Continuous Improvement Culture

At Prosit, we are focused on helping clients build an organizational development process based on continuous improvement that begins with developing the strategy that works for your organization. The strategy should align with your company’s existing business model, workflows, and culture of the organization. Additionally, all the major stakeholders need to be included in the strategy for maximum efficiency.

Every organization is unique, however, the steps required to build a continuous improvement culture stay the same. Here are the common steps to building and nurturing a continuous improvement culture in your organization.

Goal in Mind:
Every initiative should start with the end in mind based on your company’s existing business goals and culture. That is the current state. Work to map out the future state according to what the company can realistically achieve in the desired time frame.

Once you have set the goal, work with your team to determine how to get the company from its current state to this new future state. To do this effectively start asking the following questions:

  • What are the key performance indicators for the company?
  • What does performance look now versus in the future state?
  • How much of an improvement should the company make on a monthly and annually basis to achieve the targets?
  • What are the behaviors that you want to promote in your company?
  • What are the core competencies of your team today?
  • What are the core competencies do your team needs to have in the future state?
  • What type of leadership is necessary in the future state?
  • How can you promote and develop leaders within your organization to be prepare for the future state?

Figuring out exactly where you want to head and the actions necessary to get there is the first step in developing a continuous improvement culture. The end goal should be difficult enough to provoke a sense of urgency. It should also be attainable since goals that are too out of reach can lead to hopelessness and inaction.

Communicate Consistently:
Once the targets for continuous improvement have been selected, buy-in from key stakeholders is critical to the success, but also to help communicate the message across your organization. The feedback from your stakeholders is very important and will allow you to refine your targets. It is essential that you put your goals in writing and allow everyone in the organization to have access to it. Only by having a shared vision and shared understanding of the mission can the whole organization move towards achieving the goals.

Select Framework:
Every continuous improvement program needs a process. A process or a framework for improvement is an operating model and set of procedures that when executed correctly will lead to the development, analysis, and adoption of improvement ideas. Several successful frameworks for continuous improvement programs already exist such as the Toyota Production System (TPS). Within TPS, there are a number of management principles, philosophies, and tools that can be used in any continuous improvement program. Some key concepts include: Kaizen, 8 wastes, 5S, Value Stream Mapping, etc. Having an external lean consulting resource, such as Prosit, on hand to guide the organization, avoid common pitfalls and maximize efficiency can save a lot of time and money.

Raise Awareness:
People are only as effective as the tools that they have available. Continuous improvement is not a natural phenomenon in organizations. The only way to enable and empower employees to start and stay on this journey is to educate them on the process and the benefits of continuous improvement. Several tools within TPS such as visual management, 5S, Kanban, etc. can be taught and the effects can be seen almost immediately. It is important to note that people’s memories wane over time and other priorities may get in the way of the continuous improvement program. As a result, training and education needs to be on-going. For some people the training can be an introduction to continuous improvement concepts and tools. For others, it can be a reminder of the practices and behaviors that they should exhibit on a daily basis.

Enforce Collective Responsibility:
Continuous improvement requires the participation of everyone in the organization. This includes the senior executives, human resources, management, and line workers. The continuous improvement program becomes effective when employees are engaged in developing the culture and are proactive in identifying areas for improvement. To do this, everyone should understand their role and contribution to company’s continuous improvement program. Only in working together can the goals of the improvement program be achieved. Part of working together on this effort is sharing the responsibility of the program across the entire organization.

Manage Change:
A continuous improvement program will lead to changes. Changes are generally positive when it improves the efficiency of working processes. However, if the changes are not well managed or well communicated this can lead to disorder and chaos. People who are unaware of the new process improvements may continue to do things the way they always have while others work within the new process. This hybrid model can lead to problems and inefficiencies. If this problem persists, the organization may be reluctant to continue the continuous improvement efforts since each change leads to more work, disturbances in existing workflows, and overall confusion. One effective way of communicating changes is by documenting standards and best practices.

Stay Patient:
A continuous improvement program requires a lot of work. Be careful not to under-estimate the dedication and discipline required. It is important to prioritize initiatives and not rush into too many changes at once. Break activities and tasks into short segments, similar to sprints in an agile environment. During the first several months to one year, keep track of the amount of effort that it takes to start, spread, and sustain initiatives. This will give you a good indicator of how many improvement opportunities your team can handle at any given time.

Measure Relentlessly:
A good continuous improvement program will yield positive outcomes. It is important to quantify these outcomes. The more positive results that arise from your continuous improvement efforts, the more energy and momentum that your program gains. Positive outcomes will encourage upper management to invest more into the program and pay more attention to it. Employees will be excited about the impact and contribution that they are making for the company.

Celebrate Success:
Continuous improvement is hard. It requires employees to critically think about their work and examine potential ways of improving it. As your continuous improvement program begins to gain steam, remember to celebrate and encourage the people who make it possible. One way of sustaining the process is to regularly share success stories and recognize those involved. Many employees take pride in their work and are intrinsically motivated to improve them.

Create Habit Standards:
Creating a continuous improvement culture requires changing people’s habits. Habits are the set of things that people do subconsciously on a daily basis. They are in fact very difficult to change. Part of the challenge of starting and sustaining a continuous improvement program is identifying a set of desired behaviours and continuously reinforce them. This can include training and retraining employees, helping people understand when their behaviors are misaligned with the continuous improvement efforts, and giving positive feedback to those who exemplifies the desired behaviors.

Repeat for Consistency:
Building a culture of continuous improvement takes time and does not happen instantly. It takes several years of deliberate planning and action. It is also not ever truly done. As a guideline, all things slip over time if they are not properly maintained. This applies to your continuous improvement culture as well. Some activities to maintain the program include:

  • On-going training and development of employees
  • Active development of leaders who believe in the process
  • Establishing corporate policies and incentives that are aligned with your improvement goals
  • Recognizing the people who are doing good work and rewarding them within the organization.

Please contact us to help your company benefit from a continuous improvement culture.

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