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Innovation, OD

The New Normal – So How?

The Year of the Golden Rat has presented us with unusual challenges we have newer seen before. Again. The last Rat, the Earth Rat, had given us the financial crisis. This one has brought Covid.
So, what can possibly be good about this Rat? It forced us to create the New Normal!

BPR, Cases, Innovation, Lean Six Sigma

Continuously Innovating Highly Effective Processes

Just some weeks ago, I filed my tax in Singapore. It took me about twelve minutes at my computer at home on a Sunday afternoon in April. It was not straight forward, I needed to make some amendments and additional inputs to what IRAS had already prepared for me. Yet, it was really easy to understand, very effortless to do and I have the strong feeling I did not make a mistake. Twelve minutes. Really.

Chatting with a Singaporean a while ago, we touched the taxation system in Germany. And, I have to admit that I may not know exactly how it works nowadays, because I have been out of Germany for many years. However, from what I remember about my motherland, I can easily conclude that nothing changes very fast. And the changes are not always for the better for the people. They are often designed for political window-dressing as a result of some half-hearted promises given before election.

Innovating Tax Collection Processes Every day

Innovating Processes Every day

When I explained to my Singapore friend, that we have tax consultants in Germany who do not belong to the government, he did not understand immediately. “What do they do?” he wanted to know. I explained that the German tax regulations are so complex that no normal taxpayer understands them. Hence, when I was living in Germany, I paid a tax consultant every year to help me prepare filing my tax. “Isn’t it the job of the government to ensure people understand their regulations?” I told him that we have only 103,000 people working for the Ministry of Finance. No way.

“Can you not learn the tax regulations over time? After all, you file every year”, was his question. Yes, you file every year. But it is very likely they change the regulations just in the moment you thought you got it. They seriously do. The system in Germany is so complicated because every Müller, Meyer, Schulze – in Germany we don’t have Tom, Dick and Harry – gets his special tax exemptions or regulations. You have a strong lobby, you can save tax. This is a benefit of democracy. Or, democracy gone wrong, depending on who you are.

My friend further thought, that I might be an exception because of my job. “How many people need a tax consultant, really?” I told him that we have about 86,000 tax consultants who make a decent income from that job every year. I think it is a valid assumption, that many, many people need this kind of support. If the finance authorities would do their job, all these tax consultants would be out of that job – and could do something really value-added.

However, the chance that you catch German tax staff doing some process innovation, must be quite slim.

IRAS has been reinventing tax collection for many years. My friends tell me about the old days, when you could drive by IRAS and drop the tax returns from your car on your way to work. Now, tax collection in Singapore is a breeze. The best part is, IRAS is not leaning back and taking a well-deserved rest after all the accomplishments. No. They work very, very hard to get even better.


In my opinion, IRAS is one of the showcase institutions for continuous improvement and innovation to the benefit of tax payers in Singapore. And, highly effective processes are usually efficient, too. I.e., management and staff have been optimising their internal processes to be able to support the well-known excellent service delivery with minimal effort.

However, these results did not come over night. Over many years, they have been building a strong foundation of continuous change and innovation. They have a core of facilitators who have the capability to support this change and managers with the strong will to drive it – and to walk the talk. Their innovation initiative is supported by many small interventions, events and systems that all together form a homogeneous message: Get better every day.



Ground Rules for Creativity Sessions

Ground Rules for Creativity Sessions

Don’t forget your Toys for Creativity Sessions

If you wish to engage in a fruitful workshop that leads to innovative ideas, you may wish to clarify some basic ground rules for creativity sessions. These ground rules have been adopted from the Creative Problem Solving toolbox by the International Center for Studies in Creativity (Buffalo State University of New York). And, they have been proven essential through many creativity sessions:

Defer Judgement

Evaluation of ideas is not part of a creativity session. This needs to wait to its proper stage. Constructive criticism becomes part of the refining stage. Comments we heard before like “This doesn’t work!” or “Nice idea. Just not practical” kill other good ideas. Participants will not bring up their out-of-the-box ideas – that often start with something that sounds even stupid – because they will be scared to receive this kind of feedback from their fellow-participants and lose face, especially in Asian cultures.

Remember, judgement is not just verbal expression. A facial expression or a gesture can say more than thousand words. The effect of a mimik of disapproval might be even worse than the spoken word. Hence, put your poker face on and, as a facilitator, try to control unhelpful emotions. Best is, keep participants for the whole session in a positive mood. Enforce your ground rules for creativity.

