During the next few weeks signs of Spring such as March/Spring Breaks are breaking out in school districts across many areas of North America. There are also promising signs of global economic recovery – “green shots” – breaking out and starting to grow. But indicators point toward a long and challenging recovery.

A key issue in organizational recovery and growth is productivity. Real productivity growth takes disciplined management and strong leadership. Politicians, economists, and media commentators often talk about productivity growth from capital investments in equipment, technology, and other physical assets. Those are important factors in increasing productivity, profits, and quality of life.

But it’s an organization’s “soft” culture and leadership behaviors that will ultimately decide whether those “hard” investments will cause productivity to sink or soar. Many departmental, divisional, or corporate management teams proclaim their commitment to productivity improvement. But there’s commitment and then there’s commitment.

We developed our “Commitment Continuum” when helping Clients with service and quality improvement as outlined in my book, Firing on All Cylinders: The Service/Quality System for High-Powered Corporate Performance . The continuum shows that as we move across the first three stages – service, quality, productivity or other organizational results may slowly increase. It’s only when management teams break through to stages four and five that the results or changes they are shooting for really take-off.

Here’s the five stage continuum applied to a management team’s focus on productivity growth:

1. Permission – provides capital/technical investments and authorizes managers, outside experts, or support staff to implement productivity improvement programs such as Lean/Six Sigma.

2. Lip Service – gives speeches and writes e-mails exhorting everyone to improve productivity. Budgets and resources are allocated to a piecemeal series of programs. There is no strategic improvement plan integrating these efforts, the improvement process is not part of operational management’s responsibilities, and the senior managers are not personally involved in education or training.

3. Passionate Lip Service – senior managers may get an abbreviated overview of the training program being given to everyone else. Some elements of an implementation plan may be partially in place. Senior managers ramp up their rhetoric urging everyone else to make big changes and improvements while their own management methods and leadership behaviors remain unchanged.

4. Involved Leadership – senior managers attend training first in its entirety then often deliver (or co-facilitate) sessions to everyone else. The improvement process is actively integrated with management team decision making, daily operations, and other strategic key initiatives. Follow-ups, regular reviews, and re-adjustments are used for learning, recognition, and holding everyone accountable for their contributions. The management team is visibly using the tools and approaches and leading the way.

5. Integration – there is no longer a stand-alone effort or special initiative/program. The approaches and changes originally taught are now part of daily operations and strategies. The majority of senior management’s time is spent with customers, suppliers, staff, and supervisors supporting the work of frontline individuals and teams.

The degree of commitment builds and accumulates from #1 through to #5. Most management teams don’t make it past stage #3. The effectiveness and lasting impact of any improvement or change effort is exponential in stages #4 and 5. That’s why smart investors look most closely at a company’s management team or “leadership brand” when deciding where to place their money.

A key part of this discussion involves culture. CLICK HERE to peruse a series of articles on Culture Change. Click on the article entitled “Bolt-on Programs versus Built-In Processes” for a chart we often use with management teams to show the critical difference between stages #1 – 3 and 4 and 5.

You can also go to Lean Leadership: Energize Lean, Six Sigma, and other Quality/ Productivity Improvement Initiatives for an outline of services The CLEMMER Group provides to integrate the “hard” elements of management with the critical “soft” issues of leadership.