Applied Servant Leadership: 4. Improvement

This is the fourth article proper in a series introduced with It’s time to reclaim Servant Leadership. We’re looking at how, in the practical context of Lean-Agile transformation, we take Servant Leadership beyond “serve the team” or “unblock all the things and get out of the way”. Each post corresponds to one of the strategies of our white paper 6+1 Essential strategies for successful Lean-Agile transformation. Get your copy now!

How did your last encounter with an improvement initiative go? If you found the experience underwhelming (or worse), you’re in good company. Quoting from the white paper:

Sadly, the long and noble history of continuous improvement is littered with initiatives that fell by the wayside long before new habits could be formed. The reason cited is often ‘lack of management support’, but this is too glib a description given the size of the problem.

For it to succeed, continuous improvement needs several things:

  • The capacity to do improvement work alongside delivery work. The catch-22 here is where there is the direst need of improvement, no-one believes they have the capacity to improve!
  • For improvement work to be seen as ‘real work’, prioritised and rewarded in the same way
  • The level of management commitment necessary to ensure that changes likely to face significant organisational challenge will get tackled
  • A readiness to learn from experiments that don’t go as expected and the stamina to keep on trying
  • Feedback loops designed both to keep progress on track and to ensure a pipeline of new ideas, with the required level of organisational visibility

In short, continuous improvement is unlikely to be sustained without careful attention to organisational design, significant management effort, and ongoing leadership. Managers need to make it it a personal priority, providing sponsorship, safety, and commitment. Leaving it to others to get on with in the background dooms it to almost certain failure.

If you’re on the lookout for a big opportunity to test your mettle as a servant-leader, perhaps this is the one. But you don’t need to start from scratch or do it on your own; core to Agendashift are well-tested tools for building rapid agreement on the key issues and outcomes, framing and developing the necessary actions, and ensuring that the follow-through actually happens. We can be with you all the way!

[Get the white paper[Series start] [Next in series: Applied Servant Leadership: 5. Alignment]

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