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Planning for Continuous Improvement with Allison Greco

Episode Overview

“We have to be very good at persuading people so we focus a lot on the why.”

Allison Greco is a continuous improvement guru, having worked for the railroad and various government roles in oil and gas. In addition to graduating with a MBA, Allison earned a black belt certificate in Lean Six Sigma. She founded Continuous Improvement International, a continuous improvement organization. In this episode of Zen and the Art of Manufacturing Podcast, Bryan Sapot and Allison sit down to talk about how to get everyone in the organization on board with continuous improvement.

“It starts with building a relationship with them before you actually want to go and improve processes. You listen for thing you could help them with today or tomorrow, and you bring them a resource and halp them find an answer and build the trust.”

Originally broadcast on May 18, 2021

The Applications of Lean Principles

Allison first used lean principles in railroad maintenance to optimize processes and reduce waste. The challenges of coordinating maintenance activities is to minimize disruptions to train operations. Strategies included efficient planning, material management, and combining projects to maintain train flow. The application of Lean tools extends to locomotive maintenance and back-office processes.

Influence without authority is a common challenge in continuous improvement roles. Understanding others’ motivations and reducing their frustrations is key. Some strategies include aligning changes with personal benefits, such as family time or reduced overtime. The role of empathy and psychology in influencing others is also important.

How to Get Everyone on Board with Continuous Improvement

One of Allison’s favorite example of getting everyone on board with a change was when a new software system was installed. “I thought this was going to be a great opportunity. I show up to the first office where I’m going to train people and it was a flop. It was an absolute flop.” By sitting down with them to understand their daily process and challenges, she was able to tailored her approach to address their specific needs. The importance of making the change relatable and beneficial to individuals is emphasized. Building trust and addressing personal frustrations are key to successful change management.

Addressing situations where individuals may not see direct benefits from a change involves emphasizing teamwork and shared goals. Examples from post-merger activities highlight the need to balance individual sacrifices for the greater good. Strategies include personalizing the benefits and fostering a sense of collaboration and mutual support.

Creating Engaging Leadership

Engaging leaders and project sponsors in continuous improvement projects requires building relationships and understanding their needs. By focusing on solving their immediate problems and building trust, improvement teams can gain support for larger initiatives. The importance of aligning improvement projects with leaders’ goals and priorities is emphasized.

Identifying a project sponsor with the authority to drive change is crucial for project success. “You have to find that person’s willingness to be a team player. Those can be really difficult in working with the utilities I helped with post-mergerant acquisition activities where one company inquires another company. My job is to go in and find a way to choose the best processes.” Engage sponsors early to align project goals with organizational priorities. Examples of failed projects due to lack of appropriate sponsorship underscore the importance of involving decision-makers from the start.

Identify the Decision Makers From the Beginning

Engaging leaders and stakeholders in improvement projects involves understanding their perspectives and building trust. By addressing their immediate needs and demonstrating value, improvement teams can gain support for broader initiatives. Establishing relationships and focusing on solving leaders’ problems is crucial.

Building trust and demonstrating value to leaders and sponsors is essential for engaging them in improvement projects. Allison mentions a story where she was working with a utility company on a nw process to install electric meters. After trying to solve the problem on the lowest level within a small group, she proposed the solution to the decision maker. They said absolutely not. “If we would have engaged him at the beginning, we would have done the project at a different time. And we would have actually probably been successful and not wasted so much time and effort.” By focusing on solving their immediate challenges and building relationships, improvement teams can gain support for larger initiatives.

Improving Company Culture to Address the Right Metrics

People often feel the need to justify their existence as part of an improvement team, especially when faced with pressure to show cost savings. This pressure can lead to behaviors that contradict the ultimate goal of culture change. Instead of solely focusing on saving dollars, it is essential to consider changing the way business is conducted to ultimately lead to financial benefits.

In some companies, the continuous improvement goal is simply a dollar amount that departments are expected to save. This approach can lead to departments cutting costs in areas like training and travel instead of focusing on true improvement. By discouraging companies from solely measuring dollar savings, it may be more beneficial to adopt a maturity model approach or focus on improving key performance indicators (KPIs) related to customer service or other metrics.

Choosing the right metrics to measure can drive different behaviors within a company. By setting goals related to customer satisfaction or plan versus actual performance, businesses can incentivize behaviors that may result in both cost savings and increased revenue. This approach can help employees focus on improving important aspects of the business rather than solely cutting costs.

The pressure to meet cost-saving goals can sometimes lead employees to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the company. “This is not just about saving dollars. This is about changing the way we would do business that will lead to dollars.” Create a work environment where employees are encouraged to drive revenue through factors like customer satisfaction and retention. By focusing on revenue growth, businesses can achieve financial success while also fostering a positive work culture.

Connect with Allison Greco on LinkedIn.

Alyxandra Sherwood
Alyxandra Sherwood
Digital Marketing Manager @ Mingo Smart Factory I Adjunct Professor @ SUNY Geneseo I Boston Marathoner I Second Street Award Winner I Media Professional with 15 Years Experience