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A culture of Continuous Improvement can deliver a 5% to 10% improvement each year, every year
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A culture of Continuous Improvement can deliver a 5% to 10% improvement each year, every year

Continuous Improvement  – What is it?

A culture of Continuous Improvement (CI) is one that delivers a 5% to 10% improvement each year, every year.

It harnesses your most important asset – your people – equipping them with the confidence and know-how to make many small improvements to their daily working practices by linking daily performance to improvement activity.

The cumulative effect of this can be astounding in so many ways.


How can we help create a CI culture?

Reinvigoration believes that there are three simple steps that need to be mastered to allow your organisation to move towards a culture of CI in your business.

But be warned, these will not happen overnight!  Cultural change is a gradual journey that can take many years to fully master.  However, you will achieve some early successes and create pockets of excellence quite quickly across your business.  You will also experience some resistance and potential frustration which needs to be managed carefully.


So what are the three steps?

Step 1: Vision Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American philosopher, once commented that “a culture is made – or destroyed – by its articulate voices”.  Profound words from Ayn, but what do they have to do with the desired CI culture?

These “articulate voices”, otherwise known as the Senior Leaders, hold great importance in providing this direction.  This articulation is typically through the setting of a vision (and therefore agenda) for the organisation.

But visions are also fraught with challenges and failures!  One of our favourite quotes that emphasise how they should be written comes from leadership author Simon Sinek who said “Vision is the ability to talk about the future with such clarity, it is as if you were talking about the past”.

Simon has really bottled the essence here – a good vision needs can captivate and provide crystal clear clarity.

Think about your current situation:

  • Does your organisation have a clearly articulated vision linked to continuous improvement?
  • Does it clearly articulate the outcomes or end state?
  • Finally, has it harnessed your most important asset – your people – and captivated their imagination?
Step 2: Method & Capability Having effective formal mechanisms (method) and the ability to use them effectively (capability) are vital steps in the CI journey.

However, many organisations continue to make the same mistake. We see it all of the time. They choose to spend their time and money on training their people in improvement approaches such as Lean or Six Sigma. Through a top-down approach they then identify and run lots of Kaizen events or longer DMAIC projects in the hope of changing the culture. Yes they make improvements, many of them significant, however they all fail in their goal of creating a CI culture.

What happens?  Well it’s simple. The people trained move onto new things as the business runs out of ‘projects’ big enough to justify their time. The result, after impressive early gains, is almost always stagnation followed closely by regression.

We are not suggesting that this expert improvement capability is unimportant. Quite the opposite.  An organisation like yours will always have the need for top down, strategically driven improvement, so will always have the need for expert capability to facilitate this.

There is however a missing link. It’s the bottom up link, the one that starts with operational performance.   It’s the one that seeks to manage performance in your operations and to drive improvements on the back of these performance outcomes.  This is the link that needs an effective operations management method for it to work.  And all of this has to be supported with widespread problem solving capability – by widespread we mean everyone can do it, not just the “crack team” of CI experts!

Let’s draw breath.  What we’re saying here is that we need four co-ordinated elements.  We need two methods, both an improvement method and an operations management method (or system).  These methods must be supported by two distinct streams of capability, improvement capability and operations management capability.  Four elements in total, none can be missing.

Think about your current situation:

  • Do you have the varied capability building approaches required not only to build expert CI resource, but also to generate widespread knowledge & problem solving capability quickly?
  • Do you have the formal mechanisms in place to facilitate CI and allow people to flourish with their problem solving skills?
  • Finally, have you integrated the performance levels of your purposeful work (why you exist) with improvement?
Step 3: Desire Even with the right methods and capabilities in place people still need to be encouraged to be part of the CI journey.  The ‘what’s in it for me’ question is likely to be prominent in the early stages, so you need to consider how you will reward staff who display your desired behaviours.

As you move through the early stages, our experience shows that the reward and motivational elements often become heavily linked to job enrichment rather than any other type of formal reward mechanism.  Studies show that one of the biggest drivers of employee engagement is feeling valued and having the opportunity and apply to learn new skills (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Work_motivation).  What better way to achieve such enrichment than controlling their own destiny and having the ability and confidence to improve their own daily lives.

How have you created the desire amongst your people (if at all) to engage in CI?

What will this do for your business?

We have already stated that this CI journey takes time, so why bother?  Well the frank answer is that you simply cannot afford not to bother. Services markets are becoming fiercely competitive, margins are reducing and the ability to switch service providers is becoming simple and normal for consumers.

A culture based on continuous improvement stretches way beyond operational improvements and systematically enhances the performance of your business.  It does this by using your people – not external resource – fostering cross-functional collaboration, bringing them together and improving employee engagement.

It solidifies all of the value drivers that your people, customers and shareholders appreciate.  What’s not to like?


Find Out More

Reinvigoration have developed a light-touch, long term CI culture roadmap that helps our clients on their journey towards creating a CI culture.  The roadmap focusses on key milestones over an 18 month to 2-year period, and places significant emphasis on building widespread capability very quickly.

We’d love to share the detail with you and get your feedback on our views, so please get in touch either by visiting http://www.reinvigoration.co.uk/contact/ or by contacting Chris, the author of this article, – chris.dando@reinvigoration.co.uk