Asniper is a powerful weapon. One sniper team on a battlefield can elim- inate one opponent challenge after
another with great effect. However, a sniper
team can’t do it all. To win the war one must
engage every asset at every level. The same is
true for process improvement specialists and
your business’ war on poor performance.
I’ve written about this idea several times, or
at least it has been an observation or a point
in several posts. Skilled specialists in business analysis and process improvement are
powerful assets. With the correct cooperation,
these specialists can systematically attack and
resolve one process or performance problem
The issue is that problems can often manifest just as easily as specialists can eliminate
them. Also, some problems might be too small
to warrant a specialist team’s attention, but
can still cause significant trouble. Likewise,
some problems are not going to be solved by
a specialist team, they must be solved by a
cooperative of functional leaders that agree
upon doing things collectively differently.
I witness organizations that relegate the
entire continuous improvement initiative to a
specialized team of experts and expect that
team to solve it all alone. Similarly, I observe
many organizations that don’t execute any real
effective process improvement until an expert
shows up and facilitates the effort.
It’s good to have experts and specialists to
address certain problems, to teach and mentor
the skills and methods, and to facilitate difficult
solutions. But if you expect those experts to
win the war on poor performance by themselves you have set them and the rest of your
organization up for failure.
Consider the following challenge: In one
minute or less, point to a single process that
performs optimally every time. Stop reading
and try it.
Now, in one minute or less list as many processes as you can that could conceivably be
improved in some way. Do that now.
I’ll wager that you struggled to find even
one process that couldn’t be improved, or if
you did, it wasn’t a very influential
process. I’ll also wager that
you couldn’t write fast
enough to list out all of
the processes that you
could think of
that might be
I believe that
is all the perspective that
is required to make a case against relying
solely on specialist teams to improve your
business. Consider the damage to business
performance that can accumulate as less than
optimal processes are causing trouble while
waiting for the specialists to address them.
Now consider the power of having all of your
employees actively improving every process as
those employees touch them, every day.
It should seem relatively obvious which strategy stands the best chance to win the war. If
it’s so obvious, why don’t we do it that way?
There are many reasons.
• Employees don’t know how to improve
their processes and are not incentivized to
• Employees are incentivized to do their work,
and receive disincentives for taking time to
• The approved methods to make improvements seem to be too difficult or require too
much red tape.
• A lack of accountability makes it possible,
or easy, or cultural, to blame others rather
than take responsibility or initiative to fix
something that is broken.
• Employees perceive that efforts to improve
things must be planned events, which never
get planned, or the solutions designed in
those events never get implemented.
The bullet list could go on for pages if we
put our heads together. Incentives are the key.
As long as we discourage employees from
taking initiative and only incentivize them to
ignore problems, keep their heads down and
work, our employees will not take action to
make a difference.
Coincidentally, reliance on specialists to fix
problems not only encourages the disincentives listed above, it can cause them. If there
are specialists in place to solve problems it’s
easy to decide that it’s not our own responsibility. Likewise, we can rationalize that we
aren’t qualified, that our solutions or our problems don’t warrant the effort or attention, and
we quickly assume that process improvements
must come from big meetings and lots of
As a member of the “sniper” club of process
improvement specialists, I’m not sure that I like
the following idea. Some organizations have
encouraged every employee to take an active
part in process improvement by putting a stig-
ma on processes attacked by the specialists
and expert teams. “If your process had to be
fixed by the “snipers” then you weren’t doing
your own part to get it fixed,” is the message
that floats in these organizations. I hate being
the bad guy,
but it seems
to have some
and misconceptions mentioned above.
However you go about it, take time this year
to identify and begin systematically removing
the disincentives that compel personnel not
to take an active role in fixing problems. Teach
and mentor simple problem-solving methods.
Encourage experiments and accept failed
attempts. Use those as learning opportunities
to become better skilled. Reward success.
Support up-standers that stick by processes
and force them to be followed or reject defec-
tive inputs. Take an attitude of trying to elimi-
nate the need for the “sniper” team to do more
than mentor new skills.
Don’t rely on specialists to solve your problems. Use specialists to mentor everyone else
in how to solve their own problems. Adopt an
attitude and a strategy of using every asset to
fight the war, not just the snipers.
Stay wise, friends.
If you like what you just read, find more of
Alan’s thoughts at www.bizwizwithin.com
Snipers Aren’t Enough to Win the War
By Alan Nicol
Editorial Advisory Board
• Tim Balz, Founder & President,
• Marty Boykin, Ph.D., Director of Consumer
Durables & Tritan, Eastman Chemical
• Andrew Cresci, General Manager,
Manufacturing Industries, NVIDIA
• Robin Gray, Chief Operating Officer &
General Counsel, Electronic Components
Industry Association (ECIA)
• Ron Jr. “Reg” Gustafson, Vice President
of Business Development, Clinkenbeard
• Mike Littrel, President & Founder, C.ideas
• Harry Moser, President, Reshoring Initiative
• Alan Nicol, Executive Member,
• Mike Rainone, Co-Founder, PCDworks
• Paul Scheidt, Product Marketing Manager,
LED Components, Cree
• Lanny Vincent, General Partner,
Vincent & Associates, Ltd
• Anna Zevelyov, Director of Business
Development, Artec Group