Why process improvement is always personal

I coach rowing, so I’ll use this as an analogy. Consider the crew of rowers in a racing eight. The coach’s intention is to get all eight athletes rowing in harmony, with the same movement with balance, poise and control. In theory, if everyone does the same thing, the boat will move smoothly, and everyone can apply the power of their legs, trunk and arms to moving the boat as quickly as possible (and win races).

Of course, one could just show the crew a video of some Olympic champions and say, ‘do what they do’, ‘exactly’, ‘now’. But how dumb is that? Each person is an individual, having different physical shape and size, physiology, ambition, personality, attitudes and skill levels. Each athlete has to be coached individually to bring them up to the ‘gold standard’. But it’s harder than that, too. It’s not as if each athlete responds to the same coaching messages. The coach has to find the right message to get the right response from each individual. For example, to get rowers to protect their lower backs, they must ‘sit up’ in the boat. Some rowers respond to ‘sit up’ others to ‘keep your head high’, ‘be arrogant’ and so on. That’s just the way it is with people.

In the same way, when we want people to adopt a new way of working – a new ‘process’, we have to recognise that to get the required level of process adherence and consistency, (i.e. changed behaviours) every individual faces a different set of challenges. For each individual, it’s a personal challenge. To get each individual to overcome their innate resistance to change, improve their skill levels, adjust their attitudes, and overall, change their behaviour, we have to recognise that each individual needs individual coaching, encouragement and support.

Typical ‘process’ improvement attempts start with refined processes, some training, a bit of practice, a pilot, then a roll-out. But where is the personal support in all this? To ask a group of individuals to adopt a new process (any process) by showing them the process and saying ‘do it’, is like asking a village footbal team to ‘play like Brazil’.