All the business leaders that I speak to want continuous improvement to happen quickly. The opposite is what usually happens, so what is going wrong?
Getting the recipe right for your business might take some time, but here are seven tips that you can apply to your business quickly today to make a notable difference. The list isn’t exhaustive but will give you some practical actions you can share with your colleagues.
1. Make the plans visible
A lot of businesses will keep their walls clear and their improvement action plans on their computers. It looks neat and tidy, and I understand why people do it, but having the plans in people’s faces makes a huge difference.
The more often you see the plans the more likely you are to talk about them and the more likely it is that you will do something about it.
Whether you choose to use a big screen, a whiteboard or a print out it does not matter. Keep the plans visible and in ‘harm’s way’ of being looked at.
2. Talk about the improvement actions a lot (and monitor)
Having the plans available constantly is one thing. Doing something about the plans is another.
If you can see them on a regular basis and you can weave them into your day to day discussions (such as tagging them on to your daily management meeting) then you can start to monitor and manage the tasks.
Talking about the improvement actions will make it normal over time. From there it can become part of your culture and gives you the greatest chance of making change happen fast in a sustainable way.
3. Look for obstacles
Things get in the way of improvement projects. If this weren’t true the improvements you want to implement would have happened already, wouldn’t they?
Bringing obstacles to the attention of your whole team will help you to solve them / avoid them before they become a problem. Get your team involved to identify them and then plan around them before the project gets derailed.
Don’t put your head in the sand about these matters, identify them and deal with them.
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4. Ensure that clues about progress are left
Sometimes change happens in a business so gradually that people just don’t twig that things are getting better. Leaving clues for ourselves and our colleagues is a great way to get around this issue.
The journey we take should be remembered. Our nature is to remember the bad things and not to remember too much about the good stuff. We have really long memories for the things that go wrong and really short memories for the things that go really well.
Whether you periodically remind your team of your victories or ensure that pats on the back are part of your regular team meetings, keep on reminding everyone that things are improving and getting better. This approach helps to build momentum for future improvement projects.
5. Look for the learning in everything
Your improvement projects will not always go to plan, this is an opportunity for learning and personal development. Every time something goes wrong this is a great time to pause, reflect on what happened and determine what you can do to improve the change process itself.
It might be that you just need to change the methodology, but in some cases you might need to change your approach. The key is to spot these pointers and learn from the ‘failed attempt’.
Over time these learning points can turn the poorest change agent into a super effective member of your team, so encourage your team to embrace the learning that comes with every setback.
6. Know how many plates you can spin at once
There is a great deal of temptation to try and change everything at once. The impatience around wanting everything to become better right now is something that I personally struggle with; I have to relax my own ambitions at times.
I know that I am not alone with this issue, but the real challenge is to understand how many different projects you can handle at anyone time and not drop the day job.
Projects also come in all kinds of different sizes and shapes. Some are straightforward and some are complex. Some can be dealt with quickly and some will take a long time. Some will need huge levels of input from a myriad of other people and some can be done just by yourself. The number of projects you can handle will depend on mix of projects you have in front of you and what else is going on in the business at that time.
Being conscious of where you are, where the business is and the mix of projects on your list will help you to determine what will work. That said, if in doubt – do less better. If you find your change projects stalling then try paring back until you start to make tangible progress.
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7. Help someone else in order to gain another helper
Having a helping hand is a great way to make improvement happen. With everyone else in your business being busy too you might find it hard to find help. A simple way around this is to find someone else that is struggling that you can help out first.
Once you have (quickly) helped them out ask for the favour to be returned. Often this will work out, and of course you may choose to only help those people that are likely to reciprocate!
When you have a few people working towards a common aim you can see progress happening faster and faster than if just one person was flying the flag. If you choose the right improvements to work on, then everyone should feel the improvement of the ideas being implemented.
So, that’s seven ideas to speed up continuous improvement for your business. I hope that you have found them to be useful and can apply them to your own team.
About the author Giles Johnston is a Chartered Engineer who specialises in helping businesses to grow and improve through better business processes. Giles is also the author of Business Process Re-Engineering and creator of the 'Making It Happen' continuous improvement toolkit.