Some pretty famous people are back in the news for their alleged use of performance enhancing steroids.  That topic came up during a lunch with a client and a couple of her key advisors.  She turned to me and asked “Are there any steroids to enhance business performance?”

We all laughed, and then I said “Yes.  Of course there are.  We have been talking about them all morning; we just haven’t been calling them steroids.  We have been calling them by their generic counterparts:  policies, processes, and procedures.”  

Some of us are old enough to remember that in the early to mid 1950’s, there was a three word phrase used to describe “junk” products and services.  The three words?  Made In Japan.  Up until a few months ago, those same three words had come to epitomize all of the best practices associated with products and services.  What happened to change the perception from “junk” to “perfection”?

When Edwards Deming, the Iowa born guru of continuous process improvement, was rebuilding the Japanese manufacturing capacity after World War II, he developed a set of 14 principles that now serve as the foundation contemporary continuous process improvement efforts.  One of the most important for our purposes today holds that performance problems are almost always process related.

The Japanese, with guidance and leadership from an Iowa farm boy, began to focus their attention on doing things (service or products) the right way. When a product or service didn’t produce the desired outcome, they did not tinker with the process; they fixed it.  The message?  Tinkering does not improve a broken process.  The only way to fix a broken process is to fix it.

If your business is underperforming , here are some steps you can take to fix it.  Assuming that Deming’s principles are universal and they can be applied to both product and service organizations, you can begin using the performance enhancing process of continuous improvement.  Here are the key steps to use in diagnosing your process problems:

  1. Begin with the end in mind.  What did you want to happen?
  2. Be honest about the result you got.  What did happen?
  3. What worked?  Why did it work?
  4. What didn’t work?  Why did it fail? 
  5. What did we learn?
  6. How can we do this differently the next time?

Some of the readers probably have belts of some color in one or more continuous improvement processes.  You are certainly welcome and encouraged to refine this list and give others the benefit of your experience.  Jim Collins has suggested that the enemy of being great is being good.  I would suggest that the enemy of getting what you want is settling for what you get. 

 Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter to stay informed on how to overcome related succession planning issues.