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How These Organizations Implement 75% of Improvement Ideas (and Why You Don’t)

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Nov 20, 2015, 11:27:10 AM

question-1015308_640.jpgSome organizations have all the luck. Their employees are smarter, more creative, and more dedicated to their work. I don’t know how they managed to pull that off, but getting those clever people improving the organization sure works wonders for their cultures of continuous improvement. That’s why they’re able to implement over 75% of their employee’s improvement ideas. You could never do that. Your employees submit terrible ideas.

What did you think of that last paragraph?

I don’t think I’ve ever written anything so ridiculous.

Of course that isn’t how it works.

Your employees are just as clever and talented as the ones that work at companies that implement three quarters of their employees’ ideas for improvement.

So what gives? Why is your implementation rate hovering between “hardly any” and “not enough?”

KaiNexus customers implement up to 90% of the improvement ideas their staff submit (averaging 75%). You could assume that it’s something in the water, but you’d be wrong; they’re distributed all over the country. While I’m sure they’re great at hiring creative employees, I doubt they’re any better at that than you are. And it happens too often to be chalked up as luck.

So what is it that makes them special?

Process.

KaiNexus customers have a defined process for spreading improvement that engages both leadership and employees in continuous improvement, and develops a sustainable cultural shift that impacts safety, customer and staff satisfaction, quality, and the bottom line.

Here are 5 key elements of their continuous improvement process:

  1. Focus on small, low-cost, low-risk ideas

    If you’re asking people to come up with ways to save a million dollars or redefine an entire product line, it’s no wonder you’re not implementing very many of those ideas. (I’d bet you’re not getting many either, but that’s neither here nor there.)

    By asking people to come up with ways to improve their daily work, you’re asking them to tell you about little things that they have the ability to implement themselves. You won’t need extensive planning, committee review, executive approval, or organizational initiatives. All you need is an engaged employee who is interested in making their job a little better.

    If those are the kinds of ideas that you’re asking for, you’re going to be able to get most of them implemented. And who knows - your million dollar idea might just turn up anyway.
  2. Abandon anonymity

    Why would you encourage people to submit ideas anonymously? The only reason I can come up with would be if people are afraid to speak up and point out opportunities for improvement. Maybe they’re afraid to point out things that they’ve been doing inefficiently, or they’re afraid to submit ideas that their bosses won’t like.

    If that’s what’s going on in your organization, go read this eBook about leading a culture of continuous improvement. You need to eradicate that blame culture before you do anything else.

    Part of the reason for KaiNexus customers’ success is that they understand the value of attributing ideas to their creator. This allows you to recognize and reward people when they submit good ideas, and contact them directly to dig deeper into the opportunity for improvement when they submit bad ideas.
  3. Improvements are routed to the right individual right away

    How often does your committee meet to review each improvement idea and decide which to implement?

    That’s a trick question.

    In order to have an implementation rate like KaiNexus customers, you’ll need improvement ideas routed directly from the employee to their supervisor for approval. The supervisor should connect with that person ASAP to give the green light to make the improvement or coach toward finding a better solution.

    The benefits of this quick turnaround are extensive. Leaders are more connected with the daily improvement work, and employees are recognized for their contributions. This makes them more likely to submit more ideas, and encourages other staff to get involved as well. It also prevents bottlenecks from forming between when ideas are hatched and when they’re implemented, which means that more of them will actually make it to the finish line. More improvements mean - you’ve got it - more impact.
  4. Coach to implement

    What do you do when your employees come to you with bad suggestions for improvement? Say, for example, they submit ideas that are totally impractical, unnecessary, or just won’t work.

    Most organizations would say some variation of “Thanks, but no thanks” (or worse yet, nothing at all). KaiNexus customers are different. They have such a high implementation rate largely in part because they recognize that those bad ideas started at a good place, and they coach people to identify the root of the idea and find a better solution.

    For example, if someone submits an idea asking that supplies be stocked at the end of a shift so that they’re ready for the next one, you wouldn’t want to ignore or reject that idea. You hire smart people, which means they’re likely bringing this idea to you because they’ve noticed that it isn’t being done consistently. Rather than telling them that this is already the standard operating procedure, you should acknowledge that they’ve identified a training or process failure, and the idea should be revisited.

    The key here is to always look beyond the surface of the improvements to find the greater problem or opportunity before you reject it, and then coach people to come up with a better way to address that root cause.
  5. Empower people to implement their own ideas

    If the idea of implementing nearly all of your employees’ improvement ideas makes you feel hopelessly overwhelmed, it’s time that you start empowering people to act on their own improvement ideas. As a manager, you should be focused on removing barriers for employees as they work to implement the improvements they come up with.

    Think about it this way: say that one person can implement one idea per week. If you have 20 employees who are empowered to act on their own, they could implement twenty ideas in the time it takes you to complete one. Of course you’ll want to supervise their work and be present for coaching when they need it, but you don’t need to micromanage the entire thing.

    You hired smart people for a reason - give them some autonomy.

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