Happy New ’Year in Review’ for Your Organization’s Performance Improvement Efforts
2020 is here, and we hope it’s a wonderful year for all our customers, partners, colleagues and friends! I hope everyone took some time to wind down, enjoy time with family, and friends, and reflect on the past year personally and professionally over the holidays. To kick off this year, you may have caught one of the New Year’s Eve specials on network TV that do a ‘Year In Review’ that highlights top news stories, songs, new consumer products, etc. of the previous year.
Similar to the ‘Year in Review’ on these specials, this is a good time to evaluate your organization’s performance improvement efforts early in the year. Just as financial results get aggregated and reviewed, your organization should review the results of your performance improvement activities over the past 6–12 months. More importantly, use the results to plan for this year and make adjustments and course corrections as necessary.
As part of this assessment, here are a few elements to include in your evaluation:
Critical Elements of a Successful Performance Improvement Initiative
Senior leadership engagement: This is one of the most critical elements of a successful performance improvement initiative, but goals for this element are often not clearly set nor sufficiently met. In many cases, it is a senior leader who spearheads a performance improvement initiative, and that leader may be very engaged; however, other senior leaders across the organization often do not demonstrate the same level of commitment.
Senior leadership engagement is hard to assess objectively, but here are some ideas on how you can evaluate this critical element of your initiative:
- Survey senior leaders about their engagement in performance improvement efforts within their business units/departments/functions
- Track data on how many senior leaders attend project review meetings (tollgates/phase gates)
- Survey performance improvement practitioners (‘belts’) on how engaged their senior leaders are in performance improvement activities
Strategic alignment: Another critical element for success is to select and align performance improvement projects to the organization’s strategic objectives. Here are some ways you can evaluate how well projects are strategically aligned:
For projects initiated during the period under review, identify:
- The number or percentage of projects identified through strategic planning activities (top-down) or self-selected by practitioners (bottom-up);
- The amount or percentage of projects aligned to departmental or functional strategic objectives;
- The amount or percentage of projects aligned to enterprise-level strategic objectives.
- Review any canceled or incomplete projects to determine the reason(s) of what happened.
Effective Project Selection and Development of People: As with any other transformational project efforts, it is critical to balance your organizations’ appetite and capacity to execute performance improvement projects with the resources available to work on those projects. In parallel with this balancing act, and equally important, is to develop effective project leaders with performance improvement capabilities.
- It is better to select fewer, more strategic projects with fewer resources required. This process will help ensure more completed projects. Working in smaller projects will avoid casting a wide net by launching a larger number of projects that require more resources, and risk the possibility of project failure. Depending on the size and maturity of your organization, the number of projects and associated resources will vary. In an organization with a new or growing performance initiative, this might mean focusing on 5–10 projects every 6–12 months, whereas, in a larger and more mature organization, this might mean 25–50 projects in the same time frame.
- Track and review data such as the number of projects initiated during the period under review, cycle time to complete projects, and the percent of projects completed on-time (or within a small variance from the plan).
Selecting the right people to lead performance improvement projects is key to project success, and should be considered carefully. Choosing those people who are available to lead projects is not the optimal approach; selecting those people who are high performers, analytical, project-oriented, and have experience facilitating teams will yield greater project success.
To assess your initiative that develops an effective performance improvement project, track project leader’s certifications (i.e., Green Belt, Black Belt), monitor mentoring project leaders and see leaders who’ve lead multiple projects.
One of the most prominent challenges organizations faces in their performance improvement efforts in sustaining the improved levels of performance delivered through projects past the initial few months after completed projects.
Ensure there is a clear plan for monitoring process metrics, track how often and by whom before closing any project. Incorporate this monitoring into standard work and job descriptions for those who are responsible. Be willing to adjust this plan periodically if the process or environment changes.
Review any financial benefits captured through project efforts at least quarterly (more often if necessary) to ensure the realized benefits for at least 12 months after the project close.
Once you have completed your assessment, create a plan that outlines specific actions that are needed, owners for each of those actions, and due dates for those completed actions. This action plan should then be reviewed during the next assessment.
This version of “A Model to Assess Performance Improvement” was updated from a previous post of January 2018.