There are a host of methodologies that businesses use to bring structure to the process of identifying and acting upon opportunities for improvement. You may be familiar with Six Sigma, Kaizen, Lean, Toyota Production System and others. Although these methodologies differ, the heart of each of them is the continuous improvement model.
The continuous improvement model reflects the idea that organizations should undertake incremental improvements to services, products, and processes. It is guided by a few core principles:
Principle 1 – Improvements are based on small changes, not only on major paradigm shifts or new inventions
This concept is important, because large changes often feel frightening and destabilizing to organizations. By approaching change in small, incremental steps, the continuous improvement model reduces the fear factor and increases speed to improvement. When following this principle, the organization does not need to wait for a strategic shift or a new product release to begin to advance.
Principle 2 – Employee ideas are valuable
The continuous improvement model relies greatly on employees, not only top management, to identify opportunities for improvement. This bottom-up improvement is effective because employees are closest to the problems, and thus better equipped to solve them.
When thinking of these two principles, consider the value of engaging your staff. If you were to ask everyone in the organization for ideas to create a new product line or revolutionize the way they care for their patients, you're not going to get anything; staff are focused on their own day-to-day work. They (understandably) can't come up with monumental ideas at the drop of a hat!
Instead, ask people what improvement they could make that would save them 5 minutes a day. Then empower them to implement that improvement, and spread it to everyone else in the organization doing the same process. In this way, you can take a small idea that anyone could come up with and drive a big impact. For example, say get one idea from ten employees, each of which saves them five minutes per day. That's ten ideas. Share all ten of those improvements with one hundred other employees, so that every one of them is now saving fifty minutes per day (10 ideas x 5 minutes each).
By asking people for a small idea that shaves 5 minutes off their day and propagating their ideas around the organization, you're about to save 3.4 YEARS of manpower with the ideas of just 10 people. Imagine how much you would save if you extended the "ask" of a five minute idea to your entire organization!
Another way to encourage employees to spot opportunities and implement improvements is to ask "what bugs you?".
Most complaints involve a delta between the current state and the employee’s idea of how things should be. Sometimes the gripe includes a specific recommendation. It might go something like, “If they would just do X, Y, and Z, the problem would be solved.” Sometimes there is no solution included. You might hear, “There’s got to be something they could do to fix this!”
Did you notice the operative word in each of these examples? They. When employees are disempowered and disconnected from the improvement process, all they can do is wait for “They” (management) to recognize and correct problems. When that doesn’t happen it’s natural (and probably healthy) for people to express their frustration.
Leaders who adopt the continuous improvement model don’t shy away from employee complaints.
Quite the contrary, they embrace them as opportunities for improvement. If a team member notices something amiss and says something about it, that’s a good thing. That’s the beginning of the improvement cycle. Companies with a culture of improvement take it even further. They give employees a process for reporting and acting upon ideas to save money, improve processes, satisfy clients, and improve quality. What’s more, they provide systems and structure for doing so and they recognize those who contribute to making the organization better one small initiative at a time.
People are often told not to complain about something unless they are willing to do something about it. That’s only fair when there is something they can do. Good leaders give people that opportunity.
KaiNexus customers have cumulatively saved over one MILLION hours of manpower, time that can now be spent on value-adding activities. Check out this article to see what can be accomplished in one million hours for a better picture of the impact of incremental improvements.
Check out this video to learn about the "What Bugs You" program at Springhill Camps and see how leaders used this approach to engage their frontline employees in solving problems - resulting in the invention of an incredible new product.