How AT&T Made Process Improvement Fun for Employees (Yes it’s Possible)

Holly Lyke-Ho-Gland's picture

I talked to Mary O’Halloran of Knowledge Management Associates and Misti Molitoriss of AT&T about how they were able to defy stereotypes and make process improvement fun.

Mary and Misti will be presenting ‘Fun at Work-How?! Create HR and Business Engagement to Manage More Change’ at APQC’s Process & Performance Management Conference.

What was the deciding factor that made partnering with HR the right choice?

When developing a knowledge management team, we needed to redesign the team’s processes, define job responsibilities and job descriptions, and introduce metrics-based decision making. With so many changes ahead of us, we had to make sure we had organizational support and the ability to communicate consistently across departments. It was crucial that HR become part of the process. We needed HR’s ideas and support, and the company needed to make sure HR helped engage each staff member to operate at their highest level.

What’s the key factor to successfully aligning employee engagement with performance management?

First, understand what the team wants, and then you’ll be able to address their needs in ways that help the company. Then involve the employees in the process of establishing team performance goals. Our departments worked together to design meeting schedules and topics which would help provide transparency to corporate and departmental goal setting. With a deeper understanding of how decisions are made in an organization, we were able to take ideas that came from my team to the rest of the organization. Once the team members saw their own leadership—as well as leaders from other departments—understood their needs and saw merit in their ideas, we found a really great creative loop that generated even greater employee engagement. This led to improved performance, clarity around goal setting, and so on.

In your session you talk about empowerment of employees, but what does that mean?

Empowering employees is about providing employees with purpose and the clarity to resolve issues and discover new ways of doing their work, as well as the organizational support structure that fosters this mindset. Organizations which create a trusted environment allow employees to question current processes, which provides the opportunity to define and create their own successes. Which means they are more likely to have ownership in new processes, ways of operating, or as they define new organizations. 

You mention that departmental roadmaps are a key to successful process improvement; can you describe what a good roadmap includes?

A good roadmap includes short-, medium-, and long-term goals that are lined up with those of the overall company objectives. Because the team is involved in the process of creating the roadmap, they are able to see how the roadmap plays out – how goals are prioritized, how cost decisions are made, how some things are achieved quickly and some take a lot more time. With our roadmaps, we identified lofty goals – such as “Deliver effortless access to knowledge connecting customers with their world, and do it better than anyone else in the world” – and then created tactics and strategies to take steps toward greatness.

What are ways to make the environment ‘fun’ quickly so people get engaged early in the process?

Find out what motivates each person and then work their sense of fun into your interactions. In our quarterly planning meetings, we brought in guests – just the ones we liked - from other departments, we created games, we did team-building exercises, we rotated through different team members to help run parts of the meetings.

We like the idea of “quick wins,” too. How can the team see us getting things done as soon as possible, so that they’ll have patience and faith that we’re listening to them, prioritizing their concerns. It was definitely a process, with dips and peaks along the way. We made lasting friendships and accomplished a ton. Great teamwork!

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