Continuous Improvement guest blogging at Gemba Academy
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“Many hands, make light work.” The concept of a culture of continuous improvement is to orient everyone in the organization toward one common goal — Operational Excellence. You may have also heard of the psychology term, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” In essence, this means that together many things can be something greater than themselves apart. You often hear about this in regards to teamwork and, as someone with 21 years of active service in the Air Force, I was repeatedly witness to teamwork in action.
Leadership development is extremely important if you are trying to change or create a new culture in your organization. Many times, the leadership wants to see culture change, but they really are not sure what the new culture looks like or how to model the proposed change. This is just as true when you are talking about building a culture of continuous improvement.
Leaders and managers drive culture through their actions – it takes both sides of the equation to be successful, thus it takes both leadership and management traits in your senior employees to enact this type of culture shift for your organization. The problem lies when the leaders and managers – the professionals in the organization – do not know “what” the change looks like or “how” to make the change. The first step in the strategy model was to Define the Foundation. A crucial step in your journey is to develop those that will lead this effort first. Thus, you must start with a foundation for your leadership.
What framework can follow to build a culture of continuous improvement in your business? In my 32 years of process improvement experience, I've heard the phrase, "continuous improvement," thrown around with abandon. However, has anyone ever told you how to structure a continuous improvement program? Has anyone shared and described the framework that you should follow to make those two words a reality? I'm going to take a guess and say that the answer is, "No." "Just do process improvement all the time," is the typical guidance. "Just do it..." Well, this isn't Nike!
The worst thing created by organizational growth is the deadly “Silo!” Call it what you like, silo, sandbox, camp, etc., these structures always tend to inhibit improvement in any organization. In 2019, I released my first business book, Overcoming Organizational Myopia: Breaking Through Siloed Organization. To fully understand how to breakthrough siloed organizations, read this book, but for now, let us simply talk about organizing for the purpose of continuous improvement.
Creating a continuous improvement culture provides a strategic advantage for any company and should be implemented by following a specific strategy.
Leaders set the environment for this culture of continuous improvement. Everyone always wants to blame the failure to set a culture, or a bad culture, on leadership. Leaders are responsible for setting the culture, but it takes more than leadership. I do not believe it is fair to blame all of cultural woes on leadership. In fact, I think that leaders shoulder way too much blame for a poor culture.
Building a culture of continuous improvement is not easy and can take a considerable amount of time. However, it is very possible, and results will be felt within months, if not weeks, of seriously embarking on a journey to continuous improvement.