3 Steps for Turning Failure Around Through Continuous Innovation

    Unlike the VHA, the results at VMMC have been stunning. Productivity increased by 93 percent in targeted areas. For example, walking distance for nurses in the hospital has been reduced by nearly 750 miles per day. This has freed up more than 250 hours which can now be used for direct patient care. Inventory costs have been reduced by $2 million through supply chain reduction and standardization efforts. A new wing with an $11 million price tag did not have to be built since VMMC learned how to use existing space more efficiently. In just one year, overtime and temporary labor costs were reduced by $500,000, and nurse-to-patient time increased from 35% to more than 90%.

    What steps can you take to begin improving your culture today?

    1. Familiarize yourself with the tools of “Lean Leadership.” Many books have been written that help introduce the basic concepts of lean, including waste reduction and improving efficiency. Behind lean is the principle that all people are great assets in life, and great possibilities abound when minds are turned onto learning and improvement.
    2. Regularly visit the place where work is being done and participate as an employee or customer. Or, become a regular on the shop floor, and schedule regular working days for yourself and your staff. Also, if you can buy your products off the shelf, do so. Ask yourself as the Japanese do, what’s the experience like? Japanese execs don’t look at reports, they live at the place where things happen.
    3. Don’t wait for a crisis to begin improvements. A 1980 video by NBC News titled “If Japan Can Why Can’t We?” documented the inefficiencies in our plants at that time. Little has changed for American managers, and they continue to fail to nurture workers’ self-esteem, dignity and curiosity by empowering them to improve the conditions and system in which they work.

    Our reluctance to learn that which we do not know continues to lead to large corporate failures and layoffs. It is management’s responsibility to wake up to their failures as the stakeholders at VMMC did and those at the VHA did not. The root causes of waste can be identified and eliminated, but waiting until you have your own VHA crisis could very well be too late.

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    Colin D. Baird is an operational turn-around and leadership consultant and the Managing Partner of Five Why Leaders. An organization that provides service to companies in crisis. He is also a consultant to TBM Consulting Group, a global leader in operational excellence with management consultants on four continents. Colin can be reached at colin@5whyleaders.com.