Continuous Improvement blog The Core Ingredients for Transformational Change: Culture, Empowerment and Leadership

I recently presented at the IMPACT SUMMIT UK: Operational Excellence Conference on what I believe are some of the Core Ingredients for Transformational Change: Culture, Empowerment and Leadership. This blog will outline the key points that I presented at the conference.

Firstly, I’ll explore some ways to help create an environment where Operational Excellence and Continuous Improvement can flourish.

I believe that two of the key ingredients to enable this are in the areas of Leadership Traits & Leadership Behaviours.

Leadership Traits

I’m going to start with Trust.

We need to trust people to make decisions at the appropriate level. Micro-management leads to unnecessary and/or multiple levels of approval, which can dramatically slow things down. Also, when people don’t feel trusted this can have a negative impact on morale and people feeling disempowered and not feeling valued.

It's important that people feel Empowered to be problem solvers, to come up with solutions for the issues that they face in their everyday work. Surely the people actually doing the work are best placed to come up with ideas on how things can be improved?

Leaders also need to demonstrate Humility – doing this is a sign of strength; you need to recognise that other people have strengths and knowledge that you perhaps don’t. It’s important to recognise this and doing so can help harness the strengths and knowledge of people to greater effect.

It’s also important to Encourage people, encourage them to be curious. Why do we do it like that? Is there a better way? An environment where curiosity is encouraged is an enabler for innovation and improvement. This also helps to create an environment where people feel psychologically safe and able to express views and opinions.

An Empathic leader is a leader who demonstrates care, concern, and understanding for employees’ life circumstances.

A picture of an idea wall where staff can write ideasIn a recent study of 889 employers by Catalyst, empathy was found to have had a positive impact on:

  • Employee Innovation
  • Employee Engagement
  • Employee Retention

Now on to Kindness – research shows that kindness is a key component of leadership success. Acts of kindness don’t go unnoticed, and people tend to pay them forward. Leading with kindness also helps to create a safe environment, which will help people be more productive.

A Positive leadership style encourages building on the strengths of people and recognising each person’s contribution. It can also help build resilience and optimism in times of change, transformation, and uncertainty.

Successful leadership is grounded on Self-awareness. One of the many attributes of a self-aware leader is that they are constantly looking for ways to improve, recognising the importance and value of continuous learning & growth. They are also aware of how they behave affects those around them.

Leadership Behaviours

It’s important to Value people for their ideas and creativity. Look for the positives in any new ideas, don’t focus overly on barriers.

Go & See where the work or activity actually takes place, to get a better sense of the reality of the situation, rather than perception. Develop a better understanding of what actually happens and about the challenges that people are facing every day.

Use questions not interrogation: for example, by asking questions like:

  • How are things going today?
  • What are you currently working on?
  • What are the main issues preventing you from being able to do that?
  • What do you think we should do?

Hand of four people holding each other's wristsCoach & Develop others: through empowerment and trust, encourage people to come up with innovative solutions to the problems and challenges they are facing.

Leaders should also lead by example; actively seek to improve the way they work and encourage others to do the same by giving them the resources and scope to develop their ideas whenever possible. All too often when we are doing the job, we don’t have time to think. There’s a lot of fixing things, firefighting, creating work arounds. Therefore, it’s important to give people the time and space to step back and have a think about what is actually happening and think about ways in which things could be improved.

Through applying these behaviours and actions, you can create an environment where people are encouraged to challenge themselves and their colleagues; striving to improve what they do and how they do it on a daily basis.

As a leader it’s important that all of these behaviours are demonstrated on a consistent and regular basis. It should be part of our Leadership Standard Work.


And if you do this, in my opinion, you’re well on the way to creating an environment in which continuous improvement & operational excellence can flourish.

Now I’m going to move on to considering whether large-scale transformation projects can sometimes get in the way of OPEX and CI.

It’s human nature to think that a new fancy IT system or software solution will fix all of our problems.

Those laborious, clunky processes and systems that make life difficult for us, slow things down and frustrate us – these will be a thing of the past when the new system arrives!

Well, firstly no they won’t. It doesn’t work like that, certainly not in my experience anyway.

The new system will not magically make this better on its own.

However, I won’t go into the details of systems implementation programmes or process automation in this blog. My point here is that there is a danger in relying on and waiting on the panacea of a new system or new technology.

Very often it means that we don’t change in the intervening period. There is no appetite or motivation to improve and innovate. Why should we, the new system will fix everything.

This mindset stifles innovation and improvement. It starts to create a culture where we wait for change, improvement and innovation to be done to us, rather than led and driven by us.

In my opinion, this mindset is a dangerous one from a OPEX and Continuous Improvement perspective.

Finally, I’m going to consider how behaviours and culture can impact on transformation change. I started this blog talking about trust and once again I’m going to focus on Trust, or rather Lack of trust.

Lack of Trust from leaders and decision makers can lead to unnecessary, inappropriate and multiple levels of authorisation being built into new processes and systems, slowing things down. Or in other words, high levels of micro-management where people are disempowered and not trusted to make decisions and take actions.

If we don’t address this, we will basically be re-enforcing existing behaviours and cultures within new processes and systems, thus missing a golden opportunity to change, to innovate, to make processes and systems as efficient, effective, and excellent as they can be. Furthermore, it could lead to very complex and expensive customisations to an ‘off the shelf’ system.

And I’ll leave you with this final thought:

Without trust we risk failing to achieve the full potential and value of our transformational change and indeed our people.