Go for Quantity

Uwe letting the hair down during innovation session - ground rules for creativity

Uwe letting the hair down during innovation session

In any session we have seen, first the low-hanging fruits need to be collected. This is ok. And, this seems to be necessary. Only as participants are stretched in their efforts to generate ideas, original and breakthrough ideas will come up. This needs enough time. Giving up after the initial phase that delivers the in-the-box ideas means giving up on the quality of the ideas. Quantity turns into quality … after some time, some patience and some “work”.

Build on Each Others Ideas

Ideas generated by members of the group can be the stepping stone to a breakthrough idea, produced by another member. Creativity sessions are team events. Collecting ideas by sending out emails and waiting for the response will get you some responses but hardly some quality ideas that lead to innovation. Take time out for the team and you will get results.

Go for Wild Ideas

Ideas that are completely outside the paradigm could be either very promising or useless depending on the techniques to extract valuable insights and build on them. This process needs an experienced facilitator who is well-versed in the tools and can engage the audience. The team leader is not necessarily a good facilitator for a creativity session. This leader will be rather biased due to his experience with the matter at hand. The less the facilitator is involved in the daily work of the team he needs to facilitate the better.

Wild ideas expressed in wild behaviour - ground rules for creativity

Wild ideas expressed in wild behaviour

It is not hard to abide to these ground rules for creativity after some practice. Creativity is not one session. Creativity is a process that needs to be trained and experienced. Only after some sessions, after all participants know, understand and accept the process, great results will be generated.

All these ground rules for creativity help to make your session more fruitful and certainly more fun.

Read also Innovation Strategy

Competency, HR Strategy, Innovation, Lean Six Sigma

Beyond HR Data Analytics – Competencies HR Professionals Should Possess

Given today’s need for HR professionals to be strategic business partners, to be a ‘Voice of Conscience’ to the CEO as well as champion for the employees. Those with background in proven management methodologies and tools have a great advantage. HR Professionals who can present their business case for HR strategies and interventions with a compelling return on investment, supported by rock-solid data, will be well respected and regarded. Understanding and using HR data analytics including basic statistics to convey messages goes a long way. Making proper use of HR data may help to identify drivers for staff satisfaction, staff turnover or staff engagement.

However, HR data analytics needs to have proper links to the business. Metrics used for the analytics have to be vital to the organisation. Rather than wasting money and time to collect data for the trivial many, the HR data analytics should link to the vital few.

Contributing to HR Data Analytics – Metrics Design

It is important to distinguish which metrics are truly adding value to the organisation. Few HR professionals have confidence that their measurement systems provide line managers with the information they need to make critical workforce decisions. Often their metrics do not even link to the corporate strategy and are unsuitable for contributing to improvement in overall business performance. Measuring for measurement’s sake is a time consuming waste.

Translating VOC to CTQ for HR Data Analytics

Figure 1 – Translating VOC to CTQ

To determine which metric should be part of HR data analytics it is imperative to understand strategic initiatives as well as the organisation’s needs. There are simple yet valuable tools to help translating the needs of your organisation into metrics. This is the basis for identifying and closing gaps hence contributing to business results.

Voice of the Customer (VOC, Figure 1) is a structured multi-step process focusing on capturing the voices of HR’s customers – leaders and staff of your organisation – and translating it into CTQs (Critical to Quality), metrics and actions.

Prioritising Metrics for Data Analytics

Kano Diagram (Figure 2) is a simple yet powerful tool used to prioritise Customer Needs. Firstly, Musts are expected by your internal customers. By not delivering on Musts, dissatisfaction is inevitable. Hence, there is no need for reinforcements on them. Secondly, The-More-The-Better are satisfiers. More providence on these will contribute to satisfaction. Any form of deficiency will definitely create dissatisfaction. Thirdly, Delighters are representatives of a special set of requirements that can contribute vastly to satisfaction if received and diminutive disappointment if they are not present. They are difficult to detain since the customers usually don’t even think of them due to the minimal expectancy from them.

Kano Diagram for Prioritisation of CTQs for HR Data Analytics

Figure 2: Kano Diagram for Prioritisation of CTQs

VOC and Kano are just an extension of what many organisations do anyway: capturing the employee satisfaction. Unfortunately, not everybody plays by the rules. In other words, they rather draw conclusions on high-level data without going to the root causes. The result is often not sustainable.

Benchmarking is a field that numerous HR professionals recognise. Benchmarking involves the process of comparing operations/departments within an organisation to each other or with other organisations. Metrics drawn from CTQs can assist benchmarking an organisation regarding their internal customer satisfaction.

Understanding the Drivers

Another tool is Process Mapping (SIPOC, Value-Added Analysis). SIPOC maps Suppliers, Inputs, Process Steps, Outputs and Customers of any given process. This can be a core business process or an HR process. The benefit of a SIPOC is in the high-level understanding of the process and its metrics that drive CTQ metrics. Figure 3 illustrates the effect of  a recruitment process. It flags out potential reasons for long turnaround time.

