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Powerful Strategies for Building a Culture of Continuous Improvement

Authored by: Zach Tabor

How can I do this better?  

It’s a common question, but it’s not one often asked by every employee in an organization. But, once they do, you’ve achieved a “culture of continuous improvement.” 

At the most basic level, embracing continuous improvement creates an environment where employees — from the front line to leadership — all commit to being open to finding new ways to improve processes, performance and outcomes.  

While it’s become a bit of a buzzword, by its very definition, continuous improvement –  i.e., “fighting inertia and reluctance to change work routines, even bad ones” – simply refers to a willingness to break from the status quo.  

Foster an openness to change  

This article reported leadership believes that only 37% of employees want to remain in the status quo. Yet nearly half of frontline employees say they don’t want change.  

The key to building a culture of continuous improvement is closing the gap between how much leaders think employees want to change and how much employees actually want to change. 

But, how do you do this?  

Start with being honest about the why behind any change. Share information about the change, as well as the benefits and any potential outcomes it may bring. Fostering more openness not only helps employees accept change, but it encourages them to participate in it themselves by asking questions.  

Encourage collaboration and engagement 

Speaking of buzzwords, “Engagement” is constantly discussed in the workplace and for good reason, as it impacts your ability to create a culture of continuous improvement.  

Disengaged employees aren’t inspired enough to ask good questions. They’re just trying to get through their days. But engaged employees share their successes and failures, cross-pollinate ideas and collectively ask: How can we do better?  

For example, during the 1970s, Spencer Silver, who served as a chemist at 3M, tried to create a strong adhesive but accidentally created a weak one. Instead of stopping, he shared his problem with co-workers, and the end result was… you guessed it, the Post-it Note. If he had given up, Post-it Notes wouldn’t exist. 

With Gallup research showing that only 34% of employees are engaged in their work, creating a culture of continuous improvement begins by reengaging your employees, connecting with them and encouraging their feedback. 

Question your technology  

Technology also plays an important part of creating a culture of continuous improvement.  

With it, you can gather powerful insights that help you solve problems and ask questions that might otherwise be overlooked.  

Begin by evaluating existing technology. Ask: Does this technology still meet our needs? Does it provide the insights required to create continuous improvement and show where bottlenecks exist?  

I see many organizations that still rely heavily on manual and paper processes, which certainly don’t promote continuous improvement and more often than not, serve to impede it. Still other organizations keep systems in their tech stack that don’t play nicely with one another — here, too, is another roadblock to promoting continuous improvement.  

People need to ask the right questions and technology needs to support your ability to find answers to those questions and improve the processes that hold you back. But, you can’t do this just once. You need to do it again and again – the reason it’s called continuous improvement. 

Get comfortable with the uncomfortable  

Creating a culture of continuous improvement requires everyone in the organization to become comfortable with the uncomfortable. And that’s hard. It also takes time. But, like other Herculean tasks, it, too, is achievable. Small, continuous steps toward the goal add up quickly over time.  

Continuous improvement guru James Clear said it best: “If you can get 1% better each day for one year, you’ll end up 37 times better by the time you’re done.”  

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