Performance improvement is about improving the effectiveness or efficiency of a process or system. Or, to put it differently, it’s about devising ways to do a better job of something. Consider, for example, the performance improvement problems that a hotel executive might consider:
How can we do a better job of identifying hotel development and acquisition opportunities? How can we improve the way we analyze the opportunities? How can we do a better job of acting on the opportunities? How can we be more effective and efficient with regard to taking over the hotels we buy? How can we improve the way we operate them? How can we do a better job of selling them?
How can we improve our B2B sales process? How can we generate more leads? How can we make our sales pitch more effective? How can we obtain superior references from our existing clients? How can we improve the various aspects of our offering? How can we do a better job of keeping the clients we have?
How can we be more effective at attracting quality employees? How can we do a better job of keeping them? How can we improve our training? What things can we do to make our employees more creative?
How can we do a better job of fulfilling the needs of a particular market segment, say meeting planners, business travelers, female travelers, commercial groups, social groups, children, or baby boomers?
How can we improve our performance with regard to the three E’s of sustainability—economics, ecology and social equity? How can we contribute more to the economic well-being of our community? How can we consume fewer resources? How can we emit fewer pollutants? How can we contribute to reducing poverty, homelessness, prejudice, and other social ills?
As the foregoing examples indicate, performance improvement problems abound. In fact, it seems there’s no end to them. So let’s move on to the question, “Why is innovating a superior way to solve performance improvement problems?”
One way of answering the question is to explain the difference between best practice solutions and innovative solutions. As defined by Wikipedia, “A best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark.” Most people identify best practice solutions by searching for best practices developed by others. While using others’ best practices is better than continuing to use an inferior practice of your own, it won’t give you a competitive advantage. Devising novel, superior solutions—i.e., innovative solutions—to performance improvement problems is what will put you a step ahead of the pack.
So how does one generate innovative solutions? Unfortunately, there are no short cuts—the complete answer to this question fills many books. However, the following highlights will get you started in the right direction.
Discipline Your Thinking: One of the most important things you and your team can do is to employ a problem-solving framework that disciplines your thinking. The theory of constraints, introduced by Eliyahu M. Goldratt in his book titled The Goal, provides an excellent framework for attacking performance improvement problems.
Employ Creativity Methods: There’s been a lot of very sophisticated research on the “what” and “how” of creativity during the past several decades. Despite all that, researchers have yet to “crack the nut” on creativity, which is to say they have yet to develop a fail-safe method for making the creative leap to some superior, new idea. There are, however, methods which increase the probability of making the leap, all of which serve to push you out of your habitual ways of thinking. Two of the most effective methods are using visual and verbal stimuli to spark new ideas and employing various means of gaining a new perspective on a problem. (As the pioneering computer scientist Alan Kay once said, “A change in perspective is worth 80 IQ points.”)
Implement Carefully: The world is littered with great solutions gone wrong because of poor execution. Implementing a solution requires a lot of careful, step-by-step planning, including attending to resource requirements and anticipating (the seemingly inevitable) resistance to the solution.
As I said, there are no short cuts. Getting good at devising innovative solutions to performance improvement problems involves learning lots of new skills. But that’s the price you pay to stay ahead of your competitors. As the saying goes, “If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.” So grit your teeth and get after it. And at the hardest moments, remember what your coach used to tell you—the pain you feel is weakness leaving your body!