Performance Management: How to Make or Break a Continuous Improvement Initiative

by Kevin Duffy and Jens Refflinghaus, Kepner-Tregoe

Resistance to change is a well-known problem in the change initiatives within continuous improvement programs. Employees may be confused, frustrated, or resistant to change for many reasons. Once resistance has built up, it takes a lot of extra effort (re-work) to get the change initiative back on track.

Processes will not live up to their full potential if the people within the process are not fully committed and engaged. Therefore performance management plays a central role within every change program. If it is forgotten or neglected, people will not change their behavior.

The KT Performance System is a simple but powerful tool to explain and predict people’s performance. Managing performance in relation to change can make or break an improvement initiative. There are four components that influence the performance (response) of an individual in any kind of situation:

1. Situation: the immediate setting in which the performer works.
Expectations to perform must be clear, measurable, and attainable. Adequate resources must be committed to the change. Transferring a vision into detailed and realistic resource requirements takes some time. If it is not done upfront, continuous improvement programs lose because of the waste that follows later.

2. Performer: the person or group that is expected to perform
Does the continuous improvement manager have all the necessary knowledge, skills, and capabilities to meet the performance expectations? Do the people affected by continuous improvement programs know WHY they have to change? Without the requisite capabilities and understanding, the continuous improvement initiative could stall. People will neither comply with nor commit to the changes.

3. Consequences: events following the response that could increase or decrease the probability its occuring again, given the same situation
A behavior change usually comes with unpleasant side effects for employees. People have adjusted to the job requirements and found the best way to handle the process over time. Now they need to change—a negative consequence for them. To change a behavior successfully, focus on the positive consequences of making the change.

4. Feedback: performance-based information the performer receives to modify his or her behavior
When no feedback is provided, employees do not know whether they are performing well or poorly or, how they should modify their behavior. Giving feedback needs to be planned and practiced. Time is well invested in developing standardized feedback loops. Feedback can readjust behavior and prevent it from drifting off-target.

There is no doubt that continuous improvement programs have delivered, and will continue to deliver, results. Our aim is not to discourage these efforts but to encourage harnessing the power of the performance system to deliver better and more sustainable results.

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