of data e.g. though Mike Serena’s description of plasma / touch screens and wireless Andon lights immediately outside lab areas, and an escalating series of alerts to managers’ Blackberry phones if anomalies are not being addressed.

Closing thoughts:  Lean and Six Sigma can provide opportunities beyond the obvious, but the timing has to be right.

Process improvement can engender creativity and innovation.

Craig Johnstone, Value Chain Leader, CV&GI, AstraZeneca, gave a well-researched and thoughtful account to counteract popular misconceptions of process improvement being ‘anti-innovative’.  Instead, he suggests that processes are there to enable people to add value; the removal of waste surfaces new problems and so acts as a stimulus for new ideas; standardization is only today’s best: tomorrow needs to be better.

Look for the right opportunities, at the right time.

John Pedersen, Vice President, NNE Pharmaplan reminded us, through his ‘garbage can’ model, that the acceptance of new ideas, or new ways of working are often dependent on the right people being in place to respond to these, at the right time.

The ripple and buffalo effects, chocolate cakes and windsurfing!

Graeme Moody, Team Leader, Lean Sigma Black Belt, CV&GI, used a few analogies in his presentation!  The ‘ripple’ effect describes how people ask to get involved in Lean and Six Sigma projects once they see others succeed, and the shift in attitude towards the importance of data.  The ‘buffalo’ effect suggests that once one, perhaps less critical, process has been improved it becomes easier to improve another that may be more in the path of the ‘stampede’.  Similarly, an R&D organisation is ‘like a chocolate cake’!  It may be easier to tackle more robust layers at the base of the cake first: such as secondary processes, before working up through primary processes, projects, portfolios, and the soft icing on the top: disease strategy.

As for windsurfing, Graeme suggests that the moment we are all working towards is when we have stopped falling into the water, achieved perfect balance, clipped our harness onto the sail, and can be carried along weightlessly by the wind in a perfect harmony of man, machine and environment!

Knowledge management and creativity / innovation – valuable adjuncts to project management. A case study

Knowledge management and creativity/ innovation enhance project management.

I am a firm believer in the value of knowledge management to enhance project management.  I also believe that the use of formal structures, such as those advocated in Lean and Six Sigma (or process improvement), and project management, give people more rather than less scope for creativity and innovation.  Creativity and innovation in turn, of course also enhance the quality of our processes and projects.  So, I was delighted to read the Turner & Townsend case study in April’s APM (Association for Project Management) magazine: Project1.  Even more satisfying is that this feature article was the result of T&T winning the APM Project Management Awards in 2009.

Why would knowledge management and creativity / innovation be important to an organisation such as Turner & Townsend?

T&T is a project management consultancy, with more than 2,400 employees, 770 of which are project managers, operating worldwide across 59 offices.  So they are a prime example of an organisation that would benefit from effective knowledge management to ensure that employees can:

  • Learn from their successes as well as their mistakes – so that they neither reinvent the wheel, nor repeat the same mistake twice
  • Continuously improve the way they do things – in this case, the ‘art and science’ of project management
  • Tap into the whole organisation’s experience and insights when working with their customers, and so not only achieve customer satisfaction, but customer loyalty

Creativity is the precursor of innovation:  it generates the new ideas which if accepted and applied within an organisation result in innovation.  An organisational structure that encourages and supports new idea generation and follow-through, will not only enable continuous improvement of its processes, projects and resultant customer experience, it should also result in greater employee satisfaction, morale, personal development and ultimate retention.  A recent internal staff survey suggests that T&T is achieving this kind of result with 86% of staff feeling proud to work there, and 84% indicating that they would recommend it as a good place to work.

How does T&T enable knowledge management and creativity / innovation?

