Written by Jeremy Praud, Head of UK & Europe at LI Europe.

Imagine walking into your favourite coffee shop, and when the barista asks what you would like to order, you simply say ‘a drink’.  

How many questions would you have to answer before you got the drink you wanted? Hot or cold? Tea or coffee? Milk or cream? Any flavouring? What size?

You probably wouldn’t be very popular with the barista or the customers waiting in line behind you.

Now imagine the barista doesn’t ask any questions. They just pour you a drink of their choice. They are giving you what you asked for, but will it actually be what you want? How many coffee shops would you need to visit before a barista correctly guesses which drink you want?

It sounds ridiculous, but quite often, this is exactly what happens in a business. A target is set, such as ‘reduce waste’ or ‘increase sales’, but no specifics are given. The employees are left to work out for themselves what is required.  And, just as each barista would make you a different drink, each employee would approach your request in a different way.

Let’s take reducing waste as an example. If there is no specific target for how much we want to reduce waste, some employees might aim for 1% reduction while others are striving for 25%.

There will be differences in how this is delivered. Some employees might decide to simply manipulate the figures so a reduction can be reported. Others might spend longer carrying out tasks to ensure less waste, but this could result in a lower output.

You may also find employees focusing on different types of waste. Some will be reducing time wasted, others reducing materials wasted, and others reducing the number of products that don’t meet quality standards.

In all the above examples, every employee is giving you what you asked for, but not all of them are giving you what you actually want.

When it comes to reducing waste, we need to be clear what type of waste we are reducing – is it giveaway, packing waste, effluent or process, or something else? We need to know the reasons for loss and set specific targets by each reason. 

Unspecific targets with the wrong measures result in the wrong behaviours, and this is detrimental to the business.

That’s why specific improvement strategies are so important. It’s not enough to just ask for a reduction, increase or improvement to something. You need to set specific targets for what that reduction, increase or improvement will look like, and be clear on how that should be achieved.

So, when it comes to setting targets and measures, be specific. Don’t just order ‘a drink’, make it clear what you want and how it can be achieved. Encourage the right behaviours to get the right results.

If you are open to sharing your experiences and learning from others about creating specific improvement strategies, why not come along to our Ambassadors Academy.

The Ambassadors Academy is a monthly event for ambitious manufacturing professionals concerned with driving productivity, in all its form. If you’d like to find out more about the Academy, visit the Ambassadors webpage.