If you’re familiar with Lean Six Sigma (LSS), you’ve probably heard of this concept before. Perhaps, however, you aren’t sure what it actually means, or how to apply it to daily work life. This article will explain how to use the concept to engage your team and ensure everyone is on the same page when it comes to executing lean initiatives.

Overview: What is business as usual?

BAU is the system that is currently in place for a company prior to implementing any sort of change to improve it or make it more efficient. It is the status quo — the standard operations or procedures routinely used — for a business and represents the generally accepted way that things are done by those in the organization. In terms of LSS methodology, BAU has influenced how organizations are structured by serving as a baseline from which to measure improvement through continuous process improvement initiatives.

In a nutshell, it is the traditional way of executing a business in a LSS environment. It means fulfilling requirements in ways that do not utilize LSS tools or methodologies. BAU may prove efficient and effective from one specific standpoint, i.e. financial, but does little to harness the innovative power of LSS. BAU doesn’t lead to growth in the organization, and management cannot rely on it for long-term benefits.

3 drawbacks to business as usual

BAU is the enemy of continuous improvement and cannot be an option if you want to truly become a LSS organization. By working from our current baseline, we run the risk of falling back into what has worked in the past and eventually failing at reaching our LSS initiatives and goals.

1. Doesn’t promote change

One of the main disadvantages to BAU is that it doesn’t promote change, and change is necessary to keep up with an ever-evolving marketplace. What worked in the past might not work in the future, and if you have a BAU mentality, you might not be flexible enough to adapt your company’s practices to the changing times.

2. Loss of employee engagement

Another disadvantage is that you run the risk of losing employee engagement when you’re more focused on BAU than customer satisfaction. Your employees are likely motivated by more than just showing up for work — they want to feel like they’re contributing something meaningful, and they want to feel like their work matters.

If your company’s focus is always on getting through the day-to-day routine instead of innovating or improving things, your employees might start feeling uninspired or even bored by their jobs.

3. Less accountability, more mistakes

Finally, falling into a BAU mindset can create a dangerous cycle of operating on autopilot: When it’s BAU at your company, there’s less accountability because everyone knows what’s expected of them, and they’ve done it over and over again. Because there’s less accountability, people stop paying attention to details, and things start slipping through the cracks.

Why is it important to understand business as usual?

Understanding what your company’s BAU looks like allows you to accurately evaluate whether or not a change is needed. After all, if you’re doing just fine, why bother? But if there are problems that need fixing, you need to understand them before you can fix them.

An industry example of business as usual

The BAU mentality is a dangerous place to linger too long, because as industry examples have shown us over time, the fallout can be costly and permanent. There is no shortage of testament to this fact: Kodak, Blockbuster Video, Blackberry Motion, Circuit City, Macy’s, Borders Bookstore, Hitachi, and Polaroid are just a few of the many examples of companies that were once giants in their respective industries. They not only failed to innovate, but also to evolve.

3 best practices when thinking about business as usual

Companies’ leaders are always looking to step up their game. They want to reduce costs, enhance efficiency, and change their corporate culture. Implementing successful LSS projects helps accomplish all of that and more. However, for LSS practices to bear the fruits intended, a company must have top-notch leadership in place.

The following three best practices will ensure that your BAU/LSS initiatives improve productivity and avoid waste.

1. Embrace a culture of continuous improvement

BAU is not a project with a definitive beginning, middle, and end. It is an ongoing culture of continuous improvement that enables organizations to gain efficiency and eliminate waste in every department — from manufacturing to supply chain management to customer service.

2. Give employees the freedom to be creative

BAU involves streamlining processes, improving workflows, and eliminating unnecessary or redundant steps throughout the organization. But be careful not to stifle creativity in the process. Great ideas come from all over the workplace, not just from upper-level management, so make sure your employees feel comfortable sharing their opinions, and make space for them to collaborate on new ideas.

3. Be flexible

One of the biggest misconceptions about the LSS philosophy of BAU is that it is all about standardization. Yes, it’s true that standardizing your processes means that everyone within your organization does things according to the same “best practices.” However, being flexible means that you recognize when something isn’t working, and you’re willing to change course rather than blindly follow a process.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs) about business as usual

BAU is used to signify when a company becomes so entrenched in their own process that they are resistant to changes that could potentially improve their processes or make them more efficient. As such, the concept is one of the greatest challenges faced by businesses today. Those challenges center largely around recognition, prevention, and inclusion.

The three most common questions about BAU are:

Q: How do you know if your company is operating as BAU?

A: High level of process error, fewer new clients than in previous years, and reduced employee morale and engagement are all strong indicators that BAU is a potential problem.

Q: Are there ways to prevent my company from becoming BAU?

A: Yes. By encouraging innovation and change within your organization, you can stay ahead of the curve and keep your processes fresh and effective for your customers and employees alike.

Q: What can and cannot be included in BAU?

A: There is some disagreement amongst industry insiders, but as long as the activity occurs regularly, it can probably be considered part of BAU. There are some common items that are usually included, such as:

  • Budgeting
  • Reporting
  • Recruiting and hiring
  • Onboarding new employees
  • Payroll processing
  • Customer service

Some activities should not be considered as part of BAU because they are not regular occurrences. Some examples include:

  • New initiatives and projects (though once an initiative has been implemented, it could become part of BAU)
  • Unusual processes due to events like cyber attacks or natural disasters
  • Digitizing processes and implementing technology for the first time

Eschew the status quo

At its best, BAU is defined by predictable, reliable, and repetitive performance. At worst, it’s perceived as a situation where individuals become lethargic and averse to change. In either scenario, one truth remains: There is only one way to stay relevant in today’s business climate, and that is to constantly seek out opportunities to change and evolve.

About the Author