BUILDING AND MAINTAINING A CULTURE OF CONTINUOUS IMPROVEMENT

The Secret Sauce to Achieving Your Vision!

In our 5-Part Culture Series, we examined how a healthy culture is the cornerstone of any successful company. Guided by the company’s vision, mission and core values, leaders and managers have a compass to help an organization achieve its highest potential.

One way to accelerate achieving your vision is by creating a culture of continuous improvement—with the underlying belief being that a product or service is never good enough. When you always have something better to offer, you create a competitive advantage. As a result, your competitors will have a more difficult time taking market share from you!

Cultivating the Mindset

Although continuous improvement means different things—depending on an organization’s type of business—cultivating the right mindset is the first step!

A continuous improvement mindset is “growth-oriented” vs. a “fixed” mindset. That means people in the organization are always looking for ways to improve—whether big or very small—with their processes, tools, products, services, quality, etc.  

Here are some characteristics of a continuous improvement mindset:

  • The pursuit of excellence
  • Being curious
  • Encouraging out-of-the-box thinking
  • Seeking to understand
  • Practicing humble inquiry
  • Making no assumptions
  • Challenging the status quo
  • Always looking to be better
  • Seeing problems as treasures that reveal opportunities to improve

Leaders Lead the Charge

The saying, “As the leadership team goes, so does the rest of the organization,” is central to creating a continuous improvement culture.  One of the biggest turn-offs for employees is seeing leadership make little to no effort in practicing what they preach. Your staff will judge your commitment and dedication to continuous improvement by what you do and not what you say.  

Culture comes from the top. Embodying an improvement mindset and creating a clear vision and direction for improvement initiatives are cornerstones of any successful change program.  

If the hallmark of leadership is whether you influence others, to be leading, then, we must be moving and others must be following! Leadership does not stand still—it focuses on continuous improvement.

– John Maxwell

Begin with the End in Mind

To create a clear vision for a continuous improvement initiative, it’s important to begin with the end in mind. Start by considering your company’s existing culture and business model (i.e., current state) and imagine the best-case scenario of what your company could look like into the future (i.e., future state). If you’re running a company on EOS, you’ll outline this vision in your VTO, which casts a vision out 1, 3, 5, 10 years or more.    

Align Improvements with the Vision

Consider setting continuous improvement goals on a quarterly and annually basis that align with the vision, mission and core values of your business.  

  • For example, if a company has a core value of “World Class Customer Service,” then there’s a myriad of improvements that could continually reinforce the customer experience.
  • Or, if a company’s mission is to “Help Every Worker Go Home Safe,” then a continuous improvement movement could accelerate this great cause.

The greatest engagement comes from being part of something bigger than ourselves. Make sure to connect meaning and purpose to any continuous improvement initiative.

Define a Clear Process

There are many management principles, philosophies and tools, such as Kaizen, Plan-Do-Check-Act, 5S, Gemba, etc. While these are awesome approaches, if you’re just starting to continue the journey, don’t let the variety of approaches erode enthusiasm for creating a continuous improvement culture. 

A simple approach is to:

  1. Identify a problem
  2. Create a team to analyze the problem
  3. Determine how to measure the problem
  4. Uncover the root causes
  5. Create solutions
  6. Implement improvements
  7. Maintain the gains

Whether you launch a companywide initiative or start with a small cross functional or departmental team, you’ll need to determine a core process for your continuous improvement initiatives.

Create a Safe Environment

Critical to creating an improvement movement is fostering a safe environment and providing an outlet for staff members to bring up ideas, issues or problems. If a company is running on EOS, then the IDS process is a perfect outlet!

Start Small: Communicate BIG

One way to start out is to identify a problem that the organization would like to improve and select a project team who can implement a continuous improvement process. The key is involving the employees closest to the work. These are the folks who likely have the best insight into how their work could be done better. Identifying an issue that exists in a team’s daily operations fuels conversations that lead to continuous improvements.  

  • For example, a common issue for many small businesses is weak mid-managers. A continuous improvement process could have a specific team of people (HR or other leaders) who engage in conversations with these managers.  

Discoveries could include issues with insufficient time for onboarding, limited career growth opportunities or tedious administrative duties that prevent them from leading their teams.  

As a result, possible improvements could include:

  • Expanded opportunities for career growth
  • Leadership development and mentorship
  • Restructuring of positions to reduce waste in daily workloads 

Celebrate Success

When a team engages in continuous improvement, make sure to express appreciation for their great work—and do it publicly. Build off of small wins to create momentum. Everyone needs to see that those who improve things are honored and valued. It’s critical to communicate the benefits that this new initiative brings to both your staff and the organization.

Engage all Employees

The secret sauce to a continuous improvement culture is making it a way of life for the entire organization.  Your front-line people are the closest to your customers (either external or internal), and they are the ones who hear the most complaints.

By making continuous improvement goals public, and cascading those goals to all levels of the organization, leaders and managers have clear visibility to what is working and what is not working. Improvements won’t be sustained unless this happens!

Last, make it a rule to respond to any suggestions that your employees bring to the table. You can do this by announcing your approval or working with the employee to modify the idea into a better solution.

Track Results

We cannot improve what we cannot measure. If using the EOS business management system, a scorecard is one method of creating performance transparency. The point is to create an easy-to-understand system to track improvements.

Here are some common aspirational outcomes common to manufacturing:

  • Zero injuries and illnesses
  • 100% quality
  • Zero defects and returns
  • 100% value added
  • One-piece flow on demand

Grow or Die!

—Lou Holtz

Continue Continuous Improvement

It’s critical to build a continuous improvement system that lasts. The adage “Out of Sight Out of Mind” is all too real. Unfortunately, many factors can derail the best continuous improvement processes. The usual suspects are:

  • A continuous improvement champion retires or moves on.
  • Different circumstances re-order a company’s priorities.  
  • Lack of continued training on continuous improvement practices and behaviors.
  • Ineffective or inconsistent continuous improvement processes.
  • Lack of accountability for results.

Typical strategies that perpetuate a continuous improvement culture include:

  • Making continuous improvement part of succession planning for the CEO.
  • Incorporating continuous improvement into everyone’s job descriptions.
  • Instilling and rewarding continuous improvement behaviors at the mid-manager level.
  • Celebrating company improvements with all employees.
  • Establishing an effective continuous improvement core process.  
  • Creating corporate policies and incentives that are aligned with improvement goals.

Building a culture of continuous improvement takes time and years of planning and action. It’s something that is never “finished.” Just as all things rust and decay over time when not properly maintained, the same applies to your continuous improvement culture—it requires regular attention and care. But the result over time is a steady stream of improvements that can dramatically change the course of a company’s future.  

Practice the philosophy of continuous improvement. Get a little bit better every single day.

—Brian Tracy, motivational public speaker and author of over 80 books on leadership development

Need Help Developing a Company Growth Plan?

Learn more about building and maintaining a culture of continuous improvement, and how this can inspire your business growth, strategy, and retention plan by scheduling a consultation with Chris Naylor, M.A., professional EOS implementer, business coach, and speaker.

Send Chris a message to get in touch, and she’ll connect with you shortly.

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