In the modern business landscape, a continuous improvement process (CIP) —also known as a continual improvement process—is critical. As the adage goes, change is the only constant. When it comes down to running a business, decision-makers need to remember that change management is as important as innovation, in order to survive. An organisation that lacks the tools, strategies, and resolve to manage change will quickly lose to adaptive competitors.
Understanding The Meaning of Continous Improvement
Continuous improvement refers to an organisation’s ongoing improvement of products, services, quality or processes. These efforts may involve a combination of improvement techniques that include incremental and breakthrough changes.
This is a lean approach to process improvement, refining your products, services, or processes for optimal efficiency and value. It is a form of innovation that happens on a methodological level, requiring an ongoing analysis and optimisation of an organisation’s current practices and standards.
Continuous improvement has numerous benefits to an organisation, from employees to customers and investors alike. Besides clear benefits to business efficiency, productivity, and performance, businesses have also reported improvements in areas such as customer satisfaction, employee engagement and quality management.
Continuous Improvement—Process or Mindset?
While there may be plenty of methodologies and models out there within the area of continual improvement, the effectiveness of these techniques requires businesses to adopt the idea of continuous improvement as a mindset ingrained within the organisation’s culture, rather than simply as a process improvement methodology.
A continuous improvement mindset means that members in the organisation are active in their search for opportunities for quality improvement—however big or small.
This mindset shift is integral for the success of any continuous improvement strategy. It is at this point that organisations find the CIP to be more naturalised within their existing processes, driving improvement, progress and growth within areas of improvement, and further enhancing successful processes for better efficiency.
Fostering a culture of continuous improvement comes by inculcating the mindset that success comes from:
- Focussing on process improvement—innovating on the ‘how’, and ensuring that all goals and operations are made transparent for clear visibility on progress
- Creating open collaboration on all levels that encourages knowledge sharing and ideas for quality improvement
- Consistency in the process, with diligence that ensures transformational results
According to the Institute for Management Development (IMD), many organisations fail at fundamental change management for various reasons. These factors include a lack of leadership direction, disengaged communication, and an inadequate focus on culture change.
The effectiveness and efficiency of CIP hinges on members of all levels in an organisation taking responsibility for continual improvement, in order to reduce errors, waste, and streamline processes for maximum efficiency.
It is important to note that even though continuous improvement becomes a part of your business, it still requires the right strategy, tools and methodology to impact change. There are many iterations of the continual improvement process, and organisational leaders need to select the most suitable strategy for optimal results.
Skills Needed For Successful Continuous Improvement
Implementing a mindset of continuous improvement in an organisation can help organisations remain steady even during tumultuous times. Here are some key skills that leaders may want to inculcate in order to achieve success with their continuous improvement initiatives:
Process improvement begins with identifying what is working well, and what requires improvement. This doesn’t have to be complicated—start by looking at areas of issues or bottlenecks, and then move opening conversations that get to the causes of those issues.
Effective process improvement requires innovation. This can only come from collaborative processes that allow organisations to tap into a broader knowledge base, and gain different perspectives. It can help leaders form a more holistic idea of the needs of the business, while also encouraging employees to take ownership and play a more active role within the company.
This is the part of the continuous improvement model where ideas become actionable steps. Based on the conversations that happen in the process analysis and teamwork phase, leaders now come together to discuss the best solution ahead and break down the process, planning out the areas to focus on, strategy and resources needed for improvement.
Change is the only constant. While it is important to plan ahead, it is equally vital that organisations are not rigid in their plans. The willingness and ability to change and respond to the tides is a major determining factor of an organisation’s performance.
Self-reflection and feedback
Continuous improvement has to be ongoing, and that’s where it is important to have conversations that encourage feedback and self-reflection within the process. This means knowing the right kind of questions to ask, and empowering employees to be open to speaking up or making suggestions where they need to.
7 Tips to Approach The Continuous Improvement Process
CIP Tip #1 – Promote Small Manageable Changes
Rome wasn’t built in a day – the same precept applies to mastering continuous improvement.
For most companies, improvement can come in either of two variations:
- Incremental: Slowly over time, in steps
- Breakthrough: A huge burst of change happening all at once
While large-scale changes can lead to significant improvements, they will likely overwhelm your employees. Instead, you should consider breaking down each initiative into smaller pieces – at a department, group, or individual level.
Smaller changes enable leaders to plan realistic milestones, making it easier to track progression and corrections when necessary. Additionally, the process eliminates abstract goals that lead to inaction among teams since employees will lack the guidelines and targets to drive change.
For example, rather than focusing on “improving workplace transparency,” you could break it down into actionable steps like having daily debriefing or attending communication workshops.
CIP Tip #2 – Prioritise Constant Feedback
Feedback is vital in running any successful organisation, especially when rallying change.
As a leader, you need to pay close attention to the perspectives and opinions of every contributor within the company. It is essential to record the points presented at every meeting and follow up on concerns and suggestions.
Leaders can encourage feedback among the workforce by openly showing appreciation for received feedback and leaving positive body language with each response.
Effective examples of positive nonverbal cues include nodding, leaning towards the speaker, and maintaining friendly eye contact.
Specialised workshops like SoundWaves can help individuals gain the awareness and confidence to express themselves at the workplace. Consistent feedback provides organisations with the information required to make improved decisions without missing crucial details.
Gradually, employees will be more willing to share their thoughts and contributions, facilitating a seamless continuous improvement process.
CIP Tip #3 – Work with an End Goal
Every improvement process should include a clear end goal that justifies the changes. A structured vision puts things into perspective, outlining the steps and attitude required to improve. End goals should be realistic and practical while offering a sense of challenge and urgency.
