Assess whether your organization can successfully adapt and implement another agency's best practices using these criteria.
Many organizations look to improve organizational performance by benchmarkingâ€”comparing their processes, procedures, and results with organizations using similar processes to identify lessons learned and best practices. While identifying best practices is certainly a challenge in itself, actually adapting and implementing another organizationâ€™s best practice into your workplace presents a much greater challenge. Unfortunately, failing to anticipate cultural resistance to change, the need for strong leadership support, the complexity of introducing process changes, and resource requirements (both funding and staff time) can jeopardize the results.
This article presents key criteria and an assessment tool to examine the likelihood of successful transfer of best practices including
- appropriateness for agency and organization
- leadership buy-in and support
- complexity (process or policy changes)
- resource requirements (funding, equipment)
- resource staffing requirements.
The Coast Guardâ€™s Innovation Program and National Graduate School (NGS) Quality Systems Management (QSM) masterâ€™s program were evaluated using these criteria and to identify opportunities. These programs encourage personnel to â€œlead from the middleâ€ to improve organizational performance, increase morale, and decrease attrition. Their processes may be successfully transferred to other public sector organizations under the right circumstances.
Identifying a best or proven practice through benchmarking is a critical first step. Large and complex organizations depend upon diverse processes to be successful, such as financial management, workforce development, strategic and operational planning, tactical execution, organizational communications, supply chain management, information technology, and knowledge management.
But the actual implementation of those best practices in a different organization can be very challenging. Attempts to transfer or adapt best practices often are unsuccessful for a number of reasons including
- the process may not be relevant or appropriate for the new organization
- funding required to initiate and sustain the best practice is not available
- personnel necessary to initiate and sustain the transferred practice are not available, or are not given the time needed to implement the practice
- senior leadership buy-in and support are not provided for high profile initiatives that require changes to organizational norms
- the level of complexity of implementation of the transferred practice is underestimated and problems that occur are not resolved in a timely manner.
Noel Gibeson and I suggest a rating system for each of the above five â€œtransferability criteria.â€ This system rates each criterion from one to three with three being a factor most likely to favor successful transfer of the practice, and one being the most challenging factor. Managers can establish a matrix ratingâ€”a best or proven practice against each of the five transferability criteria to attain an overall scoreâ€”that indicates the difficulty and amount of risk that might be involved to transfer the practice to a particular organization.
The higher the transferability score, the more likely that transfer of the practice to another organization can be successfully accomplished. However, a low score in a single criteria area signals a potentially significant risk unless it is recognized and addressed prior to attempting implementation.
Empowering the Workforce
The Coast Guard successfully implemented two initiativesâ€”the CGâ€™s Innovation Program and the CG-NGS masterâ€™s program in QSMâ€”that are considered by many to be best practices in the public sector to encourage â€œbottoms-up leadershipâ€ by empowering workforce members at all levels to lead initiatives that improve organizational performance. These initiatives were examined to see their transferability to other organizations and the risks and challenges involved in doing so.
The innovation program was initiated in 2001 to tap the talents of highly motivated personnel at all organizational levels to improve processes, develop new capabilities, and improve use of information and new technologies in a system that could accelerate implementation of the best ideas. The program consists of an innovation council at CG headquarters with senior representatives from major components, and an annual innovation expo, which brings together CG innovators from all parts of the organization with CG program managers and senior leadership to share their initiatives and results.
The innovation program was initially funded at $500,000 in 2001 to conduct the expo and to provide venture capital funding to further the most promising initiatives exhibited at the expo. Early successes included development of an enterprise-wide PDA device and standardized software architecture, and development of â€œCG Central,â€ the CGâ€™s first enterprise information portal.
As the program matured, it evolved to include expansion of the expo that includes CG federal partners, private-sector solution providers, international participants (28 nations have attended); an innovation awards program; a formal innovation funding process for promising initiatives; and co-location of the expo with the Fall Flag/Senior Executive Service conference to ensure senior leadership support and interaction with CG innovators, CG partners, and solution providers. The expo grew exponentially from its first event at the Coast Guard Academy in 2001 with 200 CG personnel attending, to 2009-2011 with between 2,000 and 2,500 participants from across the globe.
In 2003 the innovation council initiated an innovation scholarship program to provide $2,000 to CG personnel who graduated from the NGS QSM masterâ€™s degree program in Cape Cod. This 12-month experiential learning program consists of 12 QSM classes on subjects such as project management, team dynamics, performance excellence criteria, process analysis, performance measurement, and best business practices, including Lean Six Sigma.
The program requires student teams to identify an initiative to improve organizational performance, research the process involved, make recommendations to improve the process, gain support of a CG senior champion who owns the process, implement process changes, and measure the impact made. Students must prove a positive return-on-investment to the organization (including tuition costs) before they can graduate. One of the advantages of this program is that it can be broadly applied to any type of process.
