One of the worse pieces of advice for a leader is, "If it isn't broke, don't fix it." We live in a rapidly changing environment and if you wait until something doesn't work anymore, it is probably too late to fix it.
One of the best examples of this is Kodak. In 1976, Kodak had 85% market share in cameras and 90% market share in film. The company employed around 120,000 people. A year earlier, in 1975, a Kodak engineer invented the digital camera. Kodak executives did not think the digital camera would catch on and kept their focus on film.
At this point, we know the rest of the story. Kodak declared bankruptcy in 2012 as digital dominates. I also wonder when the last time you took a roll of film in to be developed (or even where you can do this today?)
The third practice of exemplary leadership as defined by The Leadership Challenge is Challenge the Process. As a leader, you continually need to be looking for changes you can make to improve. This doesn't mean you need to change everything, as this would exhaust your team, but need to be looking for improvement.
When I became Vice President of Student Services at Mid-Plains Community College, I knew I wanted to change our student on-boarding process from the time they were admitted through the first two weeks of classes. From working at a university and another community college I had seen a couple different ways to register and orient students. I had my ideas but knew I couldn't dictate what I wanted everyone else to do.
We started with a small team of senior leaders and mapped out everything we wanted to have happen and at what time in the on-boarding journey it should happen. Then, for the different topics, I met with the individuals who worked in that area one on one to get their thoughts on what they could provide students at registration days, during orientation, or at any point in the student’s journey. I was able to incorporate their recommendations and get their buy in through this process. It took a lot of time, but it was worth it.
We then made some changes, with the most drastic change being a completely revamped registration day. This made people nervous as they were comfortable in the old process and it did get students registered. The first registration day, the new format did not work as we had students backed up at every station they needed to visit. One person, who I think was opposed to making some of the changes, was vocal about changing back to the old way. I went and met with her one on one and asked for her thoughts on how we could change the new format to make it flow better. She had some great insight that we were able to implement to improve the new format.
In a couple of months, we made a few smaller changes and the new registration days gave students a better experience to be ready for college and our staff felt great about how we were able to serve students. Over time, we saw significant increase in our fall to fall retention and graduation rates with improved on-boarding being one piece to this.
As a leader, it is your job to continue to look for ways to improve your processes. Here are six keys I've learned:
1. When thinking about change, start with a small group that can have an honest conversation about what needs to change.
2. Visit one on one with key stakeholders to get their feedback and to illustrate the benefits of making the change.
3. Illustrate the why behind making the change, not just the what and how. This will create more buy in.
4. As you implement the change, be willing to get feedback from everyone, especially some of the critics and adjust the plan.
5. Encourage the rest of your staff to look at areas they can make changes and enable them to this. If it doesn't work, get feedback on what they learned and encourage them to look for a new area to make change.
6. Continue to learn, especially from fields outside your industry, to see what improvements you can make.
Sometimes it is helpful to bring in outside perspective to look at what areas you might need to change and to facilitate these conversations. If this is the case, let me know if I can help.
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