7 Steps to a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Continuous improvement is a popular phrase in today’s board rooms, but how do you achieve it? In a nutshell, continuous improvement in a management context is the ongoing effort to improve your company’s offerings through incremental changes in products, services or processes. Rather than shooting for perfection in one fell swoop, a culture of continuous improvement promotes the idea that small positive changes build on each other so the entire organization engages in ongoing forward momentum.

Possibly the greatest thing about continuous improvement is that anyone can be a change agent! While it’s helpful to have guidance from a Lean expert or Six Sigma Black Belt, the concept of continuous improvement is simple and available to all. In fact, even animals participate in continuous improvement! Think of rats learning the fastest path in a maze or dogs mastering tricks. So surely people in any organization can tackle the challenge!

Want to get started? Here’s all it takes to be a driver of continuous improvement:

  1. Have a positive attitude. An optimistic outlook and desire to make something better will help make change possible. Not every attempt will result in a win but treating every try as a learning experience will keep up momentum towards the goal of getting better.
  2. Do not fear failure. Remember that “fail” stands for “functional attempt in learning!” Experimentation creates the circumstances for learning how to improve. Failures are going to happen when experiments are conducted. Taking what is learned and applying it to the next experiment is what continuous improvement is all about!
  3. Aim for little improvements. Choosing a starting point is a difficult task when there are many things you want to improve. Picking a small task or process is a great jumping-off point. Finding something to make better on a regular basis will pay off. Do not be afraid to start small.
  4. Get others involved. Getting others onboard accelerates forward momentum. Little improvements from everybody bring new life to an organization. The more people involved in trying to make things better, the more your results will improve.
  5. Share your successes. Sharing what improvements are made and what was learned from failures is a great way to help others gain knowledge. Sharing leads to new insights and can help generate ideas from different perspectives. It may also lead to an idea in one area or process being applied to another.
  6. Remember that better – not best – is the objective. The improvements that are made do not need to be perfect; they just need to be better than what was previously in place. Often times the absolute best solution is sought and it prevents smaller, more immediate improvements from being implemented. If it can be done today, do it today!
  7. Keep going. Settling after a few improvements are made is an easy place to end up. Make it a goal to continue improving anything that could be better. Stopping once a better state is achieved will only get you back to square one. Always be improving!