The Breakthrough Improvement Spectrum!

Improvement Spectrum
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Every day every individual, team, department, and company is faced with the need to make improvements. These changes, and the approach that each necessitates, fall along an improvement spectrum.

Some of these improvements are small and easily made. Others are herculean and overwhelming.

Some of these improvements are in reaction to problems or challenging circumstances. Others are preemptive and visionary.

Regardless of what situation is driving the need for change, change is upon you. Consistent with a situational leadership philosophy, different drivers of change require different approaches.

In this article we discuss the breakthrough improvement spectrum of approaches that you should deploy depending on what your specific situation merits.

Framing Your Problem

There are many factors that must be considered before you can determine what approach you need to take to make the improvements you are looking for.

1. The Level of Urgency

Perhaps the first consideration is the level of urgency that is at hand. If you have a system that has gone down, a customer that is upset, a loss of cash flow, or irate shareholders then you have a sense of urgency that must be addressed immediately.

Urgent circumstances compel you to act immediately. Often these situations are unforeseen and certainly unplanned. Thus you are forced to react to the situation at hand. All hands must be on deck. A failure to respond can impact the very survival of you in your job or your company.

You have no choice but to be reactive. That does not mean that your response has to be reckless or haphazard. But it does mean that you must take immediate steps to correct the pressing matter that is the source of the urgency.

On the opposite end of the urgency spectrum is proactivity. In this situation there is no obvious, pressing problem. Your company may in fact be doing extremely well competitively and financially. In fact the company can be doing so well that it is inclined to make no changes, which borders on becoming complacent.

But particularly when you are doing well is the best time to proactively make change to extend and/or broaden your advantage and your superiority. The challenge in this situation is to motivate people to understand that change is still needed even though things are going so well. You need to create an artificial level of urgency to generate support for making proactive change.

2. Tactical vs Strategic

The type of change you need to make also depends upon the nature of what you need to accomplish. Is their a need to address a short-term tactical issue or is there a need to address a long-term, directional and strategic position.

Tactical issues can often be more easily defined. There is a specific task, process, operation, metric, personnel or organizational dimension that must be improved. These types of issues tend to be more easily framed because there is a line of sight as to the issue and what needs to be achieved. The timeframe that is allowed to address the circumstance is also more immediate.

Strategic challenges tend to be very long-term. This most assuredly is no less than a year ahead and could be 3 years, 5 years or further in the future. The fundamental product or service offering, structure, competitiveness, and positioning of a company can be entirely overhauled in a strategic improvement scenario.

The actual vision of the future may in and of itself still be very vague in a strategy development situation. Part of the challenge may actually be in creating and defining the strategic vision in the first place.

3. Scope and Scale

The third consideration that shapes your improvement approach is scope and scale. Fundamentally, how big is your challenge and what is the range in terms of who or what is affected?

If there is some aspect of your specific job that needs to be improved the scope and scale are small. That doesn’t mean that it is less important. It just means that the situation is more localized. A localized challenge may be extended to your department or function or location. Regardless it is generally easier to see the people and processes and environment associated with a more localized problem.

On the other end of the spectrum is a challenge that is company wide, global, industry wide, or international. Issues such as climate change for instance impact the entire planet and embody the biggest conceivable scope and scale for any improvement initiative.

Framing Your Approach

All 3 of these dimensions define a breakthrough improvement spectrum which characterizes the challenge you have and, in turn, the approach you should employ to address that challenge.

Your situation ranges from requiring an immediate, reactive response through to being a proactive effort with no level of apparent urgency at all.

Your situation ranges from requiring a tactical, short-term response through to requiring a more strategic, long-term change.

And your situation ranges from being more localized in scale and scope to being as large as planet wide issues.

Every challenge that you have can be placed somewhere along the continuum of each of these dimensions.

Once you have characterized what you are dealing with then you are able to frame what approach is needed to address each of these problems, as characterized by our Breakthrough Improvement Spectrum.

Breakthrough Improvement Spectrum

If you have a localized, tactical problem, whether your urgency level be reactive or proactive, you are best suited to deploy a small team. With the appropriate functional and subject matter specific representation a small, well coordinated project team should be highly effective in making the changes that you need implemented.

There could be a requirement for management or executive level support to provide funding or facilitate the change that you need. But overall a small team should work well.

When your problem has a more far reaching scope in your company, whether it be considered tactical, strategic, or some combination of these, then a much bigger effort is required.

If your problem is more reactive then you are likely best served with a war-room approach. The name war-room really captures the essence of this focus. You are under attack and you need to respond aggressively, thoughtfully, decisively, and quickly get on top of the scenario.

A more proactive situation doesn’t need a war-room approach but more likely a strong task force. Fueled by strong team members with extensive expertise, an explicit mandate, and organizational clout, a task force can work to make much more substantial change than a project team can achieve.

And finally if you have an enormous company wide challenge, whether it be strategic or tactical, reactive or proactive, you need a major Change Leadership mandate. Armed with your best and brightest and the direct, visible sponsorships of your CEO and Board, a Change Leadership project team can make changes that will shape the direction of your company in the most profound manner possible.

A Change Leadership project team has company wide attention. They are enabled to use an “Attack on All Fronts” approach incorporating every process, stakeholder, organizational entity, resource, culture and dimension of the company.

The Breakthrough Improvement Spectrum in Conclusion

Breakthrough change and results can be achieved at any level of your company. No matter whether your problem is big or small, no matter whether your role is narrow and large, no matter whether your problem is immediate or long-term, you can make the changes you need with the right approach.

The Breakthrough improvement spectrum is designed to capture the various dimensions that you must consider as you approach your task at hand. It all comes down to Situational Leadership. You can not use the same approach for every situation. You must customize your approach to best suit the situation that you face!

Originally published on May 25, 2021.