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4 Considerations When Implementing a Continuous Improvement Model

By Roger Price - May 5, 2017

shutterstock_99355364The good news is that your organization has recognized the need to implement a structured approach to continuous improvement (CI) or otherwise increase your investment in CI, but now you’re struggling with the question of how to do it well. Although adding yet another set of tasks to your personal workload, not to mention that of the broader organization, may seem daunting, when done right, a good CI model can streamline workflows, improve efficiency, and boost your bottom line.

Here are four recommendations to help you implement a CI model in a way that wins employees’ hearts and minds and generates business results.

How to Implement a Continuous Improvement Model

1. Apply a personalized approach to workforce engagement

Every manager involved in operations knows how difficult it is to introduce change into the organization. Whether you modify a safety protocol, require more detailed reporting, or even do something as seemingly simple as moving the coffee machine to the other side of the break room, some resistance seems inevitable.  The mistake many often make that contributes to this instinctive resistance to change is not helping the recipients of the change to understand and internalize it in their own terms.  

For example, when introducing (or reintroducing) CI to an operation, even if the CI model is driven from the business-level, it’s important to position the deployment in terms that will resonate to the workforce you are trying to engage in that operation.  Questions to answer include:  

> What are the location-specific risks to this deployment that need to be documented and mitigated?  

> Who are the informal change leaders that need to be brought into the process early in the deployment to ensure it’s successful?

> How will employees at all levels be involved in CI?  

> What persistent problems, whether cultural or performance-related, will CI help to solve? 

> What’s the operation specific need for change?  

2. Integrate your tools

You’re likely using a mix of various tools to support CI, including Excel spreadsheets to track improvement projects, PowerPoint files to document your strategy, and a document management system to capture and store your training content and documented best practices.  

If you’re planning to deploy a structured approach to CI across your organization, you need a common platform to consolidate and integrate the various CI work streams or you will struggle with consistency and sustainability across time. 

3. Overcome the “Tyranny of the Now” with Scorecarding and Sound Governance

The first few months of a CI deployment always feel great. You generate an initial set of improvements that capture real business value and, if you’ve taken employee engagement seriously, you should be receiving lots of positive feedback from the workforce about the program.

However, as the initial enthusiasm wears off, the risk of regression increases substantially.  This tendency towards regression is driven, in part, by the reality that “improvement” work is often perceived as less urgent than the day to day “run and maintain” work in the operation.  

Over time the goal should be to help the workforce understand that CI is not distinct from the daily routine of the operation.  That paradigm shift is key to the institutionalization of CI in the organization.  In the meantime, it’s important to embed CI into the governance model of the business so that it cannot be ignored.  

In our experience, to get CI embedded into the governance model of the business, you need to have in place the “leading indicators” scorecard that provides a clear picture of the health of continuous improvement at each level of the business.  

Metrics to capture in this leading indicators scorecard include:

> The health status of every strategic objective at all levels

> The health status of all improvement projects at all levels

> The operational maturity profile of the organization at all levels

> Estimated and actual value capture from continuous improvement activities  

4. Communicate your successes

Tell your employees what they are doing right and encourage them to continue the behaviors that contribute to improved efficiency. Use your CI tools to identify the areas that have improved and translate these successes to other areas of your business. Providing employees with the opportunity to generate "quick wins" along the way will keep driving positive change.

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