7 Steps to Building a Continuous Improvement Culture

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continuous improvement culture

Developing a continuous improvement culture is fundamental to a company’s long-term success. With a shared mindset of innovation and the right system of behaviors to drive it, organizations experience consistent growth that competitors can’t match. Product development, customer service, and profitability almost take care of themselves when a business puts continual improvement at its core. So, how can managers implement an improvement program that leads to cultural change and improves business performance? What is required to create a shared philosophy and unwavering improvement goals among employees? And why is it such a powerful approach to saving time, improving productivity, and enhancing customer satisfaction?

 In this article, we explore the benefits of continuous improvement cultures and seven steps to building one that sticks in your own organization.

 

Why Develop a Continuous Improvement Culture?

Continuous improvements lead to dramatic and long-lasting change. They give companies an edge in an increasingly competitive landscape. By developing a culture that instills this practice, improvement becomes an ingrained behavior or habit. It requires effort at first, but over time it becomes second nature. It’s as though improvements and innovation start to happen on autopilot.

 Some of the benefits of building a continuous improvement culture include;

  • Boosts productivity – reduces QA issues and related product returns to increase overall output.
  • Creates a competitive advantage – gives your organization an edge over others in your industry.
  • Improves product & service quality – leading to more satisfied customers and more referrals.
  • Encourages grassroots input – every idea is valued, whether from the front lines or managing director.  
  • Enhances creativity – challenges staff to solve problems and think outside the box.
  • Increases teamwork – helps remove departmental silos and increase collaboration.
  • Improves company culture overall – empowers employees to make a difference, creating a shared sense of fulfillment.

 

How to Build One That Sticks

Building a continuous improvement culture that sticks isn’t always easy. Some tactics may work in the short term but will soon die out if not followed consistently. The good news is there are fundamental steps you can take to instill cultural change that lasts for the long-term. Here are some of the practices that can help your company to develop an improvement culture.

1 – Get Employee Input

Instead of dictating the new initiatives to be implemented, seek input from your employees. This approach will be met with a more positive response from team members and encourages buy-in from the very beginning. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), people resist change that is imposed on them so choose to adopt a more collaborative approach to your improvement activities. You’ll benefit from different perspectives and harness the collective intelligence of your entire workforce. Asking staff for ideas is also one of the most effective employee engagement activities yet it’s strikingly simple to implement.

2 – Lead by Example

Change needs to happen from the top-down as well as the bottom up. If your employees see that managers aren’t committed to an initiative, then they won’t be inspired to follow it. This causes adoption and adherence problems from the outset and can hamper the successful implementation of a project. But if leaders set the correct tone by walking the talk themselves, then staff will be inspired to follow suit. When employees see that the management team is investing time in an initiative, they’ll be more likely to respect its value and invest time themselves.  

3 – Make Improvement Easy

If you want to build a strong continuous improvement culture, then it’s vital to make it easy for your employees. Turning actions into habits means they need to happen seamlessly and that requires the removal of any potential barriers. Lack of time and resources are two of the most frequent challenges so managers need to address them early on. Create a process that’s quick to follow by keeping it as simple as possible. Support employees with the tools they need to make suggestions, track the progress of ideas, and even execute improvement projects themselves. Using a software platform is an easy way to do this since it integrates the entire improvement process into one tool (along with management systems to track results).

4 – Recognize and Celebrate Successes

Recognizing and celebrating success stories is fundamental to its long-term integration. It provides proof that people’s ideas are working and that their improvement efforts are worthwhile. This is incredibly motivational and encourages staff to continue suggesting new ideas. Over time, this leads to continual innovation and consistent improvements in how an organization operates. It’s an important part of striving towards the ‘perfection’ aspect of the lean thinking model. But remember that improvement starts with small increments which build up to larger changes. So, don’t forget to recognize the little achievements along the way as this is what will encourage people to stick with it.

5 – Focus on Execution

Focusing on execution is one of the quickest ways to develop a culture of continuous improvement. Many companies get bogged down by processes and have long reviews which lead to bottlenecks and delays. This causes frustration for everyone involved and means that people lose faith in the concept. Organizations with a strong improvement culture do something different – they focus on execution. They take a lean management approach by simplifying processes and speeding up the workflow. Businesses like this are able to implement the vast majority of ideas which builds confidence in the philosophy until it eventually develops into a company-wide culture. Even bad ideas will usually highlight a good improvement opportunity so act on suggestions quickly to build momentum.

6 – Be Open-minded

It’s tempting to only implement ideas that directly impact profitability or can show a tangible return on investment (ROI). But organizations thrive on more than just these numbers so be open-minded when considering improvement ideas. Suggestions that enhance customer satisfaction, boost efficiency, or increase staff engagement are just as valid. So, instead of fixating on the bottom line, ask for ideas or process improvements that make your employees’ jobs easier, safer, or better in some way. Look for suggestions that will lead to the customer experience being improved and you may just hit on an innovative new product idea or smarter approach to pricing. When you’re open-minded and welcome all types of suggestions, you’ll see improvements across the board (including financial benefits).

7 – Support Cultural Change

Developing a continuous improvement culture takes time and requires the right support too. Change can be daunting for some people so it’s the job of senior leaders to make it as smooth as possible. Provide training to your staff so that they know how to use the tools and won’t be put off by a lack of knowledge. Create a library of improvement ideas and solutions so that people throughout the organization can learn from best practice. Implement professional development practices like the daily Coaching Kata to help employees in their growth. One of the easiest ways to support cultural change is to invest in digital tools. From capturing new ideas to tracking the progress of projects, continuous improvement software can streamline and simplify the entire process.

These steps will lead to business process enhancements, increased employee morale, and a culture of daily continuous improvement. By seeking staff input and demonstrating an engaged leadership, you’ll build confidence in the continuous improvement program philosophy. Removing barriers and celebrating incremental improvement successes will motivate team members to get and stay involved. Focusing on execution and staying open-minded allows you to benefit from a quick pace of implementation and a wide range of ideas. Supporting cultural change ensures that continuous improvement processes become part of the fabric of your organization. So, whether you’re an automotive project manager, health care team leader, or work in operations management, any sector’s workforce will benefit from the improved culture that’s created.  

 

Your Digital Continuous Improvement Tool

Rever is all about sharing and reusing, doing and tracking. Continuous improvement becomes a hundred times easier with our innovative digital platform. Using Rever’s dashboard, you can monitor the performance of your teams, the summary of their impact, and easily identify the people making the biggest difference at your company.

Rever Cycle is our version of the PDCA methodology and guides your teams on the exact steps to follow to execute their own ideas. It allows them to capture the entire process, from identifying a problem to experimenting and implementing a solution. They can use it to capture the before and after with pictures, notes and drawings, making their ideas a reality in no time. The time of your team is too valuable to be wasted in handmade drawings and complex explanations. 

At Rever, we believe that anybody can be a knowledge worker and thrive. What makes us human is the capacity to grow our intellect and will, and to use them for good. We observe, especially at work, that most people are asked to stop thinking and do as they are told. We want to change that. We enable people to achieve their full creative potential.

Are you interested in learning more about developing a continuous improvement culture or discussing case studies? Then get a demo today with one of our friendly Kaizen improvement experts.

THE FRONTLINE DOJO

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