The next management meeting

I have a management meeting coming up tomorrow that is now working in a way that it should. The meeting attendees have found their ‘groove’, the content is meaningful and we’re reviewing the right things in the business. Plus, we are generating proper actions for the business to undertake. Things are certainly moving forwards.

So that’s great isn’t it? This is what the meeting should be doing – there aren’t any prizes to hand out for this meeting establishing itself. Luckily that’s not the point of this article. The point is that what I have described above is the same experience as any continual improvement project.


Parallels with continual improvement

How many times have you started an improvement project and watched it ‘fall over’. Many improvements don’t come to fruition the first time around, that’s why persistence is such an important factor to build in to our approach to managing change. In the example I gave above it could have been easy to get upset at the meeting and its lack of results. There were lots of learning points in getting the meeting format to work. The team needed better guidance from the Directors. The guidelines for creating the management pack had to change and streamline. The schedule of meetings had to be better promoted to the team.

Most improvement projects are likely to go through a similar process of evolution. If they aren’t you might have to ask why this is the case.


Exactly what are we trying to achieve ?

Being absolutely crystal clear about what you are trying to achieve is directly linked the speed at which an improvement is introduced successfully. This is easier said than done and a humble realisation of the change process is that you might have to work your way through a degree of murkiness before you can become crystal clear.

In the example above, we were caught off guard by the response the management team had to the meeting format. What I and the Directors thought made sense didn’t to the management team. It has now been resolved, but that is the point. If we had given up and tried to find another route we would have lost both the learning and the progress made up to that point.

If you don’t feel that your have clarity with your improvement projects as you read this, please bear in mind that clarity can come through immersion. Getting the balance right of course is essential. Don’t turn up to something important without having done your homework. And likewise, don’t put off starting a change if a little chaos could help develop the clarity around the change.


Taking the people with you

One of the best change strategies a business can apply is that of taking the team with you. If you are a fan of the ‘eighth waste’ (untapped human potential) you will be nodding your head right now. The trouble for many senior managers and business owners is that they don’t appreciate how long this can take and just how powerful the results can be if you do this.

I have seen poorly performing Team Leaders take their manufacturing departments from the bottom of a global supply chain ranking to the top place because they were nurtured (you can read more about this in my book ‘On Time Delivery’). It isn’t magic it is realising that there is a continuum of change that people can handle.

continual improvement - complexity continuum

A ‘level 10’ person, for example, can handle level 9 and below issues in their stride. A level 3 issue for a level 2 person is a nightmare. Over time, through your influence and support, people can increase their abilities and capabilities so that they can take more in their stride. The meeting I have been referring to in this article was too much for some people at the outset. These weaker managers needed a little time to adjust to the approach and we gave it to them. They are now strong players in the meetings.


Expecting the iteration

Building on a previous point, it is naïve to not expect iteration. I know that many managers find this irritating, they hope that the change will take effect in one fell swoop. If you are like this currently please adjust your expectations. It will certainly help when you come to planning the implementation of the change if you are expecting a degree of iteration during the change itself.

I am not making excuses for major changes to the improvement idea itself, I am acknowledging that the complexity of people and business experiments can lead to unexpected results from the adjustment you are trying to make in your business. Expect it, plan for it and embrace the opportunity that it represents.



On top of expecting to have to iterate the approach to your improvement don’t forget utilising the formality of the PDCA (Plan – Do – Check – Act) to help you close in on the outcome you are trying to achieve.

I find that many people ignore the checking and acting parts of PDCA because they don’t feel that they have the time. Their response is often along the lines of ‘well that didn’t work, I’ll try something else’. Often a quick review of what went well and what didn’t will give you the key to tweak the approach and deliver the results desired. This management meeting example is exactly the same.

Everytime the improvement doesn’t deliver the results you want there will be clues left as to what will work and that is why persistence is so vital to continual improvement projects.


What are you struggling with?

What changes have you been trying to make that aren’t achieving their results?

Can you look again at the clarity and pace of the improvement?

If it is essential that we take our team with us, combine this with an open mind about iteration and realise that we need to be persistent, could you come up with a different approach to your improvement projects?

Many times I get involved with a business to help them achieve a specific operational performance target that only requires a little nudge from me. It is sad to say that many of these interventions were on the verge of completion but fell short. A little more confidence, a little more time, a little more persistence internally and it would have gotten there (without my help).

How many of your improvements are just like that? Nearly there but just needing a nudge?


Additional tips to help the change process

I hope that you will take this opportunity to go back to your stalled improvement projects and decide if you can re-boot them by adjusting any of the factors I have discussed in this article (pace, teamwork, iteration, PDCA and persistence).

If you want some additional ideas to help your business with these factors, then don’t forget to download a copy of my productivity and delivery improvement guide ‘You’re Late!!!’. You can sign up for a copy below.

For me, I am going to the meeting that I mentioned at the start of this article and watch persistence and continual improvement deliver results in the real world!


All the best,



Giles Johnston

Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who consults with businesses to improve their productivity and on time delivery performance. Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-engineering and the creator of the Making It Happen toolkit.