Continuous Improvement | 4 Elements of Success
A continuous improvement (CI) culture refers to a shift in the way employees think about their work, a mindset that makes people eager to become better every day, through increment improvements. When developed carefully, a Continuous Improvement culture naturally instils in people the desire to become better and strive for excellence.
But what are the elements of a strong continuous improvement culture? Here we list four key elements that will help you determine the strength of CI in your organisation.
1. Lean leadership
Leaders should understand that culture is not just a corporate thing HR has to promote. Good leaders act both as role models and coaches. They have to steer the organisation and make sure it is not dragged in the wrong direction.
Maybe the most appropriate type of leader who can successfully encourage the culture of continuous improvement is a lean leader. This is the type of leader who can raise new leaders that embrace and transfer the culture of continuous improvement. Lean leaders are open to experimentation, are not afraid to distribute power and give ownership.
They are servant leaders rather than commanding leaders, enabling their employees to be drivers of change. Essentially, they move away from a top-down management model to a bottom-up management model. They do this by ensuring that employees have the opportunity to grow professionally, improve their knowledge and have autonomy. They go to the factory floor, ask questions and try to get answers that help them in their strategic decisions.
Lean leadership is built around the principles of continuous improvement and is guided by lean processes like PDCA (Plan Do Check Act) and Kaizen (an approach based on the idea that small, ongoing positive changes can reap significant improvements).
Communication is a key element for the CI culture. First of all, communication refers to knowledge exchange. How can anyone improve without knowing about best practices across, up and down the organisation? Only once they have the full picture can they really understand how they fit in and contribute to success.
Secondly, organisations should always consider using communication platforms that can foster strong team-based collaboration and exchange of ideas. Communication is not as much about talking as it is about active listening and understanding. When we make the effort to listen to understand, not just to answer, communication is more successful.
And finally, conveying the right message early on will help employees align with the corporate culture. Being transparent in all areas of the organization also creates a more welcoming and trusting environment, which makes everyone in the company feel they matter.
3. Ownership and trust
Building ownership and trust will unleash more energy in your organization. A culture of continuous improvement will work only if employees can balance their freedom to create and develop new ideas with the discipline of accountability and ownership.
Once again, it’s the managers’ role to empower and inspire people to take risks without fearing judgment or penalty. For this to happen, they also need to feel they are trusted. The reverse should also apply, employees should be able to trust the actions of your company.
Here is where we come back to the previous point about communication and transparency as key factors in building that trust.
4. Learning culture
We often see companies providing short term training programs that relate directly to their current tasks, but don’t have continuity. This happens because companies usually overlook the importance of long-term growth that inspires the learning and development of new skills.
Deciding on a continuous improvement approach also implies that you create an environment where continuous learning is constantly encouraged. Leaders have to set the tone by encouraging learning. There might be some reluctance in learning or developing new skills after a certain age, but the good news is that learning to learn, is also a skill we can build. We just need the tools and the context for it.