Fundamental to the T&T approach is the emphasis they place on a range of formal and informal communication opportunities, using both face-to-face and electronic media, across all levels of the business.  Examples of these include:

  • An ‘excellent ideas’ intranet portal – a platform for posting new ideas, suggested good practice, and tools / products.  Apparently more than 200 ideas have been posted since the initiative started two years ago, and 50% have been applied or are in the process of being so, with another 18% under review.
  • Knowledge breakfasts – an opportunity for junior staff to discuss specific project related topics and then present the outcomes to their teams.
  • Intranet feedback – an opportunity for employees to submit best practice and guidance for continuous development and improvement of technical and service knowledge and delivery.  The intranet thereby functions as an online knowledge base that is continuously improved.

T&T also have a strong infrastructure to support knowledge management and creativity / innovation.

These knowledge management and creativity / innovation practices are supported by the organisation’s emphasis on continuous development, with people being encouraged to participate in various training programmes.

1% of turnover is invested in research and innovation, resulting in new project management tools and techniques.

T&T also have a well-defined model or set of processes for their work with clients:

  • Assess and engage: understanding client requirements, building a business case, building strong working relationships with the client and key stakeholders.
  • Develop & improve: strategies and plans for implementing the project.
  • Project execution plan: i.e. the manifestation of the previous step.
  • Deliver & benefit: implementation for successful delivery

Although the article does not discuss this model any further, it is this kind of infrastructure that supports the identification and sharing of experiences, insights and new ideas that lies at the heart of knowledge management and creativity / innovation.


1. Head Turner. Project – the voice of project management, issue 227, April 2010, pp34-35

2. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement, knowledge and change management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.

High performing organisations: interweaving process improvement, knowledge management and change management.

Approaches for building strong quality foundations are well documented in the manufacturing industry, but also occur across all business sectors and types of organisation such as flight airlines, the navy, health services, pharmaceutical research & development and education systems.

Steven Spear, in ‘Chasing the Rabbit’1 discusses, with examples from the above, how this quality foundation for high performing (or ‘high-velocity’) and leading organisations rests on 4 main capabilities.  These capabilities are a graphic illustration of the importance of process improvement approaches such as Lean and Six Sigma, of knowledge management, and change management for effective team performance.

The 4 capabilities of high-velocity organisations

  1. Design: A clear definition of customer expectations.  Documentation of the end-to-end process and associated roles for delivering these outputs, using the organisation’s cumulative knowledge of existing best practices. This is even worth doing for 1-off operations to enable learning and adaptation as a result of unexpected occurrences.
  2. Improve: A commitment to seeking out and addressing problems as they occur. Involvement of key players in a ‘scientific’ approach to understand the problems (identify root causes), test solutions, implement counter-measures and resolve the problems (‘swarming’).  The importance of exploring a range of solutions and taking time to learn from them rather than converging on one too soon. Using cross-functional and possibly cross-company collaboration to tap into wider knowledge and expertise.
  3. Share knowledge: Sharing what was learnt about the problems and how this learning was acquired so that the whole organisation can benefit from the new knowledge gained.  Local discoveries become systemic discoveries (‘the multiplier effect’).
  4. Develop capabilities: The role of leaders in continuously developing everyone’s ability to detect and solve problems and share new knowledge (self-diagnosis, self-correcting, self-innovating and self-improving).  The leader as ‘learner-in-chief’, mentor and guide in establishing the right combination of behaviours throughout the organisation.

Problems are the consequence of complex systems and imperfect people

Steven Spear emphasizes that problems are to be welcomed as an opportunity to continue learning.  Each problem should be treated as a “consequence of imperfect people trying to design perfectly something very complex”.  By studying problems, rather than working around them or firefighting, the individual’s and the organisation’s knowledge, and the processes that they operate can continue to improve. The mastery of the complex interactions between people, processes, and what people are working on is never complete.

High-velocity organisations stand out from the pack in:

  • Their focus on process from start to finish, order to supply, end-to-end, rather than departments operating in silos – structure
  • Their attention to each problem as it crops up – dynamics
  • Their determination to make the best use of the talent within the organisation – capabilities
  • Their commitment to keep learning is reflected in the dynamic duo which I’ve described elsewhere2 between short-term stability (or standardization) and longer-term agility and responsiveness (innovation).

Through these they achieve quality, flexibility, efficiency and safety.

Concluding thoughts: extracts from ‘Chasing the Rabbit’.

