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  • Writer's picturePerry Diebert

Do you have a continuous improvement mindset?

Updated: May 19, 2020

During times of change and uncertainty business owners are reminded of the importance of processes and systems that impact the client experience and the value derived from continuous improvement. As business owners you cannot leave your success to chance. It is critical you establish and continually refine the key processes and systems that impact clients and drive your success. In talking recently with an industry executive, he shared with me that right now we need to work harder to build trust, manage clients and keep our teams teaming. It is the “process” of continuously improving that shall set you free!

What’s a practical way to look at your business from the lens of continuous improvement?

When considering continuous improvement most business leaders turn to the concept of lean management. Lean management is an operational framework and a philosophy.  It has many names associated with it including Lean Six Sigma, DMAIC, Kaizan and Kanban.

Lean management can be described as the idea of bringing even greater value to clients by eliminating activities that add none. I personally prefer it described as an operational framework for execution and an enabler for cultural change. It focuses teams and organizations to deliver value and optimize work processes and systems by reducing variation and waste. It is an operating framework to support a culture of continuous improvement.

The foundation of a lean management framework includes: 

1.      Defining and documenting the key processes, systems and actions of your business from the perspective of the client.

2.      Empowering your team to own and understand each key process, system and action.

3.      Ensuring there is a clear feedback loop with your clients on how to improve.

4.      Eliminating anything that doesn’t drive value for the client or your business.

5.      Identifying and prioritizing problems ensuring that you understand the root cause of each problem in determining how to solve.

6.      Committing time to regularly review, prioritize and improve key processes, systems and actions.

7.      Rallying your whole organization around the concept of continuous improvement. 

Continuous improvement requires many things to be effective. The discipline of documentation, problem solving, clear ownership and empowering your team are things that must exist to get the most from a continuous improvement mindset. But don’t let that deter you. These foundational elements can be learned with the support of partners and coaches already with the necessary training and expertise. I would encourage you to reach out to your product and distribution partners for this expertise as they likely have experienced this directly as a leader within their organization. Invest your time and energy understanding and championing the implementation and oversight of a continuous improvement cycle. Your leadership will embed a sustainable mindset within the organization for long-term success.

How can I champion the continuous improvement cycle in my organization?

It starts with educating yourself and your team on the basic steps. These include:

1.      Identifying what key processes and systems can be improved.

2.      Planning to ensure you identify and prioritize the problem and effectively determine the root cause prior to outlining a solution.

3.      Implementing the required changes.

4.      Observing and assessing the changes address the problem as expected. 

Next, you need to assess the team’s problem-solving skills and capabilities. Again, this is where your partners can help in providing education and tools to close any skill gaps. Finally, you need to establish a way for your team to submit, prioritize and oversee the implementation of continuous improvement ideas. This is the most important step and one you must hold yourself and your team accountable to implement and sustain on a regular basis. I would start with a spreadsheet where the team can record a problem and the quantifiable impact to the client and/or business. This list would be discussed and prioritized as a team on a weekly basis. For a number of items on the list, it is simply agreement from the team on the problem, recommended solution and priority to fix. For some more complex problems, you should assign members of the team to take it away to analyze and confirm the root cause as well as identify a solution to address the problem. Each regular meeting must dedicate time to review the list, progress on problems that have been assigned to members for further analysis, and assess implementations on ideas that have been approved to fix. Dedicating time for continuous improvement is critical for long-term success.

As mentioned, continuous improvement starts with you as the business owner and leader. But success will not be achieved if the whole organization doesn’t understand and model what you expect from them to support continuous improvement. Your energy needs to focus on the implementation of an effective process to manage the continuous improvement cycle to ensure the long-term success of your business. The one caution I would highlight is the organization’s capacity for change. There are many things happening right now and I understand your team and organization may not have the time or energy. However, this shouldn’t stop you from starting to message to them the importance of continuous improvement and critical role they can play.

In summary, lean management and continuous improvement is a mindset and not an event. It is most effective when embedded and practiced across the organization. It is proven to help maximize value for clients and your business. And you have partners with the necessary training and experience to help you implement. In the end it comes down to how important is the long-term success of your business to you, your team and your clients. If you haven’t already embedded a process to manage a continuous improvement cycle in your business, take the time now to determine when you can.

Be healthy, be safe.

From LinkedIn - Michael Banham

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