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Imprimatur: The Imperative for Improvement

Greg Madsen
Insurance Experts' Forum, December 9, 2009

One business lesson I learned long ago is that meaningful progress only occurs when an imprimatur—an official sanctioning or approval statement—for improvement exists. In the business world, a high-level person or committee must give their formal permission for personnel in the organization to proceed to make improvement. Fundamental to every improvement initiative is the need to provide personal-written or verbal permission to make improvements.

Many managers are surprised to learn this. They believe that every employee has the responsibility to improve his or her job, and that no special permission is needed. The reality is most employees, supervisors, and managers are consumed by the routine activities of their daily jobs—they get their work done, on time, and with a good effect on the customers. Most employees simply do not have the time to make improvements.

Additionally, employees who are inclined to make improvements are faced with many barriers. First, in today’s complex world (where processes and technology are tightly intertwined) a single change to one area generally affects several other areas. While employees may be able to influence their own department to make a change, they rarely can influence an outside area. Consequently, when one unit puts forth an unsolicited change, other affected units will either ignore the proposed change, or try to stop it because the change has undesirable consequences.

A second barrier serves to dissuade those entrepreneurial employees who want to make improvements. This barrier is one of social custom. For whatever reason, people need specific and formal permission to make improvements. If you think this is a hollow statement, try this experiment at home. Go into one of your spouse’s favorite rooms and rearrange the things in that room under the pretext of making an improvement. Make the change without talking to your wife or husband or asking permission. The reaction you will likely get from them is the same reaction many employees get when they approach a manager with an unsolicited improvement idea: “Who asked you to do this?” Frequently, this is the last time the employee will offer up an unsolicited idea for consideration.

In short, people wait for permission before volunteering their ideas for improvement. While a whole lot more is needed to bring improvement changes into the workplace, the beginning step is an imprimatur.

Greg Madsen is a senior consultant for The Robert E. Nolan Co., a management consulting firm specializing in the insurance industry.

The opinions of bloggers on www.insurancenetworking.com do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News.

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