Implementing a continuous improvement model is an important undertaking for any organization, and it makes sense that there is a lot of focus put on the processes, tools, and controls that go along with it. We rightly talk about the methodologies, like PDCA, DMAIC and Kanban, but the focus on methods and procedures can overshadow the human impact. People’s reaction to change of any kind can be very personal and profound, so it is important to pay some attention to the human side of the continuous improvement model.
Change Is Scary
Even the most well-meaning people tend to resist change for fear of the unknown. Too often in the past, “organizational change” has been a term used to soften cost cutting, layoffs and other things that mean bad news to employees. People have been conditioned, in a way, to think of change as bad. Being aware of this and taking every opportunity to provide reassurance can help everyone feel emotionally more comfortable with the idea.
It’s Hard To Let Go
You may find that your team has an emotional investment in doing things the way they have always been done. People can develop the idea that certain processes “must” happen in a certain way, especially if the practice is long standing or they’ve been trained to stick with the program. Not only does the continuous improvement model ask people to let go of old ideas, but it asks them to constantly challenge and search for something better. This is a new idea for a lot of people, so it is important that they are given the opportunity to really understand the value of the approach to your organization as a whole and themselves as individuals.
Edicts Get Compliance, But Rarely Enthusiasm
Orders from the top will likely get people to do what they are told, but rarely have the effect of engaging employees or getting them to make a personal investment in the outcome. Involving employees from the beginning, encouraging and using their ideas, and rewarding them for their involvement will go a long way toward building an entire team committed to improvement.
Communication and Transparency Are Essential
Clear and frequent communication is necessary to sustain any continuous improvement effort. Employees need to understand their role in the process, as well as what is being done by supervisors, peers, and executive leaders to transform the organization and provide value to clients. Transparency is an excellent antidote to fear.
Not Everyone Is Up To The Challenge
If your organization is truly committed to the continuous improvement model, you may need to change what you look for in new employees. The best matches for this approach are people who are flexible thinkers and those who are willing to put themselves out there by suggesting opportunities for improvement and taking personal responsibility for implementation and success. The ability to fit into a culture of improvement should be a key job requirement.
Paying due attention to the emotions that change can trigger will help your team better facilitate the transition to a continuous improvement model. Patience, communication, and engagement are the keys to creating a positive, hopeful experience for everyone.