The Leadership Laboratory

Michael Neiss

Challenging the Process during these turbulent economic times can be, well, challenging! Innovation and continuous improvement efforts aimed at cost reductions would seem to be welcome activities. However, many organizations actually become more risk averse during downturns. They seek the comfort of established processes despite the possibility of gains from trying new approaches.

As a leader, it is important to speak up and offer alternatives to traditional budget and head-count reductions. It is doubtful that your organization can cost-cut itself to excellence. If you manage the risk in your approach to introducing novel measures, you may find the organization more open to meaningful and innovative challenge.

A clue lies in the wording of one of a commitment for this practice—"Experiment and take risks by constantly generating small wins and learning from experience." A successful challenge is structured like an experiment; that is, you have a hypothesis and defined variables. If you carefully design your approach, you can easily identify which variable veered off course and truly learn from the experiment. This allows for you or organization to make adjustments to the actions to reap the gains from proposed outcomes. Those of us in manufacturing know the design of experiments can eventually inform quality improvements. This approach works on with all sorts of processes, not just manufacturing. Think about the design of a scientific experiment when you craft your proposed challenge to a particular business case.

Small wins are also very important in today's economic environment. Each win along the way produces growth in your credibility and influence. These, in turn, are the fuel to keep moving ahead with your experiment. You will gain far more support for the challenge when you show it is working!

It is clear that in this time of crisis, something has got to give. So instead of giving staff and innovation the heave-ho, give Challenge the Process a try.

Michael T. Neiss is a Master Facilitator of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop. He is a recognized leadership expert with a decidedly practical approach to leadership and management development. He is currently a trusted advisor on leadership issues for such great organization as Herman Miller, Inc., the U.S. Navy, and Pfizer (Upjohn.)

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