25 Lessons For A Successful Improvement Initiative

            The following are some lessons learned over the years from success and failure of improvement initiatives:
Lesson #1:     Thinking Top Management Support Is Not Critical
Top-management support is critical for success in any initiative. Top-management commitment is absolutely necessary for the long-term success. Top management has a major influence on the methods used to conduct the organization's business, organizational culture, and individual and organizational performance. Therefore, top management must believe in the initiative as a way for organizational success.
Lesson #2:     Expecting Results Too Quickly
There are some immediate results from implementing any organizational development activity. However, the big payoff requires commitment and support for many years. The greatest benefits come when change is institutionalized. This may take many years to achieve.
Lesson #3:     Copying From Other Organizations 
There are many benefits from learning from the successes and failures of other organizations. However, the real success comes from the persistent application in each organization's specific environment. Success is different for each organization. It cannot be achieved by simply copying others.
Lesson #4:     Starting With Insufficient Resources
Organizational success requires the full support and commitment of the entire organization. This requires resources to include funds, manpower, facilities, training, support structure, and in some cases technology.
Lesson #5:     Thinking Training Is All That Is Required
Training and education are important elements of any successful organization, but training and education alone will not give success. Success requires a system approach. All the elements of system are needed for success.
Lesson #6:     Setting Goals That Are Not Attainable
Goals are essential to focus the organization. People strive to achieve challenging goals, but no one wants to pursue unrealistic goals. Frequently, organizations at first set goals beyond their reach. The organization should set realistic goals and build on their successes. Remember, small successes repeated over and over build to big victories.
Lesson #7:     Trying To Solve The Biggest Problem All At Once
Success is based on achieving many small successes over time. Many of the problems of organizations evolved over many years; they cannot be all solved at once. Although it is important to focus improvement efforts on critical issues, make improvements little by little until the major issues are resolved. Trying to solve the biggest problem all at once will only result in frustration and failure.
Lesson #8:     Installing A Program
Organizational success is a way of life; it is not a program. In many cases, there are many changes in behavior required that cannot be demanded. The goal is to institutionalize the successful philosophy and guiding principles into the organization. This can only be accomplished by continuous actions focused on reinforcing appropriate behaviors and actions.
Lesson #9:     Implementing Only Some Of The Elements Of System
All of the elements of an improvement system are necessary. Some organizations pick and choose certain elements, expecting results. This will not work. A improvement system is a holistic system. Organizations can find some results by using some of the tools and techniques. However, dramatic results require the entire system.
Lesson #10:   Lacking Integrity, Ethics, And Trust
Integrity, ethics, and trust are the underlying foundation of any successful organization. Integrity, ethics, and trust must be ingrained into the organization environment.
Lesson #11:   Lacking A Clear Vision Purpose Or Purpose That Cannot Be Made Real
A clear vision that can be made real by the organization is of primary importance. Without a mission, the organization cannot start toward success. Also, the people who must make it happen must understand the vision. Everyone in the organization must see how he/she contributes to success.   
Lesson #12:   Lacking An Overall Plan
An overall plan is required for any successful initiative. Success does not just happen. It needs a systematic, integrated, consistent, organization-wide approach. This can only be achieved through complete planning.
Lesson #13:   Paying Lip Service To Improvement Efforts
Customer driven management must be a way of life to achieve success. This takes more than words; it requires action. Action is needed to ensure the necessary organization environment for success. 
Lesson #14:   Practicing Policies And Procedures That Do Not Support Success
All of the policies and procedures in the organization must reinforce the organizationís success environment as the way of life in the organization. For instance, compensation policies should reward appropriate behavior. Procedures should allow people ownership of their work.
Lesson #15:     Failing To Communicate Successes
Success spreads by word of mouth. Success should be constantly visible to everyone in the organization. This helps the organization build on success for the future.
Lesson #16:     Preaching One Thing But Doing Another
Winning can only be established and maintained by action of the leadership. The leadership must consistently display the behaviors expected in a winning environment.
Lesson #17:     Failing To Provide Timely Training
Training is needed to accomplish any successful improvement effort. Training should be geared to the specific improvement effort. All personnel on the team should go through training together for each specific improvement effort. In addition, training must be given to provide the skills for the improvement effort. These skills must be given just in time to accomplish necessary actions.
Lesson #18:     Thinking Once Trained, Always Trained
Training must be continuously pursued.
Lesson #19:     Failing To Train, Not Simply Educate, Top Leadership
Top leadership must thoroughly understand the principles for success, and the application of these, and continuous improvement system, and tools and techniques, before attempting to start organization-wide training for other members of the organization.
Lesson #20:     Feeling You Cannot Do Anything; It Is Not Under My Control
You can make many improvements within your organization, department, function, section, team, and anywhere you have control. Do whatever you can do; fix what you can. Remember, success breedís success. Your little improvements will lead to other little improvements, which will start others making improvements.
Lesson #21:     Failing To Communicate The Meaning Ownership      
People require an understanding of the meaning of ownership in their organization. Frequently, management suddenly announces that all people in the organization now have ownership of their work. Most people have no idea what this means. Ownership must be defined by the amount of responsibility and authority given to the people.
Lesson #22:     Implementing Continuous Improvement In Only One Area            
Many organizations focus their improvement effort on one or two areas without involvement of other essential functions. For instance, the improvement effort typically starts in the manufacturing, engineering, or human resources areas. Success requires the involvement of all areas in the organization.
Lesson #23:     Failing To Balance Short-Term Goals With Long-Term Objectives
Success requires a long-term perspective. Strive for short-term success focused on the long-term future of the organization. Many organizations are geared to the short-term gains or profits of the organization. 
Lesson #24:     Thinking Technology Will Do It Without People
Technology and people must be balanced in a successful organization. Although there are definite advantages of technology, people adding value is a primary principle. People are the most important resource.
Lesson #25:     Failing To Listen
Listening is the key to success in any endeavor. This is one of the major lessons learned. Success requires listening to people in the organization, suppliers and especially customers.