Additionally, you should set a series of end goal timelines (i.e., 3-year and 5-year plans) to prioritise the actions and resources required for change. Always set end goals relative to your existing organisational setting to determine the work necessary to achieve the desired outcome.
When working with an end goal, it is necessary to consider a series of questions. These thoughts may include:
- What is the ideal workplace culture to drive and maintain the changes?
- How will productivity and performance change between now and the desired future?
- What are your workforce’s strengths and competencies, and how can you leverage them to achieve the end goals?
- What type of leadership style should you implement to increase the success of continuous improvement?
Ensure that there are quantifiable metrics such as KPIs and core employee competencies to help gauge the progress towards fulfilling an end goal.
Your end goal serves as the north star that keeps you on track, especially when navigating a complex continuous improvement process with a multitude of changes.
CIP Tip #4 – Clarify and Communicate End Goals
A shared vision is necessary for driving an improvement model. Once you have collated the end goals, it is crucial to make them accessible to all stakeholders within the organisation.
By doing so, you can receive the response necessary to fine-tune your decisions. You might discover new goals along the way to help you fulfil your objectives faster and more efficiently.
A well-aligned company enables employees to carry organisational values uniformly, keeping themselves motivated and working collaboratively rather than in silos or competitively.
Sometimes, employees may require subsequent reminders, guidance, or support when distracted from the end goals.
One effective way to clarify an end goal is to link individual roles to the larger picture. Explain how an employee’s contributions have far-reaching effects on organisational progress, making individuals feel valued and appreciated.
SoundWave’s accredited coaches can help you establish stronger relationships with employees, such as encouraging curiosity among the team through authentic conversations.
According to a Hubspot report, 69% of employees would work harder if their efforts received greater recognition. Engaged employees with a sense of purpose are more likely to stay loyal to your company and committed to the continuous improvement process.
CIP Tip #5 – Apply an Improvement Model Framework
There have been multiple continuous improvement process models over the years, each with a unique and proven approach in navigating change management.
You might consider choosing one or a combination of these frameworks from the “defining phase” (prior to implementation) to determine the most suitable match for increased chances of success.
PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is a continuous improvement process that systematically tests possible solutions and implements successful results. The four-step PDCA method includes:
- Plan – identify opportunities for organisational change.
- Do – test the change on a small scale and study the process.
- Check – analyse the test results and draw key learning points.
- Act – apply the findings and re-test the changes with a different plan if they fail to meet desired outcomes. Implement successful changes to more comprehensive organisational applications and restart the PDCA cycle for other directives.
Six Sigma is one of the most popular continuous improvement process tools applied across organisations. Engineers at Motorolla innovated the process in the 1980s as a solution for fine-tuning their manufacturing processes.
The concept focuses on reducing variability within a company while increasing predictability. By eliminating uncertainties, teams can gain better control and assurance over their operations.
Decision-makers may choose to implement a Six Sigma program or create one from scratch that gears practitioners with the skills to select the most relevant tools for their project needs. The five main steps in the Six Sigma process, also known as DMAIC, are:
Define – The first step involves drafting the project charter and planning a detailed process map and the customers involved. Teams accrue knowledge by communicating with process participants and applying the information to accurately measure current capabilities/performance.
Measure – Teams proceed to accumulate the KPIs involved to determine process standards. The collected data should shed valuable insights that form the baseline of their current processes.
Analyse – Organisational teams will troubleshoot the various issues with existing process structures. Through thorough analysis, employees can uncover the root cause of problems and develop solutions with minimal guesswork and wasted resources. If necessary, teams should update the project charter to reflect the latest changes.
Improve – Teams can develop practical plans in response to the issues outlined in the analyse phase. Individuals can create countermeasure ideas and identify improvements via collected data.
Control – The final step of the Six Sigma process focuses on long-term sustainability. With a systematic control approach, teams can decide on the best practices to optimise operations. Leaders should oversee various plans (i.e., monitoring and emergency response to under-performance) to solidify the improvement process.
Other popular continuous improvement process models include Kaizen and the Theory of Constraints.
Improvement techniques mostly follow a similar theme that involves identifying a problem, testing the issue, implementing a plan, and controlling the situation with newfound data-backed knowledge that reduces uncertainty.
CIP Tip #6 – Show Appreciation
Organisational change management is a collective effort; everybody’s responsibility. As a leader, it is vital to guide and motivate employees across different process stages. You can achieve this by celebrating the success of each contributor.
Simple gestures that may go a long way include sharing success stories and small incentives for a job well done. Positive work culture will keep teams focused on their tasks, inspired to assume a proactive approach in driving change within the company.
CIP Tip #7- Repeat the Process
As the term suggests, a continuous improvement process is not a destination but an ongoing journey. It is essential to learn from previous cycles to refine future initiatives and ensure quality management. Teams need to work closely to maintain and improve existing processes through care and dedication.
Final Words On Continuous Improvement for Organisations
An organisational leader familiar with the CIP flow recognises the time and commitment required to optimise a plan, and more importantly, acknowledges the people involved in making it a reality.
SoundWave 360 for leaders and teams provides advanced feedback to help you improve communications that drive a continuous improvement process while engaging all stakeholders.
By recognising and optimising your unique voice, you will have the confidence and methods to maintain effective collaborations among teams as you oversee the most complex organisational changes and tailor the most effective continuous improvement approach according to stakeholder interest.
Begin a free SoundWave assessment today to eliminate the communication guesswork and thrive in your business transformations.
Maalikka is the latest addition to SoundWave's team of marketing and content extraordinaries. As an avid reader, writer and learner, she’s always on the lookout for new information online or interesting conversations to inspire her. Her other passions include gaming, Netflix, and cats.