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6 Continuous Improvement Leader Qualities

Posted by Allan Wilson

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Jan 8, 2015 1:01:00 PM

IMG_1000The ability to successfully work with employees to create a culture of continuous improvement is a skill in high demand these days, as more organizations are turning to methodologies such as Lean, Six Sigma, and Kaizen to improve business processes and develop people. Leaders who are able to engage their staff at all stages of the continuous improvement process, from identifying opportunities for improvement to testing and evaluating solutions, see improved metrics in the areas of quality, safety, satisfaction, and the bottom line.

Why? It’s simple - they’re good at getting more people involved in improving the work. They understand the value of harnessing the collective brainpower of their staff, and have created a culture that encourages and rewards participation in identifying and implementing opportunities for improvement.

Here are 6 habits of highly successful leaders of continuous improvement:

  1. Put your money where your mouth is

    It’s one thing to tell your employees that you want them to improve their work processes… it’s another to give them the time and encouragement they need to actually do it. Successful leaders make sure their employees have the time and resources they need to think about and implement positive changes.

  2. Walk the walk

    As a leader, your employees are watching you like hawks. They look to you to model the behaviors you ask of them, in continuous improvement as much as in any other area. Take the time to examine your own processes, identify opportunities for improvement, and implement changes. Don’t be afraid to share what you find with your staff - they’ll take note that you’re walking the walk, and be more willing to contribute on their own.

  3. Give public high fives

    Public recognition for good work is the best way to motivate your employees to engage in your organization’s continuous improvement efforts. If you have employees that are doing good improvement work, let them know that you’ve noticed! Whether it’s a high five in a daily huddle, formal recognition in an annual ceremony, or a virtual badge, take the time to recognize those who are participating in the improvement process.

  4. Get down in the trenches

    Sitting in your office sending out memos telling your staff to improve their work is probably the least effective way to engage your employees. Highly successful leaders get out from behind their desks and actually go to the place where the work is getting done (often called the “gemba,” in the Lean methodology). There, they can learn about existing processes, identify opportunities for improvement with the help of the people who actually do the work, and follow up on implemented improvements.

  5. Be hard on the process, not the people

    If you go to the front lines and start criticizing people, assigning blame for mistakes, and reprimanding them for systemic errors, you’re bound to create a culture that sweeps errors under the rug. Successful leaders ask, “What’s wrong with the process that allowed this to happen?” This approach is hard on the process, rather than the person, which makes employees feel safe in reporting errors and finding solutions that prevent recurrences.

  6. Delegate, delegate, delegate

    It’s at least as important for leaders to know when to delegate (and actually do it) as it is for them to be able to deliver results themselves. Continuous improvement should be part of every person’s job, and successful continuous improvement leadership knows that the person who identified the opportunity for improvement likely has the most invested in seeing that it’s implemented. Allowing people to take responsibility for their own ideas ensures that more improvements are made. After all - you only have so many hours in your workday… delegating allows more man-hours to be spent improving.

    Check out this video from Franciscan St. Francis Pharmacy about how managers save time and develop people through kaizen:

For more information about what you as a leader should be doing to create and sustain a culture of continuous improvement, attend our free upcoming webinar!

Free Upcoming Webinar:

More Leadership Behaviors That Create A Culture of Continuous Improvement

January 27 at 1p EST


 Register Now


In this webinar, you'll learn how to:

  • What you should be doing to create a culture of continuous improvement
  • How to encourage the identification, testing, evaluation, and sharing of improvements
  • Best practices for collaborating on improvement
  • When to get involved… and when to get out of the way
  • How to make sure your voice is heard

A Followup On Our Most Popular Webinar of 2014:

Last year, our Dr. Greg Jacobson and Mark Graban gave a webinar entitled, “Leadership Behaviors that Create a Culture of Continuous Improvement” and it was our most popular webinar of the year. They covered 25 behaviors, but that just scratches the surface.

In this new webinar, Greg and Mark will share some additional behaviors, illustrated by real stories from our work with KaiNexus customers.




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