I predominantly work on Operational Excellence projects where there is always a desired tangible outcome required as proof that the intervention has worked, such as a ‘10% improvement in Productivity’ a ‘20% reduction in operational inefficiency’ etc.
It’s interesting that although these are the professional goals to which I work, whenever I get asked “how was your week at work, what did you do?” I rarely answer it with “I helped a business hit a 30% improvement in their overall productivity” because the next response would typically be ‘So what?’.
The thing is although a ‘result centric’ answer is legitimate, and we generally do make weekly achievements in that space, it’s the impact we have on the people with whom we have worked which is critical.
This is the intangible, unmeasurable factor which is not only easier to talk about but is also the magic ingredient which supports long term sustainability of the work we have done. Introducing best practice rigours and routines and complementing these with proven tools will always deliver a tangible result but if the people you have introduced these to feel ‘done to’ can you really be sure the value you have added will last?
In an Operational Excellence project it can be a tough gig influencing highly experienced and competent managers to change the very basics of how they operate day to day, to trust you, someone they might have known for a matter of weeks and to actually take that leap of faith into the unknown that you are asking them to do, when their current belief tells them everything is fine anyway. A critical consideration in delivering these type of projects is that the tangible results for which you are striving will be easier to achieve and sustain if the priceless intangible measures are appreciated with everyone in the organisation pulling in the same direction. It can be easy to lose sight of the fact that everyone on the client team with whom you are working is going on a journey in which you are the navigator but you need them to drive. They are not likely to do this unless they trust you implicitly and want to get to the destination to which you have been asked to lead them.
When I reflect on some of the experiences I have shared and observed with various operational managers over the years, the best and most memorable ones involve seeing how supporting people through fundamental or even re introduced basic principles can unlock opportunities to do things that have been on the back burner for years. Things like tackling issues that need resolving for all parties (process and people ones) or simply just getting enough control of the work load to allow proper ‘switch off time’ at the end of the working day or week as finally there is comfort that everything is ‘known’. It is those wrongly categorised periphery issues that can actually change the enjoyment and day to day job satisfaction of a manager and as much as making tangible benefits is hugely important to any change Project, Programme or Business it is those hard to define intangible ones that are often the most rewarding and most impactful for anyone involved.
They are also far easier to talk about when someone says “What did you at work this week?” and it reminds me that one of our core principles in our business is to ‘Have fun delivering value’.