Sustaining Change

To avoid the frustration and wasted time and money spent on efforts that go nowhere, there are nine steps an organization must follow to implement process improvement projects and make change last over the long haul. While the need for effective and engaged leadership is not emphasized specifically, it is nonetheless an essential ingredient running through these steps:

1. Understand and plan for level of maturity.

2. Link process improvement to strategic plan and establish criteria for success.

3. Allocate appropriate resources.

4. Train employees and change the culture.

5. Implement the plan reasonably.

6. Coordinate efforts throughout the organization.

7. Publicize results.

8. Provide rewards and tie results to bonuses and promotions.

9. Be patient. Have a long-term view.


1. Understand and plan based on the level of maturity. Too often, organizations decide to jump into process improvement without assessing current levels of understanding and the collective level of maturity in relation to process improvement. Support and recognition of the need for change from senior and mid-level managers are critical before beginning a process improvement initiative. Without that support, resources will not be provided, roadblocks will be established, and well-intentioned efforts will fail.

In Leading Change, John P. Kotter discusses the need for management to acknowledge that change is needed and management’s willingness to take on change.

“No one individual, even a monarch-like CEO, is ever able to develop the right vision, communicate it to large numbers of people, eliminate all the key obstacles, generate short-term wins, lead and manage dozens of change projects and anchor new approaches deep in the organization’s culture. Weak committees are even worse. A strong guiding coalition is always needed— one with the right composition, level of trust, and shared objective. Building such a team is always an essential part of the early stages of an effort to restructure, reengineer, or retool a set of strategies.”

2. Link process improvement to the strategic plan and establish criteria for success. Any successful process improvement implementation must be linked to the organization’s strategic plan. Strategic plans state organizational direction in a mission and vision statement with associated goals and objectives, which are then measured. This formal structure links all activities toward achieving the overall vision of the organization.

3. Allocate appropriate resources. Process improvement efforts require resources in training, manpower and support. Phillip Crosby discussed resources needed to implement a quality program in Quality is Free. He pointed out that the savings from quality are larger than the expense of resources applied to ensure a quality process.

As in any operation, project or endeavor, if appropriate human and monetary resources are not applied, failure is certain. Many organizations recognize the need to improve and can see the benefits, but they are unwilling to allocate the needed resources to make it happen. Then they wonder why they fail.

Process improvement teams often have great ideas and enthusiasm, but because of the daily requirements of their jobs, some individuals have been unable to participate fully. If they had just recognized the reality that improvement was an integral part of their jobs, participation wouldn’t have been a question.

4. Train employees and change the culture. To implement a successful transformation and process improvement, employees must shift the way they think and work. Training is the critical initial step needed to initiate cultural change. Often, organizations try to implement process improvement by training only a few employees. Permanent shifts in organizational culture must involve all employees, and each employee must have at least a basic knowledge of what is expected and how the change will be accomplished.

5. Implement the plan reasonably. When implementing a process improvement method, don’t expect results before the program can be fully established. Process improvement takes time and usually does not occur in one month. Once the team is trained and a project is defined, Six Sigma projects normally take between four to six months to complete.

6. Coordinate effort throughout the organization. Organizations often fail to do a good job of coordinating process improvement efforts across and within the organization. One section of the organization may have an interest in or decide to implement an improvement effort locally without any communication with leadership. This results in suboptimization of process improvement.

7. Publicize results. Everyone likes to be in the spotlight and talk about success stories. Employees are pleased to see their names in print, especially when they are associated with accomplishments that can bolster individual images and the overall corporate image.

As success stories are told, there is a natural tendency for others to jump on the bandwagon and get involved. In addition, change management is easier to implement and the entire organization is positively affected. An added bonus of publicizing results is the increased likelihood to receive additional funds and resources to continue to improve the organization.

8. Provide rewards—tie to bonuses/promotions. Long-term implementation of a process improvement method requires support and involvement from everyone in an organization. Key to making this happen is rewarding those who are involved and implementing improvement projects.

Most employees require motivation to think about the processes for which they are responsible and to change the way they do business. This can be in the form of team awards, spot bonuses and annual raises or bonuses tied directly to performance evaluation.

9. Be patient—have a long-term view. It takes time for process improvement to achieve regular and consistent returns. It does not happen overnight. Organizational culture must change and provide essential training, guidance and follow-up. Leadership support must not waiver or improvement efforts will fail, particularly if organizations are unwilling to take a long-term view.

This article was adapted from an article in QP-Quality Progress-Change That Sticks by Leon Spackman


4 thoughts on “Sustaining Change

    1. This was orignially written by Leon Spackman, which was noted in the article as was adapted to a shorter and more general article.

      I think his inights are valid for many areas and disciplines.

  1. Generally I do not learn article on blogs, however I wish to say that this write-up very forced me to take a look at and do so! Your writing style has been surprised me. Thank you, quite nice post.

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