A Culture of Continuous Improvement

LeanCor Team

A Culture of Continuous Improvement

The constant drive of process improvement is the key to a successful organization. Many organizations fail to succeed because they place this accountability on leaders instead of people actually doing the work. As a company, we need to build the culture of continuous improvement bottom up, from the most valuable areas of the organization – where the valuable processes are occurring. Empowering ALL team members within an organization to continuously seek opportunities for improvement is what will lead to strength within a company.

To do this, we need to:

Understand the Culture of the Organization

Psychologically, humans do not like change. Change requires our brain to surpass the fear of new things and puts us in unfamiliar situations. No matter how exciting the change is and how competent people are, we must expect senses of loss, confusion, and ambiguity. Because of these reasons, we should involve employees in identifying problems and work with them to solve the problems. ]

For example, say you have worn a blue shirt everyday for five years and are all of a sudden told that you must now wear a red shirt, how would you respond? Now, say you have worn a blue shirt every day for five years and are all of a sudden asked to assist in choosing a new shirt color to improve the company image, how would you respond in that case? There is a significant difference in the human response when one actually has been involved in making a final decision that affects oneself. It’s important to attempt to anticipate the probable reactions in order to change and sympathize with the situation.

Assign Lean Leaders

Lean leaders are crucial to empower and integrate a wide range of employees into the changing of an organization. Lean leaders do not need a managerial title, but must be a team player with:

  • Effective communication
  • Commitment to the role and organization
  • Social understanding of leadership styles and group dynamics
  • Passion for improvement, empowerment, and motivation
  • Process discipline

These are the people in the organization who believe in the values of a continuous improvement culture and not only talk the talk, but walk the talk. They are the doers that know the work to be improved and communicate with facts instead of opinions. They also understand and respect the goals and strategies of the company and direct improvement projects in the right direction.

Respect People and Reward

The culture of continuous improvement is a balanced culture between the company and the people. The company relies heavily on the people to problem solve, stop defects, and fix processes, while the people rely on the company for job security and a safe work environment. The difference between the benefits earned by the people and the benefits earned by the company are soft versus hard (see previous post: “A True Lean Organization: The Hardware and Software of Lean”). The company earns hard benefits like improved customer satisfaction, improved quality, improved yields, flow, and profit. On the other hand, aside from a pay check and benefits, the people earn more soft benefits that they may not see right-away such as improved skills, career development, job security, and a safe work environment. Thus, it is often a successful approach to reward hard benefits to the people like luncheons, cash rewards, or even something as simple as a public publication of specific improvements. Treat people as internal customers and get their voice of customer (VOC) on what they will like to receive for improvements and proactive problem solving. Recognize employee contributions – no matter how big or small they may be.

Have Management Support

Culture is a set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an organization. It is the duty of management to not only set these attitudes, values, goals, and practices, but also lead by them. An organization’s culture needs to be seen and felt company wide, from front-line employees to C-level executives. Everyone needs to be engaged, meaning they need to commit, believe in the values, feel pride in the work, and stay motivated!

Instead of looking at the culture of continuous improvement as a change, let’s look at it as a tool to enable our current culture and organization to improve. Changing the culture of the organization is a tough task, especially when there are no significant events occurring to support the change. However, it is important to remember that a lean culture means that we are always looking for ways to continuously improve. As long as we believe in this notion and build it into our daily standard work, we are a lean culture! As lean thinkers, we know that our job is never done and our accomplishments just uncover more areas to improve. In the face of resistance, we will move forward!

We Can Do It!

Written by Ana Guzman, Lean Deployment Specialist at LeanCor

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