I’ve selected some quotes from the book, which I think illustrate the points that Steven Spear is making particularly well.

The importance of design:

“No team can design a perfect system in advance, planning for every contingency and nuance.  However… people can discover great systems and keep discovering how to make them better.”

The importance of improving and problems:

“There’s something important you don’t know about me, but if you listen. I’ll tell you” (the process talking)

“Problems are not a never-ending plague to be endured but a never-ending guide to improvement”

The importance of sharing knowledge:

“Organisations depend on their ability to accumulate useful knowledge more quickly than their competitors.”

“One must create the ability in his staff to generate clear, forceful arguments for opposing viewpoints as well as their own.  Open discussion and disagreement must be encouraged so that all sides of an issue will be fully explored.” Hyman Rickover (Founder and long-time leader of the US Navy’s Nuclear Power Propulsion Program).

The importance of capability development:

“The point of process improvement is to improve the participants’ process improvement capabilities by coaching them as they try to improve the process.”

“It is arrogant to believe that anything we have created cannot be improved.  It is pessimistic to believe that we are incapable of ever improving something that is flawed.”

Steven Spear suggests that the winning mindset for high performing organisations is that of humble optimism.  I would add: it is also one of focused determination combining the best of process improvement, knowledge management and change management (or behavioural) approaches.


1. Chasing the Rabbit. How market leaders outdistance the competition and how great companies can catch up and win, by Steven Spear. McGraw Hill 2009.

2. How Lean can bring real benefits to innovation in Pharmaceutical Research Six Sigma & Process Excellence IQ, 8th January 2010, http://www.sixsigmaiq.com/article.cfm?externalID=1720

3. Elisabeth Goodman is Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, using process improvement and knowledge management to enhance team effectiveness.

Follow the links to find out more about RiverRhee Consulting, and about Elisabeth Goodman.

Knowledge assets have been walking out of the door – is anyone taking note?

When I was leading our knowledge management strategy development at SmithKline Beecham in 2000, and then, briefly, part of the team driving GlaxoSmithKline’s KM strategy in 2001, there was a lot of talk about conducting exit interviews to capture people’s knowledge before they walked out of the door.

Reading Melissie Clemmons Rumizen’s very good and comprehensive “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Knowledge Management” brought this back to me and yet, whatever’s happened to this concept?  She describes how the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) adopted a very structured approach to identifying in advance who was going to retire, and then prioritising interventions for immediate action based on the business impact of the knowledge that would be lost.  Presumably, exit interviews are equally worth considering in the case of maternity / paternity leave, and of course in the current climate in the case of redundancy.  Yet I’ve heard very little about any organisation addressing the need to capture knowledge before it ‘walks out of the door’.

I wonder how far organisations have really come in recognising that people are knowledge assets, rather than expenses? Karl-Erik Sveiby first raised this in 1979 when he left Unilever and started a business weekly: he recognised that the most important assets in an organisation had no value.  The knowledge that is held within people is a very intangible asset, as opposed to physical buildings or computer equipment, and yet this asset is so important to an organisation’s success.

As Melissie says, the difference between the book value of an organisation, and its market value can be very revealing about this intangible asset: IBM bought Lotus for $3.5 billion, whereas its book value was a fraction of that at $500 million.

Tony Buzan, in “The ultimate book of mind maps”, maintains that it would cost well over a couple of billion dollars to make a machine that could do everything that a human could do.

Of course the best solution is to capture, share and re-use knowledge within the organisation on a continuous basis.  My slide set on learning reviews in http://www.linkedin.com/in/elisabethgoodman give quite an in-depth overview of how to do this.  Other excellent approaches are through the use of Communities of Practice, and best practice repositories.

However, it would be reassuring to know that organisations are not only taking note, but acting on the need to conduct structured exit interviews to make the most of the tremendous knowledge resource available to them before people retire, go on maternity/paternity leave, are ‘let go’ or otherwise leave the organisation.  Again, there are some excellent tools and methodologies available to help people to do this.  I’d be more than happy to discuss..