Continuous improvement is a phrase that is commonly used, but one in my experience that is not utilised in most businesses to any great effect. Going from bad to OK is a good thing to do when you start a process of change within your business, but eventually you will need to try and tackle the change of going from OK to amazing. This is where a lot of businesses find that their continuous improvement activities stall.
I don't believe it is down to a lack of vision as to why the movement from OK to amazing doesn't take place. I think people are busy with their working lives and that most of their motivation comes from trying to avoid their bosses giving them a hard time for things not working properly. Now of course there are lots of people who are motivated to see how good they can make things, and I am not trying to take away anything from managing a well performing business process, but if people potentially have lots of ideas then why aren't they more forthcoming?
I do believe that if you give the staff in your business a small amount of time each week to generate and implement improvement ideas then the move from OK to amazing can be achieved. The three ingredients are; time out, conversation and a focal point of some sort. The first two points are self explanatory; the third point I believe needs to be there as the opportunities available to improve a business can be so wide and varied it can stump a lot of people as to where to start.
The reverse brainstorm is an interesting tool that can help to provide the kind of focus I am writing about. Get your team to list (brainstorm) how an awful business would conduct itself and then invert all of your answers, with the help of the team to get the wording right, and lo and behold you have a simple list of ideas that the business can strive towards. Prioritise the list and you now have the conversation agenda for your time out sessions.
Continuous improvement needn't be a hard task for any business to undertake, it just needs some time, some leadership and some regularity. I have witnessed many times a team's shackles being released from having some very basic conversations about innovating their processes; even the most simple of changes can yield huge benefits for a business when implemented. Of course, and here is my word of caution, launching your business into a continuous improvement 'programme' without the commitment, resources or discipline to follow through can be very de-motivating for the people who are involved. If you are in doubt, start small and start effective.
Giles Johnston is the author of a short guide to implementing effective continuous improvement processes. It is available from Amazon for the Kindle App / reading device; http://www.amazon.com/dp/B007U78ISW
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