The No. 1 reason initiatives are successful is support from top management. Whether it’s lean, Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma or any program, top management support is vital. No argument. It’s easy with full support, but there’s never enough to go around.
But that’s the way it should be. Top management has a lot going on, much of it we don’t see: legal matters, business relationships, press conferences, the company’s future. If all programs had top management support, they would fail due to resource cannibalization. And we’d have real fodder for our favorite complaint-too many managers.
When there’s insufficient top management support, we have a choice. We can look outside and play the blame game. “This company doesn’t do anything right.” Or we can look inside and choose how we’ll do our work. It’s easy to look outside, then fabricate excuses to do nothing. It’s difficult to look inside, then create the future, especially when we’re drowning in the now. Layer on a new initiative, and frustration is natural. But it’s a choice.
We will always have more work than time. But it’s our work, and we choose how to do it. And it’s how we shape the future. Every day we choose. Add another initiative and it’s the same. We choose what to do and how. Here’s where the look-outside crowd takes the accountability off-ramp and decrees they have no control. But the look-inside crew chooses personal responsibility because we know even the worst bosses listen to exceptional people. We have control and we know it. This is the seed for successful bottom-up work.
Bottom-up work has the fingerprints of folks that take responsibility-yours. You know your work better than anyone, and you behave that way. Eighty percent of your work is the same as last time, but 20 percent is colored by your character. This is the special work, magic work so innate you don’t know how you do it. You just do. Here’s how it goes: You decide what to try, try it, measure the situation before and after, and repeat.
More often than not, you improve the situation. The problem is, your good results stay local. There’s a missing step-communicate. Too often, we don’t make time to share our results. We’re already onto the next bottom-up project.
But in this case slower is faster. Although communication work seems wasteful, do it anyway this time. Set up an informal meeting with your peers and discuss the results. Figure out what worked and why. Do the same for what didn’t. Write it up and, with your peers, present it to your boss. Tell the story and lay out the sequel. You don’t ask. You define how the future will be. If the work was successful, do more of it. If it wasn’t, try something else. Either way, your personal responsibility carries the day. You know your work best, and you behave that way.
The next chapter is bigger, because your peers are with you. Their fingerprints smudge with yours, and personal responsibility impregnates the work. You decide, try, measure, communicate. But this time, you invite your boss’s boss. You tell the story, lay out the future, and then get busy. You don’t ask.
The next one is bigger still. It’s beyond fingerprints. Decide, try, measure, communicate. This time you invite top management. You tell the story, explain what could be, and how to systematize it. Top management recognizes the value and says they’ll fully support a companywide initiative.
Now it’s time to choose a new project without top management support and start another bottom-up revolution.