Making Sustainability Stick

True story – and I wouldn’t have believed it, if I hadn’t heard it myself…

The global head of a Lean/Six Sigma team was explaining why a presentation to his senior leadership team didn’t go entirely brilliantly. After years of leading performance improvement projects, he’d come to see that what really mattered is sustainable improvement.

He knew how difficult it is to make cost cuts stick. He had seen for himself what McKinsey described last year: that many cost-reduction programs are “illusory, short lived, and at times damaging to long-term value creation”. And that only 10% of cost reduction programs show sustained results three years later.

So he was pitching Nimbus to his exec team, as the platform upon which to build sustainable operational excellence across the enterprise. But in the Q&A there had been some unexpected resistance, focussed on how disruptive and expensive change would be. After some dialog, the underlying objection came out:

“Yes – but if we go down this route, we are going to have to keep all our documents, everything in fact, up to date!”

You might expect that the exec who said this was taken for questioning by the Chief Compliance Officer in a corporate dungeon. But it went unremarked and was taken as legitimate. It was left to our hero to note that keeping things ‘up-to-date’ might not be a bad idea anyway (this is an FDA-regulated organization).

Accenture - The Sustainable OrganizationReading the The Sustainable Organization, published this week by Accenture, it’s easy to run away with the theory and forget how far this is from quotidian reality in many organizations.

You can’t build a sustainable high performance culture overnight. The organizational process maturity that delivers sustainable continuous improvement is a set of capabilities that can take many years to develop. One vital provision for the journey towards a culture of continuous excellence – to borrow Nestlé’s famous phrase – is a process platform. But nothing can happen without vision, understanding and leadership. And, in far too many organizations, it’s folks at C-Level who have yet to join up the dots…

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