Clear division of roles at the top is crucial for the improvement process to succeed

It is now clear that involvement from the top is indispensable for successful organizational change. It is less well known that a clear distribution of roles within the top is also a crucial point of attention. Boudijn Driesen, managing partner at Bureau Tromp, explains why it is so challenging and important that the management team and the board each define their role.

Broadly speaking, the distribution of roles is always the same: management leads the company, the board oversees.

“It’s obviously a bit short-term”, Driesen begins. “But in companies at rest, it’s about this: As a supervisor, you poke your nose in to sniff around, but you keep your fingers off the buttons – after all, that’s reserved for management.”

However, there is an important caveat to this clarity: As Driesen points out, it only applies to companies ‘at rest’ – and it is precisely this calm that has often been difficult to find in recent years. In a business landscape that is constantly changing, organizational change seems to be the rule rather than the exception.

The company Driesen himself leads – Bureau Tromp – can even be seen as a manifestation of this development: it helps organisations coherent improvement, an approach that fundamentally assumes that improvement is a continuous process – change has become the rule.

Unclear roles

Does this mean that an organization will never be in calm waters again? According to Driesen, it doesn’t have to go that far: “When the culture of continuous improvement is embedded in the fabric of the organization, it can continue to improve in relative peace. But the actual transition to such a culture is a far-reaching and long process of change.”

And although continuous improvement in today’s dynamic world already requires “more involvement and partnership between supervisor and management”, it is especially in significant (organizational) changes such as the transition to a continuous improvement culture that the traditional role distribution between Driesen and his colleagues knows from personal experience , that management and the board will run into difficulties.

“Then roles, tasks and responsibilities are often less clear,” he explains. “This usually has to do with expectations that change along with it and the other and/or new challenges for the organization that those changes bring.”

Problem solvers in problems

What also plays a role is that many supervisors have also previously been directors, managers and/or entrepreneurs – and certainly in troubled times, blood is thicker than water.

Driesen: “These are people who are used to understanding things. They are problem solvers – but as beautiful as it is, in this context it sometimes reinforces the problem: it creates confusion, it blurs the stability of roles: who now owns the changes and who owns the solutions?”

Knowing and doing

Should the supervisory authorities refrain from the change? Certainly not, emphasizes Driesen. “Fortunately, the recognition that the whole top needs to be on board to make the change successful has become more and more common in organizations in recent years.”

“From experience we can say that no involvement necessarily means no success.”

“About ten years ago, continuous improvement was often seen as a primarily instrumental approach, a set of tools for working lean, for example,” he explains. “Subsequently, the structural improvements did not materialize. Today, top management increasingly understands that a permanent culture change is required and sponsorship from the top is indispensable for this.”

But knowing is one thing, acting on it often proves quite difficult. “Despite the increased awareness, the lack of integrated support from senior management remains one of the biggest failure factors,” notes Driesen.

Wonderful journey

In short, both management and the board must be involved. “The involvement factor is by far the most important”, Driesen even dares to say. “From experience we can say that no involvement necessarily means no success.”

The art is therefore to combine this shared commitment with role stability. “The supervisor shows his commitment, for example by immersing himself thoroughly in the process. Is there a good approach to achieving a culture of continuous improvement? Very important here is a thorough picture and understanding of the current state of improvement in the organization.”

And as challenging as creating a culture of continuous improvement can seem, it is above all “a wonderful journey”, concludes Driesen. “As Bureau Tromp, we often experience it. It gives an organization – and above all its customers – a lot of benefits. So on to continuous improvements – with a high degree of involvement and a clear division of roles.”

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