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Sustainable continuous improvement starts at the frontline.


Sustainable continuous improvement starts at the frontline.

Formula 1 is arguably the pinnacle of racing. The relationships and feedback between the Driver, Engineers and Pit Crews is often the difference between winning and losing.

Every organization is always seeking to improve — better, faster, cheaper. This can come in many forms: process improvement, automation and organizational redesign to name but a few. Yet how many organizations engage their frontline staff and harness their buy-in and ideas to continuously fuel improvement?

From my experience I believe this is a huge gap across the Insurance, Health and Financial Services industries. Frontline staff account for approximately 55% — 65% of total headcount…a significant cost to the organization. Yet we routinely see initiatives foisted upon frontline staff — rarely are these key personnel (literally the staff who ‘do the work’!) provided with any sort of role through discovery, sizing or execution of said initiatives.

So why is this?

  1. Transformation and Continuous Improvement teams are often too remote from the business. Frequently we encounter process maps provided by the organization that in no way reflect the actual process being administered by the frontline.
  2. Frontline staff lack a forum to consistently feed back their frustrations, pain-points or ideas — if this occurs at all, it’s often ad-hoc and rarely empirical.
  3. The tools used by the organization (or as is often the case, the tools used by the consultancy engaged by the organization) to improve are pre-ordained…they are a solution looking for a problem to solve, regardless of how impactful (or not) that problem is. The old adage here is true: ‘if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’
  4. The productivity and engagement improvement that can be gleaned through better people management and giving the frontline a voice in calling out Friction is all too frequently overlooked in favor of high-investment, longer-term process or system initiatives.
  5. Organizations lack the appropriate level of operational reporting to accurately gauge the impact of one improvement initiative over another.

Research conducted by Ohio State University has proven that the average American employee is productive for 2 hours and 53 minutes per day — this is irrespective of how good/bad the systems and processes in place are. Instead it is the result of a failure to identify, quantify and remove the Friction your frontline encounters every day.

What’s the solution?

We don’t like to bury the lede at Bramble — the title of this article is a fairly good indicator for where we stand on the issue! We encourage you to establish a recursive and uniform method inclusive of your frontline that communicates and sizes performance issues, friction and potential initiatives.

There are substantial benefits with the establishment of a continuous feedback loop (cadence) and metrics between frontline staff, their leaders and Continuous Improvement teams:

  1. Engagement will improve — who would have guessed that people actually like the idea of their voice being heard? In addition, the goodwill generated when a pain-point is remedied simply fuels the cycle.
  2. Productivity will improve…rapidly — simply by engaging with your frontline staff, and educating on Friction and establishing a regular cadence to review and discuss performance and pain-points will lead to a 10–25% improvement in productivity. We at Bramble guarantee this.
  3. If done well, you’ll embed the foundations of an organization-wide, sustainable culture of continuous improvement.
  4. The establishment of universal metrics allow for much better alignment of organizational strategy with frontline KPIs. That’s a whole other issue we cover here.
  5. As mentioned in point 2, you’ll see a rapid productivity improvement. However, there’s more to this — this productivity improvement will initially come through ‘low hanging fruit’ and optimized people management. This means your project will achieve an ROI much quicker and with much less initial investment.

In summary, I believe a large blind spot exists across many large organizations — the lack of the frontline voice in the continuous improvement cycle.

I also believe that you can quickly and cost-effectively leverage this into a competitive advantage via the formation of a communication and metrics framework that gives your frontline staff agency in the continuous improvement process.

The rewards you will reap with this approach will come quick and will stay for a long time.