SIPOC for Recruitment Process

Figure 3: SIPOC for Recruitment Process

After studying the processing time of each of the steps, it became obvious that “Shortlisting” consumed a considerable portion of the processing time. Why?

Digging into the details of this process the team found that one of their HR officers performed batching. She kept all the recruitment files until end of the week and tried to complete them on each Friday. If the workload was too much, she kept the remaining of the files until the following Friday…

Such findings are everywhere waiting for you to find. They are easy to embark upon and to resolve once the root cause is clear. However, resolving the issue is only part of the task. The other – sometimes even more important – part of the task is to promote innovative solutions and to encourage cross-departmental learning, managing the change.


For Lean Six Sigma professionals, all this is not new. They are trained in all the above-mentioned tools, and they are able to use them wisely. Today, we put more emphasis on using data for decision making. Why not consider having HR professionals with Lean Six Sigma skills? Just sending our HR staff to HR data analytics training without giving them the rest of the tools is like buying a data plan for the hand phone without a handset that can really make use of it.

HR professionals with knowledge of data analytics can deliver better service to their customers – their leaders and colleagues. Identifying requirements and gaps, analysing, improving and innovating processes as well as measuring the performance long-term to sustain the gains applies to all business processes, including HR.

HR Professionals with Lean Six Sigma knowledge are an added advantage for any organisation embarking on achieving a strategic HR role.

BPR, Competency, Innovation, Leadership, Staff Development

Cultivating an Improvement and Innovation Mindset

Working with management teams of our clients often takes them away from their business for a few days. They frequently get in touch with their teams at home. Sometimes I involuntarily eavesdrop their part of the conversation. “How is it going? Is everything ok?” are common questions they ask their teams. When they get some kind of “yes” they seem satisfied.

BPR, Innovation, OD

Don’t Automate, Obliterate!

Our business simulation is intended to show the business impact of improving and even redesigning a rather simple business process – the effect of Business Process Re-engineering (BPR). Basic yet powerful tools come to play. Process KPIs as well as customer satisfaction and customer KPIs are a gauge for the degree of improvement. We have been running this simulation nearly a hundred times with teams from different industries. We had employees at various organisational levels. Yet, we have observed the following interesting behaviours:

BPR Simulation Key Learnings

BPR Simulation Key Learnings

  1. After experiencing the initial round of the simulation with intentionally sub-optimal process design, teams very frequently raise two requests: need more staff, need IT support.
  2. When given the chance to re-design the process, 90% of all teams tend to move their team members around to cover up process weaknesses instead of analysing and closing gaps.
  3. More often than not, teams focus on internal matters rather than customer requirements.

Our simulated process has a few intended flaws built in. The most time-consuming process step shows a backlog building up. That step can be easily improved with one very simple change that costs nothing whatsoever. This would lead to a much better flow. Additionally, this would give a reduction or even a complete removal of the backlog. However, only less than 10% of all participating teams find this “trick” without help by the facilitator. More than 50% of all teams try to add manpower to this task. Or, they opt for automating this step instead of looking closer and removing the obstacle.

There has been a significant increase in IT solutions during the business simulation since its introduction more than ten years ago. It is correct, that some tasks can run automatically just by using a hand phone. However, it does not make sense to automate a task that no one needs – after understanding how the process really works.

The sobering fact is, that teams tend to automate before understanding the process.

The sobering fact is that, teams tend to automate before understanding the process. If our business simulation findings would give any indication about real business process re-engineering (BPR) work, we would have to conclude that many IT solutions have been bought prematurely, many broken processes are still broken, just faster and many opportunities in business processes are still uncovered.

Why is this like that? It seems that IT support, an Android or iPhone App serve as silver bullets for many problems. Nowadays, Cloud-computing is the up-to-date method and can’t be wrong. Opposing against these approaches is like fighting against the time. Good old process mapping and process improvement seem like outdated approaches that belong to previous generations. Michael Hammer, the godfather of business process re-engineering, once said

Automating a mess yields an automated mess.

Simulating BPR – Conclusion

Our teams usually end their business simulation successfully. After learning and experiencing some eye-opening truth about the process, they are able to cut the lead time drastically, increase customer satisfaction to the highest level and have even fun doing so.

Only a small percentage of this improvement is due to IT support. Most of it is a result of understanding the process and optimising the flow using good old BPR tools.

Innovation, Operations

Why do we do the Things, the Way we do

We have just acquired a bottle of Italian craft, homemade and aged balsamic vinegar from a dear family friend who we think is trying to expose us to the wonders of dipping bread into the vinegar, for a total sensory experience. This is ironic because he is definitely not a fussy eater and is the epitome of ‘eat to live’. But, that’s a different story.

