When I was a kid, I used to want to win at all costs. This is what my father taught me. They don’t keep score for nothing was the mentality. As I grew up, I have grown to accept it’s not as much about the end result as it is about the journey to get there and my daughter has reinforced this more than anything. My kid has taught me to always focus on getting better and if we don’t always reach our goal, or win, then that’s okay as long as you reflect on your progress, accept mistakes as a way to learn and to get better. I know many parents have a similar approach.
Why is it we teach our children continuous improvement but we fail to teach our employees and forget ourselves? We tackled this question at BSA LifeStructures the past 3 years. We have come to realize that there are three components to continuous improvement that are all equally important:
Leadership is having the top of your organization driving continuous improvement. We started with a “grass roots” mentality and found this provides a regional improvement but lacks the overall corporate impact. By not sharing the improvements across the entire firm, you begin to create non-standard work and begins to be counter-productive when engineering or architecture teams have to collaborate.
Methodology is deciding how to do continuous improvement. I will attest this is where we learned the most and spent an inadequate amount of time. Not planning how to do improvement caused unnecessary frustrations and rework. We accepted the fact of not knowing everything and have adopted a continuous improvement mentality to how we do continuous improvement. Examples of where we have improved is really focusing on smaller groups and teaching them how to coach others. We have also changed our technology platform, from paper to Excel to software provided by a third party to better support how we capture, manage and communicate improvements.
Technology can be defined as the tool that supports the methodology. Using paper to capture and communicate improvements proved to be very effective when we were a group of 10 co-located people. Paper was not scalable as we engaged others, especially when they were not co-located. Excel proved to be scalable, but resulted in an extraordinary amount of work and lacked reporting and sharing capabilities we needed. It wasn’t until we found a technology that supported our methodology that it really started to click.
We learned a lot the past three years. Looking back, here are some key questions you need to answer if you are looking to start a structured continuous improvement culture in your firm:
- Start small, practice small and slowly engage others. People are not going to change or participate unless they see value. Work with your early adopters and internal champions to build successes that you can share and use as a platform to engage more people.
- Identify internal champions and give them training on how to coach others.
- Define a management system or structure for continuous improvement. There are many questions you will need to answer, and having a plan ahead of time will ease a lot of frustration.
- Who will participate? Is this a C-level thing or are we encouraging our entire staff?
- When an idea for improvement is submitted, where does it go and how does it get there? We’ve all heard the stories of disengagement associated with suggestion boxes so be careful here.
- How will ideas for improvement be “approved”?
- How will you share your improvements with the rest of your firm?
- How will you build continuous improvement into your culture?
- What is success? Is it the number of ideas submitted? Is it the number of ideas with resolutions? Is it cost savings, is it time savings, is it employee engagement or is it safety? These are important and begin to form your message and strategy for building the culture.
Wasn’t it a lot more fun swinging at curveballs than worrying about KPI’s, ROI’s and who wins? Continuous improvement is a win-win for both the employee and company. Let’s all go back to being kids where we focus on getting better every day.