How do I Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement?Emma Harris
Continuous Improvement is the objective of many organisations. It isn’t however just something to be done, it is an approach or a culture and as such it can be hard to achieve. In this article I will explore the vital ingredients of a culture of Continuous Improvement and how to build it into your business as usual.This article covers:
- What is Continuous Improvement?
- Why Continuous Improvement often Requires Cultural Change
- 3 Vital Ingredients of a Culture of Continuous Improvement
- Continuous Improvement as Business as Usual
- Some Practical Help
So let's get going...
What is Continuous Improvement?
Continuous Improvement - also known as Continual Improvement, CI, Continuous Improvement Process, CIP and often used interchangeably with the term Kaizen - is a long-term approach to improvement that systematically seeks to achieve small, incremental changes in processes in order to improve efficiency and quality. This is in contrast to one overwhelming innovation. For more detail on this please read: What is Continuous Improvement? A Simple Guide.
Why Continuous Improvement often Requires Cultural Change
One of the common problems with improvement initiatives is that the team responsible focuses on actions and doing, but don't give enough focus to the mindset of the rest of the organisation. This can be because they don’t have the time or the skillset to address this. It can even be because they don’t realise it is required.
This however is a grave mistake; equally as important as anything that is done, is the cultural shift that needs to go alongside it.
Continuous Improvement is best thought of as a business culture or approach which involves everyone - leadership, management and employees - in finding and eliminating waste on an ongoing basis.
This can be quite a change for many organisations as it requires all employees to take responsibility for ongoing improvement, something which is often only felt to be the responsibility of management.
- Employees may want to be involved in suggesting improvement initiatives, but not know how to do so.
- Or they might not want to be involved because they feel it isn't their responsibility - that it is somehow above their 'pay grade'.
- They may also be unsettled, or even worried by improvement initiatives and just wish people would stop changing things and leave them as they are.
There may be many different reasons why your employees might not support continuous improvement but they all need to be addressed. This can only be successfully achieved by embedding into the culture of your organisation that change is vital and everyone is equally key in suggesting and making improvements.
3 Vital Ingredients of a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Changing the culture of an organisation is hard, because it is as much about hearts and minds as is it about actions.
There are however 3 vital ingredients of a Culture of Continuous Improvement.
Vital Ingredient #1: Employee Involvement
Often organisations think they are involving their employees in change initiatives, but actually they are just telling them about the changes planned. A culture of Continuous Improvement requires your employees to be properly involved. This means:
- Embedding ways for employees to suggest changes and improvements as part of daily life
- Responding to these suggestions positively and not as criticisms or trouble making
- Enabling those who do the work to be involved in relevant change initiatives right from the start
The more employees are involved in suggesting improvement initiatives and their implementation, the more they will feel ownership of them and the more likely they are to be successful.
Vital Ingredient #2: Senior Management Commitment
Senior management commitment to Continuous Improvement is essential.
There are a number of reasons for this:
- If senior management aren’t supporting it, why should everyone else?
- It is key that employees can see the link between change initiatives and the strategic goals of the organisation. This really helps with explaining which initiatives are chosen to be implemented and why, but is very hard to achieve without senior management support.
- Senior management participation generally enables decisions to be made quickly and benefits to be realised promptly.
Vital Ingredient #3: Keep the Communication Going
It just isn’t enough to send out an e-mail and say 'everyone is responsible for finding and eliminating waste on an ongoing basis'.
There has to be an on-going programme of communication, all focused on getting and keeping employees involved. This needs to cover:
- Explaining how everyone can make improvement suggestions
- Explaining the criteria whereby change initiatives are accepted or rejected
- Enabling involvement in the prioritisation of accepted change suggestions
- Giving visibility of change roadmaps wherever possible
- Keeping everyone updated as change initiatives are implemented
- Involving those effected in their implementation
This can't just be a series of e-mails either. It needs to be embedded and effective.
Continuous Improvement as Business as Usual
For Continuous Improvement to be successful making incremental improvements must be become business as usual.
The absolute game changer here is the employee engagement and empowerment to identify small steps for incremental change and as we have explored achieving that requires an effective a business culture.
Having said that systems and tools are also important, especially if they can help you embed a culture of ongoing incremental change.
Some Practical Help
Triaster's ATC platform is a software tool that is designed to capture everyone's ideas and prioritisation views to enable you to build the best possible change roadmap that everyone can get behind. It also takes care of much of the communication needed to build a culture of Continuous Improvement. (But not all.)
If you are serious about creating a culture of Continuous Improvement, you should sign up for ATC Free now.
Related White Papers:
The Complete Guide to Continuous Improvement in Business
This is an entirely updated and refreshed edition of an article originally written in 2016.
Written by Emma Harris
Emma was Operations Director for Triaster for nearly 20 years, during which time as well as learning and perfecting her BPM and process improvement skills, she honed her inbound marketing expertise. She now runs D2e - Designed to engage - which designs and develops bespoke, engaging, HubSpot CMS websites, that help your entire company to grow and scale. She is delighted to still be delivering Triaster's marketing, whilst also helping other companies turn their websites into their hardest working asset.