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Are You Making Excuses or Finding Improvement Opportunities?

Posted by Mark Graban

Aug 27, 2014 1:08:00 PM

7948178288_24cf6f5104_mWhen talking about barriers we face when creating a culture of continuous improvement, it is important to reflect and ask yourself, “Are we making excuses or are we solving problems?”. 

There are always challenges in creating a culture of continuous improvement, but how are you reacting? What are you doing about it?

Here are some common barriers to continuous improvement, and what we can do about them:

Staff members’ time constraints

One of the most common barriers to continuous improvement is that the staff do not have time to do continuous improvement.

What can we do about it?

To some, this statement (“we don’t have time”) is the end of their continuous improvement efforts. But rather than giving up, ask leaders what they can do to solve that problem. One very simple solution is to very specifically and intentionally schedule time to work on continuous improvement.

At Toyota, when a frontline staff member has an idea, they talk to their manager. If it’s a good idea, they schedule time to make it happen (even overtime). It can be as simple as that.

Leaders’ time constraints

Managers will sometimes say that they are the ones who lack the time to help with continuous improvement. Again, is that an excuse to hide behind, or is it a problem that can be solved?

What can we do about it?

Leaders sometimes have the wrong mindset about continuous improvement. Managers might believe that it's about employees giving them ideas which they must then investigate and implement on their own. Rather than forcing the leadership to shoulder the responsibility of improvement, it’s better to delegate the work and empower the team members (while remaining involved as a supportive and collaborative leader). Software solutions for continuous improvement can help with that. 

Productivity numbers

One of the most interesting barriers to continuous improvement is people saying that working on it hurts their productivity numbers, particularly when they have a daily productivity target that they have to reach. It is ironic that hitting that daily productivity target is the biggest barrier to improving productivity (through continuous improvement).

What can we do about it?

We could blame senior leaders for not being enlightened; we could make excuses; we could give up. But those aren’t very productive behaviors.

Instead, perhaps we could embrace the tyranny of our daily productivity targets as a problem to solve. Maybe leaders could be educated about longer-term measures or a more balanced set of measures for a department. Or, as a short-term countermeasure, there could be a “charge code” so that when time is assigned towards working on improvement projects, it doesn’t hurt your department’s productivity.

Final thoughts

It has been said that what we need for change in any type of situation, large or small, is:

  1. The will to do it; the will to create a culture of continuous improvement
  2. Some ideas or methodology for how we can make changes
  3. The execution and discipline to actually go and make those changes

There are organizations that have that gap, that don’t have a culture of continuous improvement. It could be that they don’t have a method; it could be that they’re not executing that method in a disciplined way, or it could be they’re just paying lip service to it and they don’t have the will to change their culture and push for continuous improvement.

Florence Nightingale once said:

“I attribute my success to this – I never gave or took any excuse.”

That is something that everyone should consider. When we find barriers that make it more difficult for us to fix improvement opportunities, are we a victim that makes excuses or a leader who solves problems? When you find yourself or your colleagues making excuses and hiding behind them, don’t give up. Reframe that excuse as improvement opportunities that can be solved, and keep pushing forward.

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