Constant Incremental Improvement OR Radical Transformation: Which Is Better For Operational


When tasked with achieving operational effectiveness, you may be challenged with the strategic decision; Radical transformation or constant incremental improvement.

Which is the better approach for your organization? 

Do you remember learning about reflections, translations, rotations and dilations in geometry?  Some of you may have buried these concepts soon after you passed the exam, never wanting them to see the light of day ever again, but they are all transformations.  A pervasive term in current business vernacular, it describes large scale organizational change.

Like some of our feelings about geometry, perhaps there are organizations only too happy to erase memories of their previous (or current) transformations because the journey was difficult and did not bear perceivable fruit.

Simply put, any activity, or set of activities, that moves an organization from its current state to a desired state for better performance is an improvement.   The impact and complexity of the activities define whether it is transformational, or incremental.  These activities depend on what is driving the change, or need for change; and the current state of the organization.  By current state I mean all elements within the operational delivery model such as skills, technology, processes, structure and most importantly, culture.

It is my opinion that organizations pursuing continuous improvement are consistently making the necessary changes to eliminate the need for future radical transformation.  Continuous improvement means, as expressed in one of the principles of Lean, to seek perfection.  We all know that perfection is an unattainable goal, but by creating a culture of problem solving, these organizations tend to adapt to exogenous and/or endogenous change better than others who apply the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach.  These latter organizations will eventually seek radical transformation to maintain their very survival.

History is littered with stories of companies that either didn’t see, or ignored the proverbial writing on the wall.  As a pre-emptive strike against radical transformation, I believe organizations should pursue a strategy of continuous improvement. This sounds easier than it is, and initially for some organizations, it represents a radical transformation.  I am currently working with an international organization that has recently embarked on this journey and here are some key takeaways:

  1. Anchor the change in principles that make sense for the organization
  2. What leaders say and do must align (Sounds simple, right?)
  3. Solicit frequent employee insight and demonstrate responsiveness to their insights
  4. Clearly articulate the change roadmap and its benefits, both qualitative and quantitative
  5. Patience, perseverance and flexibility are the order of the day

Radical transformations are expensive and require large organizational change, which should never be a goal.  Think back to geometry….do you really want to go there?

Looking to generate operational improvement within your organization? Contact us today. Pearl Operational Design Inc. can bring a wealth of knowledge and insights that will help drive operational excellence in your organization.

About the Author: Hazel

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