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The continuous improvement culture of an organization is the dynamic force that is vital to gaining that desirable competitive advantage. It may sound like management jargon to a small business owner or hard work to the top executive of a large organization. Nevertheless, it plays a central role in the future success of any business.
The optimal scenario for a business leader is to have customers who are delighted with the service or product, staff who are happy and fulfilled in their professional lives, and healthy financial returns that make all shareholders smile from ear to ear.
I have been coaching and training business leaders in continuous improvement for over a decade now. While each journey is unique to an organization, there are common themes running through the organization and the direction of continuous improvement, regardless of the organization’s size, industry, or location.
What is continuous improvement?
Continuous improvement is an organizational culture where everyone works continuously to improve all aspects of the business. The goal of any working day is to delight the customer and consistently deliver high quality services. These involve:
Innovation as a constant beacon
Culture of reducing time, resources and money
Staff who naturally desire better. By identifying a breakdown or problem, they will determine the root cause and take action to fix and improve it.
Faster and simpler processes that are easy to understand and follow
Take the example of an airline. Most of us like to travel. If we were to fly with an airline with a culture of continuous improvement, our experience would likely be very smooth and joyful, from booking the flight to arriving at the destination. We would jump over the catwalk.
Related: If Your Business Isn’t Customer-Obsessed, You’re Wrong
What should be ?
Continuous improvement is a journey. It takes time, planning, dedication, perseverance and some leadership behavior.
To research conducted by Oxford University and EY teams found that a human-centric approach doubles the success of an improvement journey. Its presence – or absence – will either enhance or dismantle efforts. Here are five key tips for creating a culture of continuous improvement for long-term success.
1. Look for improvement opportunities
Sometimes the opportunity may be obvious, and other times we have to seek it out. Here are some common opportunity-seeking activities:
Ask your customers.
Listen to your staff. They have the most important insight.
Investigate business processes and explore opportunities for step elimination.
A customer complaint is gold! I vividly remember the blank stare of a business owner when I first mentioned this. What a great source to get to know your customer. Not understanding what the customer wants is like taking the airline passenger to the wrong destination because no one knows where the desired destination is.
2. Prepare to improve
You have found the opportunity for improvement; it’s time to create an exciting roadmap that illuminates key activities. Here are some examples of preparation activities:
Develop a structure that promotes shared ownership across the management chain. This is not a lone hero, but a collaborative team.
Create an improvement tribe (champions and experts) to pave the way.
Invest in training (ie, change management, project management, innovation, improvement tools, etc.).
Using the example of air transport, all actors – for each process – must be competent and clear about their roles. Otherwise, your luggage could end up at McMurdo Station in Antarctica.
Related: Four Ways to Improve the Customer Experience (And So Keep Your Customers)
3. Measure improvement
A dedicated focus on metrics and improvement metrics will help you scroll or stumble your quality goal. For example, a large hospital management team was trying to address their long wait times at an outpatient clinic. Their goal was to “reduce average waiting times by at least 50%”.
A 50% reduction seems like a good result of improvement. I asked, “Is that okay?” Tilting his head to one side, an official replied, “Our patients will still be waiting.” If so, a 50% reduction should not be the end goal.
Here is an example focused on quality and the patient:
The goal: “Patients will be seen by a health care provider within 15 minutes of arriving at the outpatient clinic on Saturday.”
The improvement metric: “We will reduce average wait times for Saturday clinics from three hours to 15 minutes in six months.”
The more accurate and meaningful the metrics, the better the customer experience.
Related: Baseball and Business Need Metrics to Hit a Home Run
4. Make improvements
There’s no better method, just the right one for need: a bite-sized improvement approach or a gradual, but major transformation. The sky is the limit when looking to wow customers. For the airline customer, that can mean enjoying a first-class experience no matter where they’re seated.
5. Spread and scale up improvement
Once the idea has turned into an innovative improvement, explore other opportunities for application, dissemination, or scaling. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. If you already have it, see where it might make a difference. The investment in training is valuable, as staff will apply the improvement mindset and knowledge to other areas.
Related: Continuously Improve Your Business With 3 Simple Ways
Whether it’s a small business owner, a senior executive in a large organization, or an airline manager, a continuous improvement goal will launch a transformational journey that you, your people, and your organization will continually seek to evolve for the better. better.
The focus on consistent customer satisfaction will generate loyalty and increased revenue. Increased revenue will lead to innovation, engaged employees and investment in development. Competent and happy employees will make fewer mistakes and provide efficient, cost-effective service. Efficient operations will continue to delight the customer, and so on. Such a dazzling competitive advantage cycle! Enjoy taking off and traveling through the wonderful world of continuous improvement.