Our previous post talked about Continuous Improvement, but it’s an important topic that deserves to be thoroughly explored, so please consider this a continuation of the discussion we began with our last post.
No matter how good we are, we can always be better. No matter how proficient we are, we can always be more so. No matter how knowledgeable we are, we can always learn more. There’s always room for improvement. That’s what Continuous Improvement is all about. The thing is, we’re OK with the “Improvement” part. It’s the “Continuous” part that sometimes eludes us . . . the idea that even though we just improved something, we’ve got to turn around and improve it again, and again, and again. We want some sort of closure, some sense of completion. But Continuous Improvement is a tough master that, no matter how well we’re doing, tasks us to do even better. Still, great companies embrace both parts of it . . . the need to improve and the need to improve continuously. For more on this, please continue reading below.
“Strive for continuous improvement, instead of perfection.” ~ Kim Collins
For most of us, striving for perfection would be a fool’s errand (although we can remember a few Michael Jordan buzzer-beaters that came pretty darn close). If you believe, as we do, that there’s always room for improvement, then aiming for perfection would just be setting yourself up for failure. It makes more sense to set your sights on improvements that are reasonable and achievable, even when your target for improvement is something that’s already performing pretty well.
When we think about improvements we might make, our thoughts tend to gravitate toward the processes we use to produce our products or deliver our services. And that makes sense since producing our products or delivering our services are what consume most of our time and money. But focusing on the processes we use can distract us from other areas in need of improvement. For instance:
Start with yourself. Do your leadership skills need a tune-up? Are you as good a communicator as you need to be? Are you well-organized? Do you manage your time well? Are there emerging trends in your market that you need to understand more clearly? The list of self-improvement opportunities can be almost endless. Consider yourself a never-ending work-in-progress.
Demand the same of others. Everyone ought to have a self-improvement plan. Not just you and not just your managers. Everyone. Not necessarily a formal document, but at least a clear idea of what they want to work on.
Training, re-training, and cross-training. Are your people well-trained for the work they are expected to do? If you have introduced new equipment or technologies, have your people been re-trained so the company gets maximum benefit from those investments? Are your people sufficiently cross-trained so that in the event of an absence or illness, your operations can continue as usual?
Snafus, screw-ups, and breakdowns. Sometimes, despite our best efforts to the contrary, things head south. Something significant should have gone just as planned, but it didn’t. It went horribly wrong. In those situations, be like the FAA after an airplane accident. Was it pilot error? Was there a mechanical failure? Did the weather have something to do with it? The FAA always wants to know what happened so that safeguards can be put in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Similarly, when something goes out of control at your business, the resulting confusion points the way toward a needed improvement. In these situations, there’s a temptation to just fix the problem and move on. Don’t do that. When a train derails, it’s important to get it back on the tracks, but if we don’t figure out what caused it to derail, it will happen again. Take the time to figure out the underlying causes of the problem and fix those so that the problem doesn’t return.
Continuous Improvement goes hand-in-hand with Employee Engagement. The more your people (at all levels) understand that Continuous Improvement is everybody’s responsibility, and the more they feel that their ideas for improvement are heard and valued, the more they will be “engaged” in supporting the company’s goals. In the best of all worlds, Continuous Improvement becomes a mainstay of your culture and your company becomes a place where everybody is vigilant for that one little thing that doesn’t work quite right, that one problem that keeps re-occurring, or that one skill that hasn’t been mastered yet. Imagine yourself saying to a new employee, “We’re always on the lookout for ways to improve. We’re good at what we do, but we’re always looking for ways to do better . . . that’s just the way it is around here.”
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?