The other day I was flipping through channels on the TV, killing time before the game started. I came across a show entitled Bar Rescue. The concept of the show is pretty formulaic-person buys bar, bar loses money, owner needs help, owner calls Jon Taffer-bar consultant who has flipped more than 600 bars, Taffer brings in a team of experts and flips the bar and business. In this episode, the bar did not have an ice machine, so the owner had to go out every day and get bags of ice to put in a refrigerator. The layout of the bar caused constant flow issues which resulted in employees running into each other and the bar staff were undertrained and outside of pouring beer and wine, had no idea how to mix a drink. So, the solution is simple-buy an ice machine, restructure the work flow and train the staff. And that is what Taffer did however he went one step further-he looked for root cause. He began to ask what is it about the owner that allowed for the bar to get to this state? You did not have to have Taffer’s skills to implement the tools needed for the process fix. The breakdowns were apparent. Anyone can advise the owner to buy an ice machine, or train the staff, etc. Tapper take it one step further in that he took on the owner and confronted his behavior. This is the point that the show really came together. Albeit, it was probably more made for TV drama with a lot of yelling, denial, cursing and threats. Yet., Taffer does confront the owner and through a series of coaching sessions gets him to change his techniques, gets him back in the game and gets him to run the bar as it should be run. At the conclusion of the show, Tapper is happy, owner is happy, employees are happy, new ice machine is working, flow is great. The show does a three month follow up. In this case. In a three month follow up the bar was generating a significant positive cash flow. A 100% swing from where it was when he first entered. (Note: Since this show, I have seen other episodes were the flow issues were changed and the owners did not take the coaching. On follow up many of these bars either continued to bleed money or closed.)

Watching this show reminded me a lot of the continual improvement(CI) process. I often hear, “we tried CI and it did not work” or “CI is a thing of the past”. If we treat CI as just the flavor of the month or a onetime process, yes, we set CI and our employees up for failure. (I am always struck by the term Continuous meaning ongoing. Yet in practice, many organizations in fact do not implement Continuous Improvement but a One Time Improvement. And then cannot understand why there is no sustainability.) But as Tapper knows so well, without a change in the mindset in the leaders there is little hope in bringing the organization to its next level of excellence. To be truly successful, CI needs to be sustained through a change in the way senior managers lead. Only if this happens can CI succeed. Without this, employees become disenfranchised and continue to see improvements as no more than a new ice maker.

Yet for many leaders this change is difficult. Why? I know what you are going to say, “people hate change.” Well that is partially true. But in reality, we hate for our identity to be changed. Think of the manger who has built a business based on a solid skill set. All of a sudden, the business environment changes and the old skills do not work. But rather than give those up, the manager holds onto her antiquated skill sets and brings in the “flavor of the month” technique and hopes that the business turns. (The result is predictable).

To really enter a CI environment, all must change. You must be willing to try new behaviors and let go of behaviors that neither serve you or the organization. Organizational indicators will point the way- look at cash flow, JIT delivery, visual boards, etc. These are your indicators that the business is working and that you are working within the business. One of my musings to my clients is “Your work is not about what you need, rather what does the business need to flourish.” (More to come on this in later blogs).

I just finished the book “Question Behind The Question” where Author John Miller sums it up best by a variation on the serenity prayer. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the people I cannot change, the courage to change the one I can and the wisdom to know it is me.”