Do the work, improve the work

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 03-20-17

Sometimes, performance doesn’t come from big, bold, broad interventions. Sometimes, performance is just about improving our work design.

This article from MIT Alumni Magazine highlights the work of Professor Nelson Repenning. Dr. Repenning was just beginning his faculty career when I was a student at MIT, and I’ve followed his work since. He’s done a lot of research on continuous improvement practices through the lens of systems dynamics, which has been a significant influence on my thinking and research. Nelson_Repenning

That work has taken him down the path of understand the fundamentals of problem solving and work design.

“It’s how organizations respond to the inevitable problems and hiccups that makes all the difference in the world,” he says. Rather than punishing employees for mistakes (and incentivizing them to hide their shortcomings), firms that take a dynamic approach continuously encourage them to find new and better ways to do their jobs. For example, “the job of an assembly line worker is twofold; they’re supposed to do the job the way it’s designed, and they’re always supposed to be looking for the next best way to do it,” says Repenning. The result: Not only does the work become more efficient, but employees also have a greater sense of ownership and are more likely to follow procedure.

So ask yourself:
Does your work design allow you to perform your work consistently?
Within your work, are you aware when there is a problem?
When you identify a problem, do you examine your work design for opportunities to improve?

You don’t need to be in charge of an initiative, CEO of a company, have permission from some corporate program, or even have a lot of training to be able to do the above at some level. Everyone can improve their work. Are you?