It may not feel like it in the moment, but implementing a new business or technology solution can be the easiest part of transforming your business. If not handled well, the hard part is seamlessly getting your people on board with your solutions.
As a process improvement practitioner, my toolkit of methodologies, tools and templates has grown over the years, as it should. We all recognize no one tool is a silver bullet solution to a problem. Instead, businesses must learn to apply the best available tool to the problem at hand.
Many of my discussions with clients remind me of an equation I learned years ago from a colleague, Bev Harbrecht, that applies in almost every conversation about improving a business process:
E = Q x A
Let’s break down what it means:
The Effectiveness of a solution (E) is equal to the Quality of a solution (Q) times the Acceptance of the solution (A).
All too frequently, when working in the process improvement space, practitioners and companies get too focused on the quality of a solution (Q). We’ve used all the right tools, identified the root causes, and mapped out the future state beautifully. We’ve piloted and proven the results with hypothesis testing, new systems are in place, and we’re ready to move into production – it’s a beautiful thing!
But equally as often, these types of solutions are not as effective as they could or should be because we ignored the other half of the equation: the acceptance of the change (A) by the people doing the work in the new processes and systems.
Remember the People Element of Problem-Solving
Often, businesses either ignore the people aspect or assume that people will immediately accept the change and get on board, and we all know what happens when you assume. Other times, preparing people for change or reinforcing the new way of working in a healthy and productive way is an afterthought and comes along after a company implements a solution, often responding to rectify less than ideal results.
This shouldn’t be surprising, especially if the company or organization didn’t socialize the change with employees, helping each person understand the need and case for change and “What’s In It For Me” (WIIFM), and moving them through the change curve and the dreaded “valley of despair.”
How People and Solutions Work Together for Process Improvement
Let’s pay particular attention to another key part of the equation: the multiplication sign. It is far more powerful than a plus sign, where any impact of solution acceptance is additive to the quality of a solution. Instead, the multiplication sign asserts a much more powerful relationship between the quality and the acceptance of a solution.
Assume that the quality of a solution is 100 percent and solves for all defects, gaps, and issues. For the overall effectiveness of the solution to remain at 100 percent, the acceptance of that solution also must be 100 percent. However, if an organization does a so-so job of managing the acceptance of the solution, say at 50 percent, then the best the overall solution effectiveness will ever be is 50 percent.
On a past Centric project at a financial services company, a process improvement team proposed a very ‘obvious’ a solution. They identified the process gaps, put together the business case, mapped out the future state, and even piloted and tested the solution. Yet leadership refused to act on implementing the change. With some consultation and coaching from us, we helped the process improvement team realize that while the solution may have been spot on, they failed to bring along the right people from the business on their process improvement journey to understand the need for change and how it was going to impact them. They hadn’t created a compelling change case, what the future and success looked like after the change, and a plan to navigate that change.
There are many change management approaches that can help organizations navigate big and small changes alike. Each model provides a structured approach to plan to communicate and execute change management activities, all focused on ensuring the acceptance of a solution.
For your organization to be truly successful with any meaningful process improvement initiatives, you cannot only focus on the “Q” part of the equation. Purposeful planning to address “A,” the acceptance of a solution, alongside the “Q,” the quality of a solution is the only way to maximize the overall effectiveness of the solution. To modify a well-known saying, “if you are failing to plan for change acceptance, then you are planning to fail.”