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An organization’s culture of continuous improvement is the dynamic force that is vital to achieving that desirable competitive advantage. It may seem like management language to the small business owner or hard work to the senior leader of a large organization. However, it plays a vital role in sealing the successful future of any business.
The optimal scenario for a business leader is to have customers delighted with the service or product, staff happy and satisfied with their work lives, and healthy financial returns that make all shareholders smile from ear to ear.
I have been coaching and training business leaders in continuous improvement for over a decade. While each journey is particular to an organization, there are common themes to organizing and leading continuous improvement, regardless of the organization’s size, industry, or location.
What is continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement is an organizational culture where everyone is continuously working to improve all aspects of the business. The goal of any working day is to delight the customer and consistently provide high quality services. These include:
Innovation as a constant beacon
Culture of reducing waste of time, resources and money
Staff who naturally want better. Upon identifying an error or problem, they will determine the root cause and act to fix and improve it.
Faster processes, uncomplicated, easy to understand and follow
Let’s take an airline as an example. Most of us like to travel. If we flew with an airline with a culture of continuous improvement, our experience would probably be very pleasant and joyful, from booking the flight to arriving at our destination. We would be jumping off the jetty.
Related: If Your Business Isn’t Customer Obsessed, You’re Doing It Wrong
What is needed?
Continuous improvement is a journey. It takes time, planning, dedication, perseverance and a certain pattern of leadership behavior.
Research by teams from the University of Oxford and EY has found that a human-centred approach doubles the success of an improvement journey. Presence, or the lack of it, will make or break efforts. Here are five key tips for creating a culture of continuous improvement for long-term success.
1. Look for opportunities for improvement
Sometimes the opportunity may be obvious, and other times, we have to look for it. Here are some common prospecting activities:
Ask your customers.
Listen to your staff. They have the most important vision.
Investigate business processes and explore opportunities to eliminate steps.
A customer complaint is gold! I distinctly remember the blank stare from a business owner when I first mentioned this. What a great source to get to know your customer. Not understanding what the customer wants is like taking the airplane passenger to the wrong destination, because no one knows where the desired destination is.
2. Prepare for improvement
You have found the opportunity for improvement; it’s time to create an exciting roadmap that illuminates key activities. Examples of preparation activities include:
Develop a structure that fosters shared ownership throughout the leadership chain. This is not a lone hero, but a collaborative team.
Create an improvement tribe (champions and experts) to lead the way.
Invest in training (i.e. change leadership, project management, innovation, improvement tools, etc.).
Using the example of air travel, all players, for each process, must be skilled and clear about their roles. If not, your luggage could end up at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
Related: Four Ways to Increase Customer Experience (and Keep Your Customers)
3. Measure the improvement
A dedicated focus on measurement and improvement metrics will help you make or break your quality approach. For example, a large hospital management team was trying to deal with their long wait times in an outpatient clinic. Their goal was to “Reduce average wait times by at least 50%.”
A 50% reduction seems like a good improvement result. I asked, “But is it?” Tilting his head to the side, a manager replied, “Our patients will still be waiting.” If this is the case, the 50% reduction should not be the ultimate goal.
Here is a quality and patient-centered example:
The objective: “Patients will be seen by a health care provider within 15 minutes of arriving at the clinic on Saturdays.”
The improvement metric: “We will reduce the average waiting time for Saturday clinics from three hours to 15 minutes in six months.”
The more specific and meaningful the metrics, the better the customer experience.
Related: Baseball and business need metrics to hit a home run
4. Offer improvements
There are not better method, only the right one for the need: a bite-sized improvement approach or an incremental but significant transformation. The sky’s the limit when it comes to captivating customers. For the airline customer, this could mean enjoying a first-class experience regardless of where they are sitting.
5. Spread and increase improvement
Once the idea has been transformed into a breakthrough improvement, explore further opportunities to apply, disseminate or expand. No need to reinvent the wheel. If you already have it, see where else it could make a difference. Investment in training is valuable as staff will apply the improvement mindset and knowledge to other areas.
Related: Continually Improve Your Business With 3 Simple Methods
Whether for a small business owner, a senior leader in a large organization, or an airline manager, a continuous improvement approach will launch a transformational journey that you, your staff, and your organization will continually seek to evolve. to improve.
Focusing on consistently delighting the customer will build loyalty and increase revenue. Increased revenue will lead to innovation, engaged employees and investment in development. Qualified and happy employees will make fewer mistakes and provide efficient and cost-effective service. Efficient operations will continue to delight the customer, etc. Such a dazzling cycle of competitive advantage! Enjoy taking off and traveling into the wonderful world of continuous improvement.