Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement by Bryan Robertson

Part 1: Capability Building

At Dakota Transformation we are building a Collaborative Network of practitioners that share and develop leading practice Insights and Improvement Frameworks. In turn, through this Network, we are able to collaborate with our clients to help them deliver on their growth and transformation strategies

This Insight is Part 1 of a series, outlining the elements required to create and sustain a culture of continuous improvement. Thanks to Simon White for sharing his key insights 

Have you witnessed improvements in business performance that have not been sustained over time? These fading improvements are more common than you may think. The prime reason for this is down to how the improvement has been delivered – the importance of building the capabilities in the business to sustain the improvements is vital

A FTSE 250 company we worked with, was passionate about developing a culture of continuous improvement. People from every level of the organization had ideas on how to improve their Customer’s experience and understood the issues which made processes ineffective and inefficient. Equally, there was a common belief that previous attempts at driving improvement have been very “hit and miss”. Review of the data confirmed that they were right – most of the improvements attempted had either not been successful or had not been sustained.  

We used our 4-step process to co-create sustainable solutions with our clients.

Discovery: Analysis of the previous approach to delivering improvement was carried out. We identified the major root cause – which was the lack of capability to apply the continuous improvement techniques and create solutions that would actually be sustained. There were examples of implemented changes for problems which in reality did not exist – they had dealt with symptoms not the root cause and there were weak “implementation” practices for some of the solutions, for example, implementing a change in process through email/desk drop notes without explaining the need for change, how to deploy that change and sustain that change.

Solution: A bespoke Continuous Improvement (CI) capability development programme was designed for the organisation - which was both aligned to the international standard for Lean & Six Sigma (ISO18404) and tailored to the specific operational and cultural needs of the company. 


Structured and clearly defined levels of CI capability ensured the right approach was adopted for each type of improvement. From team-based problem solving (Yellow Belt), to department and value stream transformations (Green Belt) to Enterprise level improvements (Black Belt) – with the framework being sustained by each ‘tier’ providing coaching, training and support for those developing through the tier(s) below. Notably, there was also a development programme for the Executive Sponsors  - without their effective support the improvement programmes would be doomed to fail.

Outcomes: Successfully implemented and sustainable improvements – leading to statistically significant change! Those involved in the program delivered £8.5m of cost reduction and improved the Customer experience for over 300k Customers per year. The growth of CI capability continued after our team left – with the provision of internal training and coaching, leading to external recognition and accreditation. 


Diving deeper into two of the principles we built capabilities around :

Go and See: getting deeply involved to really understand the Current Condition / to be able to provide a more accurate Definition of Target Condition. Taking time to understand all relevant elements of the ‘Current Condition’ is often forgotten through the excitement of an idea or the urgency to solve a problem. Looking at this not only helps to understand potential root causes. It also helps determine the most appropriate CI methodologies to solve the root cause issues. 

Implementation Framework: One of the biggest crime in continuous improvement – is when a great solution to improve the Customer journey fails, due to weak implementation. Understanding the major influencers of behavioural change takes implementations into success and long-term sustainability.

The exciting aspect of this Insight is that this organisation continues to invest in the development of its people and the culture of continuous improvement that it believes will ultimately give it a competitive advantage. 


Co-Authored by Bryan Robertson and Simon White

The Business Transformation Network has posted this article in partnership with Dakota Transformation.


Bryan Robertson is a transformational leader who is passionate about helping individuals, teams and businesses achieve a potential they had never thought possible. He is focused on delivering sustainable commercial benefits, whilst improving the customer experience and developing the leadership capabilities of all involved in the transformation. Bryan has a wide range of experience in designing and delivering growth and transformation strategies in a wide range of business sectors and on a global basis.