Innovation, Lean Six Sigma, OD

Nuts and Bolts of Solutioning

Each improvement project undergoes two general phases, As-Is and Should-Be. Whereas the first stage is about understanding the problem, identifying and confirming the root causes, the latter one requires to turn the newly gained knowledge into impactful solutions that have a good chance to get implemented. Here are some tips for the solutioning stage.

Ensure Proper Analysis

When thinking about solutions for your problems, understanding the real root causes is a vital prerequisite. If you try to replace proper root cause analysis with some nice and fancy creativity tools that are not really designed to arrive at scientific root causes, that is worse than not analysing at all. Proper root cause analysis entails a thorough diagnosis of the underlying process with adequate supporting data. This usually leads to some short-term success often born out of the Hawthorne effect that is neither sustainable nor substantial. Analyse properly.

Get the Right Team

Not everyone who is good in dealing with data collection and its analysis is well suited for coming up with good solutions. Consider enriching the “As-Is Team” with people who have the capability and the motivation to think out of the box for your solutioning stage. Look out for colleagues who usually push boundaries, question norms and come up with unconventional ideas.

You might also want to consider involving the process stakeholders. They are more likely to buy-in and support solutions that they have helped to design themselves. Leaving them out might generate resistance. Include them.

Example: If you want to reduce the recruitment cycle time and you discover that your Deputy HR Director applies batching by going through all new recruitment files only on Fridays, one solution is very obvious. However, don’t forget to “sell” this to the Deputy. She may not like to be told that she is “one of the obstacles”.

Implement the Obvious

Some solutions present themselves as a result of the analysis. If the analysis shows that different ways to run the process have been used in the past of which one is clearly better, just go for that one after a careful assessment of the reasons why people depart from that way. Keep the solutioning pragmatic.

Balance Significance with Business Relevance

Almost always, project teams will be able to improve the process. And they are able to show a significant improvement proudly using newly attained statistical knowledge. However, statistical significance does not automatically mean that the findings are relevant to the organisation.

Example: If your team is able to prove that they have reduced the turn-around-time for a government application process from average 104 days to an average of 98 days, the question to ask may be “Who cares?” They have not spent hours and hours on working on this improvement project to come up with this minor improvement – that probably even goes away after a while of Hawthorning.

Generate New Solutions

In case the solution does not present itself, some powerful creativity tools come in handy. They support idea generation for innovating the way work gets done and – most importantly – help opening up the mind. These techniques almost never point out a very good solution immediately. The first phase is the phase of harvesting the low hanging fruits. Only after these non-exciting, in-the-box solutions are gathered, the better solution ideas will appear. This often happens when the team is about to give up, disappointed.

Hence, take the necessary time for this process. Coming from a business meeting having your head loaded with all the action items, joining a creativity session for half an hour before you run for the next meeting that will stretch you again is a prerequisite for failure – at least in the creativity session.

Take your time, generate a relaxed atmosphere and go for quantity. It is very unlikely, that one out of three ideas generated is a real break-through. Ten out of a hundred ideas might be really good of which one is the one that changes everything. Take your time for solutioning.

Apply Behavioural Insights

The strongest lever for process change in a non-manufacturing environment is the human being. This becomes obvious when you find root causes during your process analysis that pinpoint towards operators. Use this to your advantage.

Example: After discovering that the same process under exactly the same circumstances takes different time for different people and you can not explain this with a different level of experience, it is time to think about changing behaviour. Synchronising the processes for different operators by standardising milestones from assigning cases to informing the client about the outcome will apply a soft peer pressure, often good enough to get impressive results.

Be Selective

Having generated a hundred ideas with many good ones does require some filtering and prioritising. A rather sophisticated prioritisation matrix or just a four-blocker Effort-Impact-Matrix or any other tool can be used for that. The goal is: Keep focused, your resources are usually limited.

Example: A senior leader who deploys improvement projects in her organisation frequently, always requests her project teams to present only the three best solutions for implementation. The effect is remarkable: you are required to do a much more thorough filtering including a valid cost-benefit-analysis in order to arrive at the three you would go for. This would be less important if you were allowed to present ten.

Apply Common Sense

During the journey of applying the newly acquired knowledge, do always double check with your common sense switched on.

Example: As soon as you find a solution “training of staff” in the prioritisation matrix, you should ask the question whether this is helpful. After a process change, training of staff is most likely necessary but not a solution in itself. Training rather supports “real” solutions. The same applies to changing an SOP, running a survey etc. Distinguish between real solutions and catalysts, support tasks that make the solutions work and help sustaining their gains. Hence, don’t prioritise these items out.

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