If you are going to meet your strategic objectives, you'll need to get your whole team engaged with a culture of continuous improvement.

Robert Milnes,  training consultant at Renault-Nissan Consulting outlines how you can create a culture of continuous improvement in your company.


What is the best way of creating a culture of continuous improvement for operational excellence?


Business leaders who aim to meet their strategic objectives, increase profit or reduce costs will often create a plan of action that is executed over a fixed period of time. Although this can ensure success when it comes to managing teams and achieving goals, there is a better way to achieve prosperity and operational excellence for any organisation in the long term.


Continuous Improvement forms the foundation of business management philosophies such as Kaizen and Lean Six Sigma. The methodology can be implemented throughout an organisation and – as the name suggests – ensures a company and its people are continually focused on making processes better. But how can you create a culture within your organisation that ensures all members of your team are on-board when it comes to continuous improvement?


1. Set your sights on ‘True North’

As with any strategic or business initiative, knowing where you want to go or what you want to achieve is the first step to making any positive change. When it comes to Continuous Improvement, the term True North refers to your outcomes and these can be broken down into various stages or areas of the company.


Rather than choosing one overarching goal, uncovering True North is often an iterative process and involves an ever-evolving vision. There may be one objective for a particular section of your strategy however, this may well change as time goes on.


If you’re going to motivate a team of employees and managers to support an operational excellence project, then agreeing a direction and measure of success is a good place to start. Goals you set should be easy to identify and measure, with popular, (yet key) metrics including time saving, customer experience and cost reductions.  


2. Engage leaders

Instilling the principles of Continuous Improvement throughout your organisation is practically impossible without the buy-in of a team of leaders. Those people in charge of managing the different elements of your strategy are crucial when it comes to motivating colleagues and communicating vital information or objectives. They are also responsible for keeping projects on track and within the allocated timescales.


Engaging leaders often starts with explaining the benefits to your organisation. You may also find that assigning specific areas of responsibility, allowing them to take the lead, will motivate your Operational Excellence team members.  


3. Educate employees

One of the most effective ways of inspiring a workforce to engage with Lean or Continuous Improvement within your organisation is to involve people. Ask the question; ‘how can we improve as an organisation?’ and give employees at all levels the opportunity to be involved. You can assign leaders or task managers to each department or level to manage feedback.


Empower people to make decisions in their own role or department by emphasising the importance of smaller, incremental improvements. This could be as simple as improving the process of approving a stationery order or reducing the time it takes to produce a proposal for a client. Whatever their area of expertise, education on Continuous Improvement will help each employee feel involved.


When an employee achieves good results from improving an area in the organisation, this should be celebrated. Create a system for identifying and acknowledging success stories.


4. Start small, stay consistent

A sure-fire way to fail with any Continuous Improvement initiative is to aim for one grand goal without a plan on how to get there.

Start small, by instilling the desire to improve in your team members. Make sure everyone understands that small wins add up to help you achieve bigger visions and objectives.


In addition, remaining consistent with your operational excellence will ensure that the process is truly ‘continuous’.


Many projects fail because objectives were not met in the short term, profit didn’t increase overnight and wasted resources have not been weeded out of the business fast enough. But understanding that a consistent approach to improving the way your business works at every level will, over time, lead to operational excellence.
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