Soulful Operational Excellence

iStock_000023558527LargeIf Operational Excellence (OpEx) and Lean Sigma are too often associated with a sense of heartless oppression, what would be soulful OpEx be? Is there a recipe for a wholegrain honest-to-goodness OpEx that everyone can believe in?

I think so – and there’s a step that we could take to nudge it to become the new normal.

There’s a wide spectrum of definitions of Operational Excellence. Some are crude, defined simply in terms of resource efficiency and its impact on the bottom line. Others seem ethereal.  But many start by acknowledging that people aren’t simply just another resource, and that the means matter just as much as the ends.

The Toyota Way focusses on eliminating waste but at its core are the principles of continuous improvement and respect for people. And ‘The Eighth waste – Non Utilized Intellect, Talent, and Resources – can be the most damaging waste of all.’

The Malcolm Baldrige Award criteria focus on results but include ‘workforce engagement’ as one strand.

The definition in Joseph Paris Jr’s Operational Excellence Manifesto also makes explicit the need to pay attention to the people [italics added]:

“Operational Excellence is when the efforts throughout the organization are in a state of alignment for achieving its strategies and where the corporate culture is committed to the continuous and deliberate improvement of company performance AND the circumstances of those who work there…”

Wikipedia defines OpEx as ‘a philosophy aimed at a long-term change in organizational culture’ and cites as its core the ten principles for the Shingo Prize, the first of which is to ‘Respect every individual’ and the second to ‘Lead with humility’.

The good news is the accumulating evidence that this end of the spectrum is the right place to be. There’s red-blooded ROI in respect for people and their wellbeing. Given security and meaningful work, people bring their whole selves into the workplace. They are engaged and therefore operating at higher levels of creativity and capability.

There’s an obvious next step. We need to commit to recompense fully those who lose out as a result of performance improvements.  When Toyota helps non-profits to implement the principles of The Toyota Way, there is apparently an insistence on one pre-condition: that no-one will lose their job as a result. As a result, everyone can get behind the change.

Toyota’s approach is an ideal. In global enterprises and a rapidly transforming world economy, it’s inevitable that some jobs will be automated or offshored or just become uneconomic.  But we could still make it the norm that, in the absence of extreme circumstances, every person losing their job (or part of their job or income) through a performance improvement initiative would be amply compensated and assisted to find alternative work.

It’s what the best employers do already of course.  It could be the norm if we can incorporate it into Corporate Social Responsibility commitments.

Related Posts

08 Apr 2013   When Operational Excellence Is Bad Karma

10 Feb 2013   Social Business: Finding Meaning At Work

One thought on “Soulful Operational Excellence

  1. Companies have been too focused for too long on increased returns for investors through efficiency only. While efficiency is important, growth seems to have been forgotten as a long term solution to providing value to investors and thereby employee engagement and commitment.

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