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Using Visual Management To Improve Performance

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How displays of data and sensory stimuli create a better workplace

Stewart Liff

Eighteen years ago, I walked into an organization, took at quick look at its space and quickly realized that it had only one sign up anywhere. The sign was on a supervisor’s desk and said, “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand?” Recently, I walked into another organization and scanned their environment. It had a few pictures hung up here and there, but nothing that really moved me or seemed to be relevant to today’s overwhelming challenges.

Neither space had virtually any performance goals or metrics posted. (As I recall, I did see one graph hung up in the more recent organization I visited – however, it was over a year old.) Neither space displayed information about employee performance. Neither space was overly focused on highlighting or honoring its mission. And neither space celebrated the good work of the employees.

In short, it appeared that in both cases, the space was simply set up so the employees could work there, with no real thought given as to how it could impact on organizational performance or inspire anyone.

There is an old saying that “organizations are perfectly designed to get the results they get.” The point of this saying is that performance is greatly influenced by the design choices that organization make and, in both of the cases cited above, the organizations decided to use the space in at best a neutral manner. Interestingly, I don’t think anyone would have said that either organization was a stellar performer.

What's In Your Space?

Take a moment and think about your own work space. Does it promote performance improvement? Are the goals and actual performance shared with the employees in an effective manner? Is employee performance displayed in a manner that promotes accountability? Are rewards and recognition information posted? Is the space bright, cheerful and airy? Is it set up in a way that enhances the workflow? Does your space inspire employees and visitors? Does it honor your mission and history? Does it celebrate the good work of your employees? Does it affect the outside world’s view of your organization so that people view you in a positive light?

Obviously, these are a lot of tough questions to consider, but think of the opportunity if your space is not addressing the issues described above. Imagine if you could redesign your space using sound organization design, human resources and performance management principles, along with the fine arts, to accomplish just that and drive performance.

Does this sound like it is pie in the sky? If so, think again, since it has already been successfully implemented by a number of organizations. The idea of designing your workspace so it performs better is a revolutionary management concept I call Visual Management.

Visual Management in a Nutshell

In short, Visual Management:

  • Is a system of management that helps create and sustain competitive advantage for organizations.
  • Is a holistic and systemic approach to performance improvement in organizations.
  • Uses fine arts concepts to improve organizational performance.
  • Translates critical organizational requirements into visual stimuli that cannot be ignored.
  • Uses these visual stimuli to highlight, report, clarify, and integrate mission, vision, values and culture into an organization's operating systems and performance requirements.
  • Creates an environment that enhances employee commitment to the success of the organization by ensuring that the work environment and culture directly support the mission and values of that organization.
  • Presents key data and information through use of compelling sensory messages that reinforce what is important to the organization.
  • Addresses performance issues and keeps people focused on the real mission and goals of the organization.
  • Provides a mechanism for continuous improvement through system alignment, goal clarity, inclusion of people in the process, and improved communication and information sharing throughout the organization.

The basic idea here is that you use all of your available space to send a consistent, whole-brained message that focuses on accomplishing your mission and achieving your goals. At the same time, it will help you engage and motivate your employees.

Instead of making your space a nice place to work in, transform it into an inspiring environment that honors the mission, celebrates the great work of the employees, shares information in a strategic manner and helps hold the employees accountable. When you do this, the space will also help shape the outside world’s view of your organization and attract great people who will want to work for you. That is a design choice in the same way that many of today’s nondescript spaces are.

Wouldn’t you want to work in this type of environment? I know I have and would like to in the future. Look for more information about Visual Management in my next article.

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