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Learn How to Create a Culture of Improvement from a Pot Roast

Posted by Maggie Millard

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Nov 19, 2014 7:04:00 AM

shutterstock_224554180One day, a mother was preparing to put a pot roast in the oven as her young daughter sat nearby and watched.  Before she put the roast into the pan, she cut about a half inch of meat from each end of the roast.  The daughter asked, “Mom, why do you cut the ends off of the roast?”  The mother replied, “I don’t know, that’s just the way my mother taught me.” 

The next time they were together, the young girl asked, “Grandma, why do you cut the ends off a roast before putting it in the pan?”  “I don’t know,” said Grandma.  “My mother always did it, so I do it too.” 

Luckily, Great Grandma was still around so the young girl gave her a call.  “Great-Grandma, I’ve heard that you always cut the ends off before putting a pot roast in the pan.  Why?”  Great Grandma began to laugh.  “Because, she said, my roasting pan was too small.”

It’s amazing how many companies operate the same way as those women  making pot roast. Too often, we rely on “The way it’s always been done.” Today’s employees end up with processes and procedures that were designed to solve yesterday’s problems. If this is the case in your company, it might be time to spearhead a shift to a culture that seeks opportunities for improvement and embraces positive change. Creating a culture of improvement is possible if you embrace these four principles.

1 – Encourage Questions

The daughter in the pot roast story solved the mystery because she asked, “Why?” Why is an incredibly powerful force in the effort to improve. If your team can’t identify the reason for a particular process or practice, it is reasonable to question whether it is necessary. One way to approach this is to try to define how (or if) every task or procedure adds value to the customer. If you can’t find the value, then you’ve likely uncovered an opportunity for improvement.

2 – Take a Systemic Approach

It’s a sure bet that there are people in your organization who know how to reduce wasted resources, speed up product delivery, improve customer satisfaction, eliminate safety hazards, and make the organization more efficient. These people do not all sit in the C-suite. Creating a genuine culture of improvement means asking every employee to participate and provide ideas. Most people, however, won’t spontaneously volunteer improvement suggestions. It is necessary to actively encourage them and to provide a platform for sharing suggestions.

3 – Achieve and Broadcast Positive Change

You want to create a snowball effect with your improvement efforts. It is helpful to identify some opportunities for improvement that can be acted upon quickly and then share those successes with the rest of the organization. This will encourage more participation in your improvement efforts and reinforce the notion that company leadership is committed to progress.

4 – Don’t be Afraid to Fail

Not every effort at process improvement will be successful. It’s important to be OK with that. Fear of failure can be crippling for organizations and is incompatible with a culture of improvement.  As motivational speaker and business expert, Denis Waitley said, “Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t analyze the impact of improvement attempts, quite the contrary. Understanding the ROI of your efforts to create positive change is an essential part of accelerating the pace of improvement, but that doesn’t mean that your team should never take a calculated risk. Experimentation produces the biggest breakthroughs and should be actively encouraged.

Changing the culture of an organization is not easy, but it is certainly possible when leaders are committed and ready to set the example. Most of us are doing something like cutting the ends off the pot roast and it’s time to stop.  

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