Upon graduation CG students receive an accredited masterâ€™s degree and a Lean Six Sigma green belt. The CG teamed with NGS to provide the program at 14 locations nationwide. As of spring 2010, 700 CG personnel had graduated, producing organizational improvement projects valued by their CG senior champions at $500 million. CG graduates were from all organizational levels and included enlisted personnel, officers, civilians, and reservists.
Projects were diverse across all CG activities and included improving ship repair processes, introducing activity-based costing procedures, integrating intelligence with mission planning, reducing transit flight hours for training, and reducing cycle time for congressional inquiries. The long-term value of this program, however, is the development of effective change agents who are trained, educated, and experienced in improving organizational performanceâ€”Coast Guard people at all levels who are encouraged and motivated to lead from the middle.
Two Approachesâ€”One Goal
The two programs demonstrate different approaches to achieve a similar goal: to encourage personnel at all levels to take initiative to improve Coast Guard performance.
The innovation program, through innovation expo exhibits and the innovation awards, encourages and recognizes highly motivated personnel to create constructive change outside of a formal improvement process. The programâ€™s informality and adaptability allows leaders to recognize creative solutions that might not follow a formal change effort process. One example is a CG auxiliarist who knew CG reserve personnel were having difficulty getting physical exams before deploying to the Middle East. This gentleman implemented a medical corps comprised of 400 volunteer doctors, nurses, and dentists from across the country.
The NGS QSM masterâ€™s program uses a very structured approach, and students follow a standard procedure to achieve constructive change. The approach is based on the significant QSM experience of NGS and has been validated by accreditation bodies to ensure it meets the academic rigor necessary for a masterâ€™s degree. Team projects involve examining a process and developing improvement strategies that fit well with the Lean Six Sigma Define Measure Analyze Improve Control assessment model.
Both program initiatives have clearly produced significant results that have improved the Coast Guardâ€™s organizational performance, through enhancements to its effectiveness and efficiency.
Transferring the Processes to DHS
In January 2007 the Homeland Security Advisory Council released its report of the Homeland Security Culture Task Force. Among its recommendations to improve the culture at DHS was to institutionalize the opportunity for innovation.
The report states, â€œWe believe that the component organizations (of DHS) [also] should have accountability for innovation that will directly impact their operational capabilities. Further, the components need to share their innovative proposals and actions â€¦ to maximize any cross organizational opportunities that may exist. The U.S. Coast Guard has an innovation council: create such an organization within each of the departmentâ€™s component agencies and have a single point of contact in headquarters for all ideas and technologies, techniques, and policies focused on the continuous improvement of the department's operations and capabilities.
By contrast, the CG innovation program and NGS masterâ€™s program not only are supported by senior leadership, but consist of bottom-up initiatives that improve organizational performance as well. Improvement initiatives are developed and implemented by the people most familiar with the processes and can occur in multiple parts of the organization simultaneously, without waiting for senior leadership to assign process improvement priorities. Also, there is a limited amount of venture capital or innovation funds available to support further development of the most promising initiatives. This approach would appear to be beneficial for any organization where it could be successfully enacted and is suggested for adaptation for other agencies.
But what are the risks and challenges associated with adapting another organizationâ€™s best practice to â€œmy organizationâ€ when we have a different mission, organizational structure, resource issues, and policies? One serious resource limitation that managers must explore before adapting the masterâ€™s QSM program is tuition assistance. The CG has a significant tuition assistance program that provides up to $4,500 per student per year. The NGS program extends over two fiscal years, and students receive up to $9,000 in CG tuition assistance to make this program affordable. Many agencies do not have a formal tuition assistance program available to all personnel; without this assistance, tuition costs would be unaffordable for a majority of potential students.
The table on page 35 shows how each initiative is assessed against the five transferability criteria receiving a score of one (low), two (medium), or three (high) potential for transferability. Specific comments supporting the assigned scores are included in the transferability matrix.
Both initiatives have successful process outcomes and appear to have superior prospects for transferability and implementation to other organizations using the five criteria. Specific detailsâ€”such as the amount of executive leadership support and resource support requiredâ€”are addressed in the comment boxes.
Government program managers, technologists, and executives should continue to look for opportunities to implement best practice â€œproof of conceptâ€ or pilot studies within their organizations, possibly including the two processes evaluated in the case study.
The transferability criteria described in this article may be a useful tool to assess the potential to successfully adapt and implement another organizationâ€™s best practices into your organization. Real-world experience and feedback based upon the challenges encountered in adapting and implementing best practices would be useful to validate or refine the transferability criteria suggested and improve the knowledge base for adapting or transferring proven practices to other organizations.
I am interested in hearing your experiences to further refine the criteria and share collective experiences and lessons learned.