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How to Build a Culture of Continuous Improvement
“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection” — Mark Twain.
Continuous improvement is the practice of becoming a little bit better every day.
Become better, one step at a time.
As I have pointed out in my book, Intelligent Leadership, it all starts with the leaders, whose commitment to continuous personal improvement translates into powerful and engaged organizational cultures focused on similar goals, and predicated upon similar values.
How do you build a culture of continuous improvement within your organization? What steps do you need to take to achieve the benefits that result from the adoption of such a culture?
- Set well-defined goals and communicate them often to the entire organization.
- Visualize your goals as well as the steps that will lead up to it. Adopt a system.
- Since you are the source of the initiative, lead by example.
- Make the adoption of the continuous improvement culture easy.
- Measure outcomes and do not be shy to celebrate successes.
- Infuse your organization with the new culture down to the level of habits.
To make your culture of continuous improvement last:
- Include it in your succession planning
- Spread it to all managerial levels
- Build on your success stories
Setting Goals and Communicating Them
Though it may seem counterintuitive to have an “end goal” for continuous improvement, you need to have goals to lend your efforts a raison d’être. Set these goals based on the competencies and behaviors you want to promote in your organization.
Share your vision with everyone, thus sharing psychological ownership. This way, you share out responsibility for the changes on which the success of your continuous improvement program hinges.
Set up a System and Make it a Way of Life for Your Organization
Your improvement efforts need a catalyst in the form of a concrete set of procedures that should trigger change, development, and the adoption of new concepts.
Such procedures include management principles, philosophies, as well as the tools needed to put them into practice. Something like the Toyota Production System can be a good starting point.
Lead by Example
To give your culture of continuous improvement a chance to work, you, the leader, need to walk the walk. Leading by example is one of the core tenets of intelligent leadership for a good reason. An invested leadership sets the right tone for the adoption of any change.
Make Change Easy
To seamlessly integrate change into the daily MO of your employees, you need to make it easy for them. Lack of time and resources are the most significant barriers to continuous improvement. Deal with them early.
Measure Outcomes and Celebrate Successes
The goal of your improvement efforts is to create positive change. To learn whether your approach is working, you need to measure the results. Positive outcomes can then serve as great success stories.
Celebrate success. It is the best argument for continuous improvement.
Make Continuous Improvement a Habit
Successfully starting a continuous improvement program is not enough. You need to sustain it, and you can only achieve that if you manage to have your employees integrate it into their habits.
Creating new habits is difficult. Positive feedback loops showcasing success stories can, however, help.
The Benefits of a Culture of Continuous Improvement
Why should you go through the troubles of building a culture of continuous improvement? How will your organization benefit?
- Continuous improvement gives your organization a consistent advantage over its competitors.
- Continuous improvement enhances productivity by reducing waste and improving efficiency.
- It improves quality, on the level of products as well as services.
- It encourages teamwork and it empowers employees, promoting creativity and creative problem-solving.
- It flattens hierarchies and encourages feedback across all levels.