Overcoming the Improvement Paradox Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:06:56
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Quality improvement programs are designed based on research, a companys needs and the promise of improving the functioning of a business, both from a management standpoint and in the eyes of the employee. Research proves that they are not only productive, but necessary. In fact it is suggested that without a quality improvement program, businesses may fail. The reality is that most programs end in failure. The European Management Journal has termed this the Improvement Paradox. They have identified an inability of management to implement an improvement program as a dynamic process is the main reason for that failure.

The term dynamic is used to identify a process that is ever changing, ongoing, and responsive to the needs of the company and to the needs of the employee. The process must identify issues and concerns and then be implement changes based on those issues and concerns. This is where the process falls short. Failure to monitor the feedback of employees and make necessary changes can lead to unanticipated and even harmful side effects. (2)

The internal dynamics of an organization will impact the success or failure of an improvement program. Management needs to recognize three issues prior to implementation of a quality improvement program; what will the trade off be between current performance levels and future performance levels, managers need to ensure that their level of commitment is passed on to employees, and finally, as the program improves, managers will need to shift their focus and adapt for further gains.

As stated previously, any improvement effort may have unanticipated events. The first effect noted may be a decrease in production or the time that employees have to focus on output. To overcome this problem, it is recommended that employees not focus on a numerical production quota, but rather devote a certain percentage of each day to working on quality improvement. Without allowing for the change in production, processes will be overlooked and may create a crisis. Managers need to allocate a portion of employee time to improvement efforts, separate of what they need for production.

The second challenge is in initiating and sustaining employee commitment to the improvement process. There are two sources of commitment for improvement programs; managerial push and employee pull. Managerial push is the effort to promote improvement efforts of mandate employees to participate. Employee pull refers to an employees understanding of the need for improvement and commitment to the process. Employee pull will have the greatest impact on the success of the improvement process. The tendency is for managers to be very enthusiastic initially, but sustaining the enthusiasm becomes difficult. If employees are located in an area that is separate from management or one that is difficult to supervise, the challenge becomes even greater. Self-reinforcing feedback will have the greatest impact on sustaining the improvement process.

Employees need to perceive that improvement efforts will be beneficial. In determining the success or benefit of a program, employees measure their expectations with the progress that is made. If expectations are set too high, the improvement process is likely to fail. The improvement goals need to be defined in measurable terms as well as defining a completion date. It is common to underestimate the amount of time needed to complete the improvement goals.

If the goals and the timeline are not realistic, it is likely to result in a lack of funds and time available to meet the goals.  Any improvement process requires that the employees be trained for the process and that communication exist between management and employees to allow for a thorough exchange of communication. In addition, an infrastructure needs to be created that will support the process.

Seldom will one improvement process cover the entire organization, resulting in a multitude of changes taking place concurrently. Because these processes are taking place in one organization, they must share resources, as in time and money. The benefit is that often the process that helps improve one department can be carried over to another department and implemented, provided there are adequate personnel and resources.

Once an improvement process is successful, increased productivity can lead to layoffs. This can create fear in employees and not provide motivation for them to be successful. One way of guaranteeing their success is to provide them with job security if they participate in the program. Successful improvement may also create more demand than an organization is able to meet. This can cause more problems within the organization.

Organizations often go into an improvement process without being fully prepared, which ultimately ends in disaster and perhaps with even more challenges than were present previously. Management fails to recognize the organizational and economic challenges that will take place and ultimately stand in their way without adequate planning. Further, organizations fail to plan for the unanticipated effects of improvement training.

The overall process is straightforward, but may take more planning than most companies plan for. To improve quality overall is not simply developing a plan and putting into action. It requires assessing where you are and identifying where you would like to be. In the midst of that process, organizations and managers will need to evaluate and reevaluate to determine if they are meeting their goals, and if not, what changes need to be made.

Research has proven that total quality management has the ability to improve work settings and improve employee satisfaction, and therefore ultimately improve customer satisfaction and the bottom line. Organizations want quality improvement, however the improvement paradox creates a situation that may not be affordable. If improvement is desired, to what extent are companies willing to accept the unanticipated results? What extra resources are available to deal with changes as they arise?

This plan, created to deal with the crises that occur during a quality improvement process, provide an excellent plan for organizations to deal with the changes as they occur. Further, they provide warning for those issues that were not anticipated. Pushing people harder generates immediate, visible returns, but subtle, long-range problems. Changing the organizational processes to help people work smarter, however, can actually cause productivity to fall in the short term. So managers take the safe route and focus on people, usually pressuring for more results and less cost.

Unfortunately, most organizations cannot get past that initial boost in productivity in the work harder scenario and the initial sag in the work harder approach. But if you want permanent improvement for your sales organization, it will take an investment in process. There are ways to minimize the sag in productivity, but they may require a corresponding increase in resources assigned at the start. But it can be worth it¦the vicious cycle of the work harder approach becomes a virtuous cycle where productivity continues at a high level, and profitability climbs dramatically.

Keating, E., Oliva, R., Nelson, P., Rockart, S., Sterman, J. 1999. Overcoming the Improvement Paradox. European Management Journal. As found http://www.isixsigma.com/offsite.asp?A=Fr&Url=http://web.mit.edu/jsterman/www/EMJPaper.pdf

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