9 Steps to Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Guest Blogger - Vince Mirabelli - Process Innovator | Lean Six Sigma Master Black Belt | PMP | CBAP | CCXP
I’ve shared with you my thoughts about building a culture. As I posted last August, “It’s about alignment to a vision; to a goal.”
Where do you start if you want to create a culture in your organization that seeks continuous improvement to process?
How do you create a culture where everyone rowing in the same direction?
First Things First…
Even if processes aren’t broken, I’m sure there is something that could be improved.
If you have trouble coming up with what can be improved it may be because it’s not being measured. What you don’t know can hurt you.
Are there things in place to measure how you’re doing? If not, what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) could you implement to know where you stand?
It’s vital when collecting data to spend some time upfront planning your approach. Here are some common areas to measure your success:
- Sales (What are your sales compared to last year, or to your competitors?)
- Costs (Is it costing more per item (or service) sold than last year?)
- Profit (Are you as profitable as you expect?)
- Acquisition rates and costs (How much does it cost in time and money to get that net customer?)
- Lifetime customer value (Do you know how much profit one customer means to you?)
- Customer retention rate/turnover (How long do your client relationships last? How often are clients leaving?)
- For Manufacturing, Defective rates (How often are subpar products leaving your company?)
- For Services, Billable hours (How many productive hours are being billed to clients?)
- For Everyone, Customer support tracking (Number of customer issues received Number of customer issues resolved? How long did the average issue take to resolve?)
- Employment growth (How fast is your team growing?)
- Turnover (How long are employees staying?)
- Absenteeism (How often do employees miss work?)
Now that you’ve thought about where you are, what are the biggest gaps between where you actually are and where you thought you should be?
What are the top two or three areas where improvements would do the most good? Have the greatest positive impact?
Don’t take on the whole list because too many goals can overwhelm even the heartiest of souls, and block the view of the future. Pick a couple of places where it hurts most then tackle those places first.
Of all the things that can derail process improvements, communication is a big culprit. All the work put into knowing where you are and where you want to go will be lost if your team isn’t brought into what you have found and provided direction for where their energy will be focused.
Share the measurements and what you learned with your team as well as the goals for process improvement.
Ask your people, “How can we make it better?”
If an inclusive environment is created, employees are more engaged and care more about the organization. The best ideas for process improvement come from those who are more engaged in the workplace.
If an idea presented by a team member is implemented, openly acknowledge them.
If employees are included in the challenges, have been asked to contribute to the solutions and are acknowledged for their part in the wins along the way, these things create a sense of ownership.
“Hey! What I do matters and they told me so.”
The seeds are planted and the trees will grow.
Continue to communicate to your employees where they can contribute to the bigger goals and acknowledge them when they add value along the way.
There will be stumbling along the way.
When employees do trip and fall, challenge them to ask four questions BEFORE they employ a quick fix or come to their supervisor for a solution.
- What happened?
- Why did it happen?
- Has it happened before? (i.e. is the issue systematic?)
- What could we improve to keep it from happening again?
Asking these questions help employees think outside of the issue at hand and only to a quick fix. Take them to a higher level where they start looking for longer-term solutions.
Create an environment where employees understand how they fit in the organization and always strive to grow their knowledge.
- Challenge employees to think about how their role impacts the larger organization and to strive to learn more.
- Encourage communication between teams and individuals to grow their awareness.
- Provide individuals with opportunities to grow inside your organization as well as outside by encouraging them to attend relevant education, training classes and conferences.
Encouraging understanding and education will help create an environment of growth and continual improvement.
Creating goals and metrics will only help improve processes if the metrics and goals are reviewed regularly. The timing can be monthly, quarterly or annually depending on the time frames you’ve set.
The review is critical. Taking a regular, planned look at the performance numbers and relative progress toward goals helps you and your team not only measure success but will help you see if there are other opportunities you’ve missed.
Adjustments will be required for any improvements to the process. Reviewing the goals and metrics on a regular basis will help you identify when tweaks or a different direction altogether is needed.
And remember, communicate the numbers with your team! Letting them know what KPI is being reviewed and that action is being taken on the KPI instills accountability and action.
Take time to recognize the accomplishment. If the performance metrics move in the right direction or make progress toward established goals, acknowledge the teams and individuals that made it happen.
Celebrate all your wins!
As a leader, make sure you are at the forefront of the change. Change management requires investment and buy-in at all levels, but as a leader, it’s your responsibility to champion the goals, pay close attention to the progress, ensure acknowledgment of wins happen and to recognize when adjustments need to be made.
Take the First Step
Changing a culture toward continuous improvement takes time, energy and a long-term commitment. Daunting? Yes. Impossible? Definitely Not!
Remember, eat the elephant one bite at a time.
Take the first step to understand where you are. You might find you are further along than you thought.
Work to recognize where your strengths and weaknesses lie and create goals to address problem areas. Get everyone rowing toward the same goals. Get buy-in. Create ownership. Then the steering of the boat will become easier as everyone works together.
Good luck with managing the change and let me know how it goes!
Vincent Mirabelli CBAP, CCXP, MBB, PMP is a frequent speaker and workshop facilitator, host of the podcast, “In Process”, and co-host of “The Vince and Mike Coffee Experience” podcast. He is an occasional writer on LinkedIn, Medium, and his own blog on the topics of Process Improvement and Innovation, Lean Six Sigma, Project Management, and Business Analysis.