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Top Tips for Introducing Continuous Improvement to Employees

Posted by Maggie Millard

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May 17, 2017 6:36:00 AM

It Starts With You! written on the road.jpegObviously, all of us here at KaiNexus are huge fans of continuous improvement. But I’m not going to lie, I find the name to be a bit of a problem. It is clear, succinct, and meaningful, so what could be the matter? Because continuous and improvement are basic English words that your employees and new hires likely understand, it can seem like there isn’t much need for detailed discussion around the topic. You can end up with a conversation that goes like this:

             Manager: “Here at ACME Corp, we practice continuous improvement.”

              Employee: “Ok. That sounds good.”

You’re just not likely to hear, “What do you mean by continuous improvement? Tell me more about that.” But there is so, so much more to tell. Here are our top tips for introducing continuous improvement to new team members or existing ones who haven’t been involved with it before.

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Create a Standard for Introducing Continuous Improvement

If an organization is going to develop a healthy and consistent improvement culture, it is important that each person develops the same understanding of the approach and that everyone has the benefit of the same information. Leadership teams should work together with managers and frontline employees to develop a uniform way of explaining the concept and how it is implemented within the company. Materials should be created (dare I say, slides?) that can reinforce what is discussed during the training or onboarding process. (Pro tip: Use the fact that there is a standard for introducing continuous improvement as a way to familiarize team members with the concept of Standard Work - and never forget to improve the introduction itself.)

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Discuss the 6 Principles of the Continuous Improvement Model

Continuous improvement means more than just improving continuously. The business approach embraces six core principles that should be effectively communicated to every member of the team. They are:

# 1 – Improvements are based on small changes; not major paradigm shifts or new inventions

Change is hard and can feel overwhelming or destabilizing. By taking small, simple steps, the fear of change is reduced and employees feel more comfortable and confident.

# 2 – Ideas come from employees

Continuous improvement is not the top-down model that most people are used to. Instead, the people who are closest to problems and opportunities, the front line employees themselves, are the instigators of change.

# 3 – Incremental improvements don’t usually require a big investment

Many improvements eliminate process steps, rather than add to them, making the approach a great way to get better results without spending a lot of money.

# 4 – Employees take ownership

Because the continuous improvement model relies on employees for ideas for improvement, they become more invested in the outcome of change and employee engagement increases, leading to better results.

#5 – Improvement is reflective

The continuous improvement model relies on constant feedback and open communication throughout the lifecycle of each improvement work. Inputs lead to analysis, which leads to change.

# 6 – Improvement is measurable

In order to know if improvement has truly occurred, there must be a baseline measurement and a post-improvement measurement of some business objective. It may be cost savings, quality improvement, customer satisfaction, or time to market, but it must be measurable in some way in order to claim success.

Answer, “What’s in it For Me?”

New employees may be eager to show their willingness to get with the program, but for the improvement mindset to truly take hold and last over the long run, people need to know why they should become emotionally invested in improvement. After all, improvement work takes time away from the employee’s central job function and requires discretionary effort. Make sure to explain that a culture of continuous improvement is one in which each person can do their best work and make a meaningful impact on the organization that will be recognized and rewarded.  Provide examples of how others have accelerated their career development by taking the initiative to instigate good change. Be sure to align employee performance metrics to improvement and explain how this type of work is measured and assessed.

Provide Training on Improvement Tools and Techniques

If your organization uses improvement tools and methodologies like Standard Work, Gemba Walks, DMAIC, PDSA, Kaizen events, or huddle boards, be sure to take the time to provide training on each technique, what it is for, and how it works. This shouldn’t be done in an overwhelming info dump, but should be completed over time given the priority of each tool. If you use software to manage improvement (and here’s why you should), that too should be introduced with the right amount of training to make each person proficient in its use and comfortable with how it supports improvement work.

Continuous improvement may seem self-explanatory, but there is more to the approach that first meets the eye. That’s why it is worth making the effort to get everyone on the same page about what it means and how it is exercised in your organization. Hopefully, these tips will help.


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Topics: Spread Continuous Improvement

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