Five Steps to Making Performance Improvement Stick

Oct. 22, 2013
It's incredibly important to create an environment where the changes remain and performance-improvement investments yield returns.

Much time has been spent determining the best ways to drive teams to make improvement suggestions, identifying the best tools and tricks to identify changes, and to ultimately rewarding employees who help our organizations make improvement.

But what happens six months to a year after the change is made and we see backsliding?  After the factory floor celebrations and senior management ticker-tape parades are over and employees are left to maintain the new practices?  It’s incredibly important to create an environment where the changes will remain and performance improvement investments will yield returns.

Following are five simple things that can help make those changes stick.

1. Make the Improvement Real

Employees aren’t idiots.  When senior management seeks to drive change in the organization, they like to have a “quick win” that can be used as an example to the entire organization.  But sometimes, in their haste to have a trophy win, senior managers choose a change that yields very little result and does little to improve quality, lead times or other key performance indicators.  Employees realize this and see the program as one more in a series -- the “flavor of the month” -- for performance improvement.  Instead, work with employees to get a substantial win -- something that is indisputable and will lead the team to believe in the program. 

2. Translate and Communicate the Benefits of the Change

Workers on the factory floor don’t work with balance sheets on a daily basis.  Their primary concern is not whether your net return on assets has improved by 0.1%.  Translate the improvement to terms that are real to them: number of defective parts eliminated per shift, hours of rework eliminated, additional number of units produced per shift.  Compare this to competitive information for the sake of the staff, if possible.  Let the production team members know how they stack up -- give them an adversary outside the plant.  Make sure the information is provided to them in a clear way.  Dashboards and project kaizen one-page reports can work wonders.  When done properly, it’s amazing how much break time is spent discussing the latest change and its effect on the competitive landscape.  This leads to buy-in and everlasting change.

3. Celebrate Real Victories – Even the Small Ones

So long as a success is real, translatable, and well communicated, regardless of the size, it’s worthy of celebration.  Avoid programs like “employee of the month” and recognize specific achievement in performance improvement, whenever they occur.  Don’t wait until month-end of year-end.  Every celebration, if done properly and if celebrating real improvements, has the potential to spawn additional performance improvements and to solidify the changes that have already been made.

4. Make Reverting Hurt

Usually, when individuals desire to revert to a previous behavior, it’s because the previous behavior took less time or effort than “the new way.”  Be certain to elevate the personal cost to perform tasks the old way.  You can do this by eliminating the tools that were used or automation that made the old methods easier than the new ones.  Make investments in automation and tools for the new methods.  Make it easy for your staff to succeed.

5. Discipline is Not a Dirty Word

Work rules and progressive discipline seem to be the “nuclear option” in plants these days.  It is paramount that management enforce work rules that have been clearly articulated to the staff.  Failing to do so is a failure of management.  It is the job of management to enforce rules and for staff to grieve.  It is never the duty of management to grieve over poor performance.

The only way to get a return on investment from the projects undertaken with performance improvement is to get them to stick.  Follow-up and make sure the ROI isn’t lost because of backsliding.

Jason Piatt is president of Praestar Technology Corp., a provider of consulting and training services to manufacturers in the Mid-Atlantic region specializing in lean, Six Sigma & strategy formation.

About the Author

Jason Piatt | President

Jason Piatt is cofounder and president of Praestar Technology Corp.  Prior to founding Praestar Technology, Jason held various tactical and executive positions in engineering, sales and marketing, and program management with a leading power transmission component manufacturer.  He has served as a member of the faculty at Penn State University and has taught at Pennsylvania College of Technology in electrical and mechanical engineering technology, mathematics, and physics.

Jason earned a Bachelor of Science in electrical engineering with minors in mathematics and physics from Bucknell University. He also earned a Master of Science in electrical engineering from Bucknell and an MBA with honors from Mount Saint Mary's University.  Jason earned an executive certificate in technology, operations, and value chain management from the Sloan School at The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).  Jason completed his Six Sigma Black Belt training at the University of Michigan as well as additional graduate education at the Wharton School - University of Pennsylvania.

Jason and the Praestar Consulting team have assisted numerous manufacturers in the areas of lean manufacturing, Six Sigma, sales and marketing management, and strategy formation.

Jason has received numerous awards and recognition including senior membership in the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and membership in Sigma Xi Research Society.  He is a monthly columnist for and has been referenced as an authority on manufacturing competitiveness by the Wall Street Journal Radio Network and other leading publications.

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