Combining concepts for continuous improvement for good

Change leading to continuous improvement and organizational transformation is anchored in dependable, up-to-date processes refined through W. Edward Deming’s Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle. This recurring approach gives organizations the opportunity to work more efficiently, evaluate improvements at every phase and ultimately accommodate more ambitious change.

This interaction is important. Change is not just an ongoing aspect of operational improvement; all aspects of it are interwoven. I refer to this concept as concomitant interfacing, an idea adapted from medical science in which the concomitant administration of two or more drugs achieves more effective results than one drug alone, or it serves as a means to counteract the possible side effects of a primary drug. The two or more drugs interfacing provide the balanced, necessary approach to ensure that the medicines work individually and interdependently to reach a proposed state of wellness.

Similarly, viewing organizational change as concomitant interfacing emphasizes that different types of change can occur simultaneously for good. This interfacing serves as the connector — very often technology — that links all the components together. Concomitant interfacing is vital for determining the status of initiatives and movement toward organizational advancement. This integration, when managed effectively, contributes to continuous improvement.

Concomitant interfacing does this in two ways. First, it ensures that adequate foundations are in place in the form of structures and processes. These accommodate transformation at the organizational level and the attendant change in units, divisions or departments. In these areas, business processes need to be re-engineered or behaviors modified to achieve the desired state. Second, concomitant interfacing allows leaders to implement and handle the three types of change simultaneously.

  • Developmental change, characterized by periodic improvements to enhance or correct certain aspects of the organization.
  • Transitional change, encompassing the situational implementation of a desired new state different from the existing one.
  • Transformational change, brought on by market conditions of more epic proportions that force fundamental changes in strategy, operations and worldview.

In order for concomitant interfacing to be useful in both of these ways, the strategic priorities of the organization must be clear. There must be actionable, measurable steps and goals for achieving these priorities, and leaders must understand their roles and responsibilities within this context.

To benefit, leaders must recognize where their organizations are situated with respect to change. This analysis permits leading organizational improvement in a gradual and calculated manner. However, it must be built on a foundation of understanding the different types of change, pinpointing, through benchmarks and key performance indicators, where each type is occurring, and determining their collective impact on the organization as it travels the road to transformation.

That journey, by the way, has no destination — only way stations at which new challenges are introduced and designed to take the organization to new heights.

Column adapted from “Capturing Change: Creating Systems of Transformation through Continuous Improvement,” by Alex Johnson, Ph.D., who is president of Cuyahoga Community College.