There are few things more powerful than building continuous improvement into your organisational DNA. Treating continuous improvement as a pillar of your company culture is essential to ensuring profitability, sustainability and a long-term competitive advantage. But what does that mean, and how can you integrate continuous improvement into your business?
What Is Continuous Improvement?
We like to think of continuous improvement as a way of constantly evaluating and tweaking how you get things done successfully. It helps you to identify opportunities for process enhancements quickly, reduce waste in your business, and overall make your business run much more efficiently. And because you are focussed on making incremental changes over time, rather than large sweeping changes once or twice a year, you will find your company is far more adaptable as a result.
Among the most widely used tools for continuous improvement is a four-step quality assurance method known as the plan-do-check-act cycle. It looks something like this:
- Plan: Identify an opportunity and plan for change.
- Do: Implement the change on a small scale.
- Check: Use data to analyse the results of the change and determine whether it made a difference.
- Act: If the change was successful, implement it on a wider scale and continuously assess your results. If the change did not work, begin the cycle again.
Those familiar with ITIL will recognise this as the core of the CSI process. Of course, this is just one method. Other popular processes include Six Sigma, Lean and Total Quality Management – the specific methodology you use is not as important as the overall goal – to regularly and consistently evaluate your process performance, and implement changes to make them better.
What Can It Achieve?
Now, we’re not going to pretend that implementing continuous improvement within your business is easy. It takes a lot of work and commitment from the top down to become part of the company DNA – but the benefits you will outweigh the work and time investment.
It’s important for you to know what those key benefits are if you are to provoke action, allow for proper allocation of resources, and inspire everyone to adopt a continuous improvement mindset. Just a few of the positive changes include:
- More engaged employees: A study done by Gallup in 2015 showed that only 32% of employees were engaged in their job, while the remaining 50.8% were either ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’. A large factor in this disengagement is employees not feeling as though they are able to take control of their work, and make improvements that have a real impact. A culture of continuous improvement hits directly at this problem – it empowers your employees to solve problems that impact them, and gradually improve the efficiency of their work processes. It also creates a culture of open feedback, which has been proven to promote employee engagement and satisfaction.
- More competitive products & services: Continuous improvement drives improvement in the way the business runs, and this has a direct impact on the quality of service you can offer your customers. Companies that actively look for ways to enhance their business will inevitable increase the value of their product or service along the way, leading to more sophisticated and competitive offerings.
- Lower employee turnover: Turnover within an organisation is very expensive – from void periods in roles to recruiting, hiring and training someone new to do the job. And in many cases, it can take months if not years for a new employee to gain the skills and experience to really excel at their job. So your aim is to keep turnover as low as possible. As a knock-on effect from increasing employee engagement, a culture of continuous improvement also reduces staff turnover rates. Employees who actively participate in the betterment of the company gain a sense of pride and accomplishment. This leads to a greater sense of belonging and fewer reasons to leave the organization.
4 Tips to Implement Continuous Change
Ask For Feedback: You’ll almost always be able to see the results of a failing process – but you might not always be able to identify the root cause. However, if you look to the people working within the process, they’ll usually be able to point you towards the issue. Solicit feedback often and freely, on an ongoing basis – and make sure you’re open to suggestions about how things are done.
Share More, Not Less: Even in a smaller business, it’s easy for silos to emerge – and once you become a bigger business it’s inevitable. But silos are bad for business, and often get in the way of continuous improvement. A policy of more open sharing throughout the company will help everyone stay in touch with what others are doing – not just the activity within their own team. This opens the door to more constructive collaborating between teams, allowing for more innovative ideas and progress. After all, keeping everyone pointed in the same direction is hard, but sharing more about what’s going on, how you’re doing things and the reasoning behind decisions will help.
Don’t Automatically Blame the Tool: It’s not the hammer’s fault if the person swinging it is using the wrong end. It just won’t work as well as it’s meant to. Most tools out there are decent enough and can do their job well – if they are used properly. So don’t rush to change a tool because things aren’t working well. Check to make sure it’s being used properly, and look at changing the approach first.
Identify Changing Requirements: Over time, your business needs will change. Technology, best practice and even your priorities will all shift over time, and you need to stay aware of this. Continuing to do things the same way because ‘we’ve always done it that way’ is the enemy of continuous development. Make sure you keep in mind what your business priorities are so that you can change your processes and approach accordingly. A good tip is to keep a list of your top requirements, reviewed once a quarter, to help you make better decisions about which tools to use and processes to follow.
Just Start: However, more important than any of the above, the biggest change you can make is to start embracing continuous improvement now. If you set aside time for your team to focus on improvement, and you treat it as a regular activity (either weekly, fortnightly or monthly), then you will start to see positive changes. Don’t let analysis paralysis stop you from improving. Treat this as an iterative process that you want to become a habit within your team. Every journey starts with the first step!
Daniel Wright founded Monochrome Consultancy, specialising in Digital Transformation, IT Transformation and Project & Programme Delivery.
With his background in IT and InfoSec Dan is a techie at heart.
For more on Dan and/or Monochrome visit: www.monochromeconsultancy.co.uk